One of the great disjuncts between British and American sensibilities is in the willingness to pair peanuts with sugar. The traditional British perspective is clear: to group peanut butter with jam (never, never jelly), honey or chocolate is the culinary equivalent of if not high crime, then at least treason of a low-level variety. Americans on the other hand, love nothing more than the savoury sweet dichotomy that characterises the choco-peanut butter mix. Although the makers of confectionary of the calibre of Reese’s Pieces and Peanut Buttercups have tried with admirable persistence to infiltrate the British chocolate market, their efforts have largely been met with resistance. Even the great grandaddy of all peanut-based chocolate, the Snickers bar, has had to resort to the tired old, BOYZ ONLEE marketing popularised by Yorkie Bars and McCoys crisps. Truly, Mr T. has never looked more emotionally and spiritually beaten then in the television campaign for Snickers. For some reason, the chocolate peanutcombo is a weird problem in British culture and it is in this gooey mess that all sorts of strange gender and sexual politics are enacted:
As all chocolate nostalgia freaks know, the UK version of the Snickers was called a ‘Marathon’ bar from 1930 up until 1990, where it rebranded in line with its transatlantic brethren. The name ‘Marathon’ was no accident as up until fairly recently, Mars has attempted to make a tacit link between peanut butter, whey and glucose chocolate bars and the idea of fitness and masculine achievement. The notion that peanuts are a source of post-workout muscle-building protein has been an undercurrent of pretty much all the Snickers adverts, and reaches its hysterical and arguably homophobic apex in Mr T’s entreaty that Snickers men should “get some nuts,” which roughly translates as be less physically weak and emotionally sensitive – attributes that make you a general “disgrace to the male race” according to aforementioned Messr. T. These adverts were met with protests from gay rights organisations so in 2011, Mars ramped down the homophobia and augmented its UK ad campaign with some good old fashioned misogyny:
Women, eh? They’re all shoulder pads and bitchiness, am-i-right? There’s no such thing as a bitchy rugby player, thank god. They have all the aforementioned nuts, and if they don’t well, Snickers is there for a top-up. The US version of this ad featuring Betty White is both funnier and less about casual bigotry. Sure, the football player is playing like Betty White but the onus is on her physical frailty not so much because she’s a woman, but because she’s elderly. And this supposed frailty is undercut by the physicality and verve of her performance. Yeah, we could all do without the blindingly white-toothed girlfriend to overtly reinforce the heterosexuality all up in that pitch, but the advert at least features an all-important cameo from Abe Vigoda, which both levels the gender playing field and is important in its own right – Abe Vigoda should be featured in pretty much everything.
It would be unfair to say that the – shall we say – anxiety surrounding the marketing of British men, chocolate and peanuts is entirely the fault of the Mars company. In fact an interesting act of choconutty masculine posturing caused a media frenzy in 2006 when celebrity chef Anthony Worrall Thompson (himself a sort of culinary Jeremy Clarkson figure: a bloke’s bloke) made a Snickers Pie on BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen. The British Food Commission estimated that a single slice of said cake was more than 1,250 calories. It is defiantly unhealthy, a clear assertion of nuts against the health and safety brigade. Luckily, this cake wasn’t explicitly gendered so women can presumably eat themselves into a sugar coma with impunity. This is what we should be building toward:
Anthony Worrall Thompson’s Problematic Snickers Tart (it really is more of a tart)
- 1 packet puff pastry
- 140g/5oz mascarpone
- 110g/4oz soft cheese
- 50g/2oz caster sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 5 Snickers bars, chopped into thin slices – put them in the fridge a few hours before so there’s minimal sliminess.
- milk, to glaze
HOW TO BAKE THIS BEHEMOUTH (will take approx. 1 hour’s prep and baking time combined)
First, you’re going to need to preheat the oven to 200 degrees centigrade/400 degrees F.
Then, roll out the pastry until it’s about half a cm thick and lay it over a tart tin. I use a baking tin, it doesn’t really matter, this is not about the presentation. All you need to make sure of is that the corners of the pastry hang over the edge.
Bung the mascarpone, soft cheese and sugar in a mixing bowl and then beat together until smooth. This is an excellent tasting opportunity. Then, mix in the eggs, one by one, followed by the Snickers slices.
Then pour the cheesey chocolate mixture into the pastry-lined dish. Pull the pastry cormers up over the mixture and brush with milk so that everything goes lovely and golden.
Bake in the oven for 10 minutes and then turn it down to 180 degrees C/350 degrees F for another 25 minutes. Then turn the heat back up to 200 degrees C/400F until the pie has gone that aforementioned golden of heart attacks yet to come.
Allow to cool and then eat, contemplating gender politics, transatlantic stereotyping.
Aline Russo writes for various feminist blogs and is fond of a nice candied cashew.