Tunis Cake

The original McVities Tunis Cake (image courtesy of McVities)

The original McVities Tunis Cake (image courtesy of McVities)


I had pictured myself with a handheld camera touring the depths of England, blowing the dust off old cookbooks, interviewing stalwarts of the WI, doing witty pieces to camera, all in search of the elusive Tunis Cake. This was to be my food odyssey, where I discovered not only the history of this childhood favourite, but of myself.

The Tunis Cake is one of those things that people remember fondly or not at all: A round Madeira cake; topped with a thick chocolate layer and some (non-descriptive) marzipan fruits; a seasonal product hitting the shelves for Christmas. The one that was always in my house was produced by McVities and was instantly recognisable in its square, red box.

Sadly my journey was neither long nor enlightening. After contacting all the supermarkets and food historians it turns out that McVities invented the cake in 1973 and ceased production in the early eighties. Bugger. Although they still have the original recipe so…

M&S discontinued their version in the mid eighties (my mum claims she had one in 1986 from them), whilst Tesco and Sainsburys are still flying the cake flag.

Click here for my recipe to my Ultimate Tunis Cake


Sainsburys version of the Tunis cake, at least it's still available.

Sainsburys version of the Tunis cake, at least it's still available.


Should you want to try the original Tunis Cake contact McVities and ask them to dust off the old recipe and mix up a batch, or better still sign my petition – and if we ever get enough people we can march on Downing Street, or something similar!



M&S's Tunis Cake for Christmas 2009


Despite not producing a Tunis Cake for over twenty years, Marks & Spencer have, thankfully, come to their senses and decided that Christmas 2009 is the right time to buck that trend.

Slightly smaller in diameter than the other supermarkets offerings, with a slightly thinner icing, it was worth the wait. I managed to get my hands on one, direct from M&S’s bakery department and I can’t find a bad word to say about it! The sponge was beautifully moist and the chocolate icing just right.

It comes banded in red foil cardboard and should retail at around the £5.99 mark.

Click here for more I discovered on the origins of The Tunis Cake.

Click here for my review of 2012’s Tunis Cake offerings.


98 comments on “Tunis Cake”

  1. Alexander Millinghouse's comment - added on 25th of November, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    Tunis cake originates back to the days of the Carthage empire and the wars with Rome. After great victories the ‘Tunis’ (a class of warrior) would celebrate with cake and wine. Thus this type of cake is associated with great celebration occasions

  2. lynn cooper's comment - added on 28th of November, 2011 at 11:34 pm

    Hi, I have emailed McVities and they are saying there is not the demand for this cake, but I know there is, so everyone should email them and complain to them that everyone would like to see this cake back on the supermarket shelves! If we do all email them, they may take some notice!!

  3. Denise Pearce's comment - added on 3rd of December, 2011 at 11:12 am

    Good idea Lynn have sent email to McVities Tunis cake is our family favourite now we are eagerly awaiting the arrival at either Tesco or Sainsburys although they are not as nice as when I was younger.

  4. Duncan Hunnisett's comment - added on 10th of December, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    I too have emailed McVities. Let’s get this Seasonal favourite relaunched. There could be a massive demand, so many young people do not like traditional christmas cake, pudding and mince pies. Who doesn’t like choclate?

  5. Richard Rideout's comment - added on 12th of December, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    I disagree that the M&S Tunis Cake is delicious. The madeira cake is fine but the chocolate icing is far too sweet and grainy. Does not taste like chocolate and is a very poor substitute for the real thing. I’ve found that Tesco’s Tunis Cake is the closest to the original and will look in Tesco’s for this year.

  6. Liz Light's comment - added on 13th of December, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    Yep. I lend my full support to the ‘bring back Tunis cake’ movement. My daugher has been on the lookout and got the Sainsbury’s one. Well done Sainsbury’s! But it is not like the original. It is too sponge rather than true Madeira and it doesn’t have the ring of iced blobs round the edge. However it did go down well with a cup of tea when the wind is roaring outside.

