Joan Menefee has never been a picky eater. She and her husband live in Menomonie, Wisconsin, where they tend gardens in two counties and eat plums and grapes in public parks.

Tim Tams across the water

A story about cookies

By
May 3, 2010

In the million shaggy-dog stories that comprise my life, there is the story of how four boxes of Tim Tams came hurtling around the earth, from Northcote, Victoria, to Menomonie, Wisconsin, through my door, into my hands, and thereby into my belly.

In the manner of an Aristotelian proof — offered by a person who has read precious little Aristotle — I offer this tale.

1. What are the appearance and substance of the Tim Tam?

If books were made of flour, chocolate, and sugar, this cookie would be Lady Chatterley’s Lover. A naughty cookie, to be sure, it has little in the way of natural-foods credentials.

The Tim Tam is a little smaller than a credit card, and about a centimeter tall. It’s small enough, in fact, that you know you’ll probably need another the moment you put the first in your mouth. It is chocolate malted biscuit separated by chocolate cream filling and coated with a thin, textured chocolate shell. Chocolate + chocolate + chocolate. But what the heck — sometimes I like a naughty cookie or two.

2. What is the source of the Tim Tam?

The Tim Tam is a beloved cookie of Australia. When I asked my friend Lisa, an Australian whom I met when we were both exchange students in Belgium in 1986, what Tim Tams were, she was tickled enough by my ignorance to offer me a taste. In turn, I tendered a bottle of maple syrup. Ludicrous in one sense. Logical in another. We engaged in a trans-oceanic sugar exchange.

Have you eaten a Tim Tam?

Lisa and I had become reacquainted through that ubiquitous social-networking site that shall remain nameless. After telling the story of the last 25 years in 300 words or fewer, we started talking about food. Lisa saw my maple-syrup posts; I saw her raving about curries and cakes. Soon enough, she was posting about Tim Tams, and I was asking simple, leading questions, the long-distance equivalent of “Are you going to eat the rest of that?” And though we call our sweet snack foods by different names (she “biscuit,” me “cookie”), we relish them just the same.

In my research for this piece, I learned that Pepperidge Farm is importing and marketing this cookie in the United States. I also learned that there is a phenomenon called the Tim Tam Slam. Sadly, I learned about this racy cookie maneuver after my Tim Tams were gone.

3. What is the nature of the Tim Tam?

What defines a cookie is its size and consistency. A cookie is a dense, compact hand cake, designed for ease of transport.

Travelers are wise to pack cookies in their hobo kits, for cookies don’t hit the bloodstream quite as hard as candy. They provide, instead, a gentler ascent and a point of focus. I am much more likely to look at a cookie while I am eating it, whereas candy I just keep popping blindly into my mouth. I never got candy in my lunch sack, unless I was drawing down funds accumulated on Halloween, but I always got cookies. I also used to pack them when traveling in groups to keep fights from breaking out. Economy and mobility: these are cookie virtues.

Yet the nature of this specific cookie, the Tim Tam, is also impulsive kindness and occasional excess. That is how I remember Lisa when we were 16. She is the one who convinced me to ditch the tour group and explore London on our own. Without her I would not have spent a lovely hour outside the St. Paul Boys’ School admiring the boys’ burgundy blazers in the raw February wind.

Lisa was much braver and funnier than I was, and I’m sure I stole a dozen of her jokes before we returned to our respective homes. Her offer of airmail cookies was of a piece with everything I have ever known about her. Its improbability delights me as much now as her cheekiness did years ago.

I admit that the Tim Tam is being hijacked here, as much as that tea-soaked madeleine was by Proust in 1913. It’s true, though, that Lisa sent those cookies to me, all four boxes, two of which I ate by myself, while my husband was slaving over his evaporator, making another batch of syrup. (Who knows where bottles of this newest batch will end up next?)

And it’s true that these Tim Tams were tasty. While they have been certainly drafted to serve a story, they also fueled several days’ scurrying through my oddball city of Menomonie. Because I don’t roam quite as far now as I once did, my cookies have to pick up the slack.

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1. by boldaslove on May 3, 2010 at 3:20 PM PDT

The best ones are “double coat”, which have been dipped in chocolate twice... yum yum!

2. by Jen Fletcher on May 4, 2010 at 3:56 AM PDT

The sadder thing for me is that Arnott’s won’t import and market Pepperidge Farm cookies here! I sorely miss them esp Goldfish!!

3. by Kathryn H on May 5, 2010 at 12:29 PM PDT

Thanks for this great story Joan; I laughed all the way to the cookie jar! I think now I need to email my cousin in Melbourne to see whether she wants to introduce Tim Tams to her extended family back in Wisconsin!

4. by Jan Smith on May 11, 2010 at 8:34 PM PDT

Dear Joan,

I was eating a dark chocolate Tim Tam while surfing facebook; out of the blue I thought: I should see if Joan Menefee has a fb page. I found this link instead. Are Tim Tams magic? How’d that happen?

BTW, your writing is beautiful as always.

Remember me? Jan (Koenen) Smith from Tahoe

5. by joanmenefee on May 12, 2010 at 8:45 AM PDT

Hullo! Of course, you are a Tim Tammer. I tried to find you on fb, but no luck yet. All is well in the Middle West. This blog has been a lovely way to work out my foodiness, plus I found a recipe for a rhubarb cosmopolitan that I may well road test tonight.

6. by Margaret Studer on May 12, 2010 at 3:50 PM PDT

So, are these Tim Tams a cookie you would bake or something you would buy in Australia? I am always on the lookout for foods to serve with tea.

Margaret Studer

7. by Hank Sawtelle on May 13, 2010 at 12:27 AM PDT

Everyone should have a Tim Tam story. E.g.: We went to Australia for our honeymoon in 1999 and the taxi driver who was taking us to the airport to come home asked if we’d tried Tim Tams during our stay. When we said “no” she couldn’t believe it, nor deal with it, so she stopped at a convenience store and left us alone in the idling car while she went in to buy us a box to take home. We were laughing our asses off. The other day I saw them for sale at Target here in Oregon! (Must be them Pepperidge Farm imports)

8. by joanmenefee on May 20, 2010 at 7:25 AM PDT

Tim Tams are not something I have seen a recipe for, Margarate, but I am sure there is an intrepid culinary re-tooler somewhere on this site who would be willing to try and replicate the recipe for home consumption. Otherwise, as Hank points out, you can try them out in their Pepperidge Farm incarnation. In the meantime, this recipe (http://www.culinate.com/books/collections/all_books/favorite_food_at_home/whole_wheat_shortbread_cookies) and certainly looks it would go with tea.

9. by Molly Morris on May 26, 2010 at 7:31 PM PDT

I saw that episode of Graham Norton and I immediately ordered Tim Tams from an importer. The moment they came, I brewed a cup of tea and spent an afternoon doing Tim Tam Slams. When I saw the Pepperidge Farm Tim Tams, it was my happiest moment in a grocery store EVER!

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