What Exactly Is A British Traybake?

For Americans, hearing Brits talk about their favorite desserts can be pretty bewildering. It's like slipping through the looking glass into a Mad Hatter's Tea Party world where pudding isn't pudding, biscuits aren't biscuits, and scones aren't scones. Put simply, British and Americans can, at times, have very different dessert lingo. 

Who could forget the scandalous international incident that occurred when a U.S. food website shared a recipe for mincemeat tart? The trouble was, as well as baked apple and sugar, this "treat" contained ground beef (via BuzzFeed News). This was baffling to Brits, as mincemeat tarts (more commonly known as mince pies) are a sweet Christmas food with strictly no meat. As explained by JoyofBaking.com, mincemeat is actually a mixture of dried fruits, candied fruits, apples, spices, suet, and sometimes a spirit like brandy or rum.

Other cross-Atlantic confusion can arise with the scone and biscuit conundrum. In essence, British scones are small, dense, bready cakes, often slathered with jam and clotted cream or butter (via Simply Recipes). And as Vox points out, the U.S. actually has two similar counterparts. First, there are biscuits, which are lighter, flakier, and usually served with savory dishes like chicken, soup, or gravy. Then there are American scones, a sweet, rich and crumbly baked treat made with heavy cream and sometimes eggs. With this in mind, what exactly are Brits blathering on about when they talk about biscuits?

Traybakes are sheetpan desserts

British biscuits are sweet snacks closer to American cookies — yet only in the widest, most generic sense of the word. To make things more mind-bending, actual cookies are also known as, well, "cookies" in the U.K. As outlined by WiseGEEK, a British biscuit is generally a flat and hard-baked bread, sweetened and cut into shapes. A biscuit might be flavored, contain dried fruit, caramel, or jam, or be covered with chocolate. Yet biscuits can also be made from wafers, or even sponge, as with the classic Jaffa Cakes (via Mashed). Confused yet? Well, hold on tight because we haven't even started on that British dessert classic, the traybake.

Head to any church fête, kid's birthday party, or traditional cafe in Britain, and you'll often find sweet, gooey traybakes waiting to tempt you. But what are they, exactly? In essence, a traybake is simply what's known as a "bar cookie" or "sheet dessert" in the U.S. And according to Collins Dictionary, it's a flat cake baked in a tray and cut into small squares to serve. Yet as nothing is simple in dessert land, many traybake recipes are actually no-bake and can simply be stuck into the fridge.

Different traybakes in the U.K.

That said, it would be a mistake to think of bar cookies and traybakes as the same, as the latter has its own set of traditional recipes that might not be as common in the U.S. For instance, a few old-school, U.K. traybakes include chocolatey classics like millionaire's shortbread (caramel, shortbread, and chocolate), peppermint slices (crumbly biscuit, peppermint cream, and chocolate), and chocolate tiffin (a Scottish treat of crushed biscuit, golden syrup, cherries, raisins, and chocolate). Then there's school cake, a sweetly nostalgic childhood traybake of vanilla sponge covered in white icing and rainbow sprinkles, as well as parkin, a Yorkshire gingerbread cake with oats and treacle (via Olive Magazine).

Oh yes, and flapjack traybake is also very popular, but don't go thinking that's a kind of pancake. As explained by The Daring Gourmet, a British flapjack is actually a sweet, gooey sort of granola bar with butter and golden syrup. Gottit? It's all a bit bewildering, admittedly — but there is a cure for that. Try out The Great British Bake Off's recipe for lemon & cardamom drizzle traybake, then scoff it down with a nice strong cup of English breakfast tea. This, hopefully, will throw you clear of the rabbit hole, and everything will seem much clearer.