  7. fred's comment - added on 13th of December, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    found tunis cake on sale at tesco middleton manchester still got 5 left after i had mine.

  8. Christine's comment - added on 17th of December, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    I love Tunis cake but this 2011 I have not managed to find any of the major stockists like Tesco or Sainsburys selling them. You can order online Tunis cake with Waitrose but they dont deliver to Londoners. Bring back McVities the quality is fabulous.

  9. Pete K's comment - added on 21st of December, 2011 at 10:25 am

    Sainsbury’s are selling Tunis cakes for £7.00 I bought one in the Hedege End Store near Southampton

  10. Reynoldio's comment - added on 21st of December, 2011 at 7:14 pm

    Just bought my Tunis Cake from Morisson’s, yet to try it though! Here’s hoping it’s as good as the original…

  11. Anne's comment - added on 21st of December, 2011 at 10:04 pm

    I have struggled to find a good Tunis cake for the past few years so have resorted to making my own. As I type this my maderia cake is in the oven. The beauty of making your own is that you can have a really thick layer of chocolate topping and the multi coloured fondant icing ribbons that I remember as a child.

  12. TESS SANDERSON's comment - added on 23rd of December, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    Found Tunis cake in Morrisons, Leighton Buzzard on a rare shop there – £7, it was the last one on the shelf and I grabbed it quick lol. Just had a slice delicious, but still not as good as the ones in the 70’s! Brought back many happy memories for us.

  13. Brenda's comment - added on 24th of December, 2011 at 11:16 am

    My mother used to buy Tunis cakes made by Macfarlane Lang and co, in the 1950s.This company had merged with Mc Vities in 1948 but the cakes were still labelled Macfarlane Lang.They were delicious and the chocolate was very thick!!!!!!
    When we had a shop in the 70s they were very popular and we had to order early because of the sheer volume of requests.

  14. hannahk's comment - added on 29th of December, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    just tucking into my Waitrose version ~ delicious. almond sponge, and chocolate cream topped with marzipan all over then a chocolate covering on top of that.

  15. Deptford Pudding's comment - added on 1st of January, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    My friend Graham Chapman posted about his love for Tunis Cake on facebook just before Christmas, and announced they were available in Sainsburys? The theory that Tunis cake is associated with Carthage is a nice story.

  16. Pam Mason's comment - added on 13th of January, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    I too remember the original McVities Tunis cake. My mum used to buy it every year, it was part of our Christmas fare. The only supermarket I saw selling them down here in Cornwall this Christmas was Sainsbury’s, as people have already said, at £7! Expensive for a cake to start with but very very disappointed with it. Hardly any effort made with the marzipan fruits on the top, the cake didn’t go anywhere near the sides of the box, no other icing to be found, as Liz Light says it’s a sponge and not a madeira, and the chocolate cracked and was of poor quality. For me, that was always key, as I remember with the McVities ones you could cut the chocolate without it cracking. Still think the Fabulous Baking Boys cupcakes are the closest thing to Tunis cakes, chocolate and taste wise. How can McVities say there is no demand for the cake when more and more supermarkets have been selling them?! Keep up the good work and maybe one day we’ll have this delicious cake back on our shelves, as per the original recipe!

  17. Trisha's comment - added on 12th of March, 2012 at 8:54 pm

    My brother and I, both in our fifties remember the hallowed Tunis cake with loving memories. You say it Mc Vities started it in 1973, well it must have been before then (that was the year I left home to go to college) or be made by someone else before that, as we remember having one each year for Christmas during the late 1950s and through the 60s too – although we do remember the Mc Vities version too. I saw one in the window at Bettys in Harrogate a couple of years ago, just before Christmas – I was jumping up and down with delight and disbelief, my husband who never knew them as a child always thought it was a myth on my part! Unfotunately, I am the only chocoholic and cake addict now in the family and it was huge and very expensive or I would have had it. We loved this cake as kids much better than the traditional Christmas cake – the cake itself was not over sweet, nor was the dark chocolate on top, but it was rich and a wonderful contrast to the plainness of the cake and very, very thick indeed!

  18. sally ogier's comment - added on 31st of October, 2012 at 11:13 pm

    i live in guernsey channel islands and have not found a tunis cake for years 🙁 i was very excited to find this page but dont think tesco will send to channel islands. its the taste of the chocolate that did it for me, dont know if anyone will be able to recreate it but id like to try and find out.

  19. kaz nicks's comment - added on 7th of December, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    I found a very nice, moist thick choclate tunis cake in my local tesco, priced at £7 it’s worth a try. The best before date is not long so im tucking in now!!! 🙂

  20. Mandy Rowe's comment - added on 10th of December, 2012 at 11:49 pm

    I remember that we always had a McVities Tunis cake at Christmas as none of us liked traditional Christmas cake. I’m sure our family had Tunis cake many years before the seventies as well. My Mother & I keep a look out in supermarkets every year in the hope of finding one. On occassion some have been delivered but disappeared off the shelf before we could get there, so there must be a demand. McVities was always the best but we’d settle for any make now.
    I like the idea that Tunis cakes originate from Carthage.

  21. Mike Newman's comment - added on 15th of December, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    Hooray. Just bought a Tunis Cake in Tesco. The first for years.. happy days…

  22. lou hunter's comment - added on 18th of December, 2012 at 4:53 am

    You food historians are wrong…
    We had homemade Tunis Cake (yes we called it that) right through the 1960s, so long before 1973… and I was never aware of any commercially available product of this name. My mother would never have entertained a shop bought cake. So it most certainly was never invented by McVities. My mother used a recipe that her mother used in the 1950s.

  23. Lorien Carey's comment - added on 24th of December, 2012 at 1:32 am

    My grandmother always bought us a Tunis cake when I was growing up in the 60s and 70s so they are an essential part of Christmas for me. If we see them now we buy several and this year have ended up with 6! My husband got 2 in Tesco and at the same time my daughter was buying 4 in M & S. Unfortunately the M & S ones have very sweet chocolate fondant instead of chocolate and are really disappointing. I feel it’s misleading to call it a Tunis cake if it doesn’t have chocolate on top.

  24. Pam Mason's comment - added on 27th of December, 2012 at 10:39 pm

    Have now tried the Sainsbury’s Tunis Cake (half price of course!). Think they’ve pretty much got it cracked with the chocolate topping – I’d say that’s the closest to how McVities used to be ie. with a bite to it but still soft enough to cut. Pretty impressed with this one – chocolate was much better than the Tesco’s cake, which was just too soft and sickly IMHO. The sponge was not quite there though – too crumbly. Good work Sainsbury’s 😀

  25. Amanda's comment - added on 3rd of January, 2013 at 5:30 pm

    I bought M&S Tunis Cake and we threw it away – the chocolate topping was too much like fudge and not enough like chocolate. I will buy from Sainsburys this year. I did pop into our local store after Christmas to see if I could pick up one but sold out 🙁 I shall have to wait 11 months!

  26. david's comment - added on 24th of February, 2013 at 7:48 pm

    My Dad now 89 had Tunis cake as boy at Christmas in the 1930s.
    His Mum used to pay a small amount weekly. He thinks it was made by a company called McFaren & Lang but he is not 100% sure. It cost 5 bob (25p). It had more marzipan fruit on top and decorative icing around the top edge

  27. val's comment - added on 25th of March, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    Every Christmas during the early 60s my granny would bring us a Tunis cake at Christmas. I’m sure she didn’t make it herself and it was before 1973 so it can’t have been make by McVities, so perhaps they were available at local bakeries. I’ve discovered Nigella’s wonderful and foolproof Madeira cake recipe so I’m thinking of making my own for Christmas this year. The chocolate on top used to have the taste and cutting quality of cooking chocolate, so perhaps I will hunt down some plain Scotbloc for a truly authentic taste!

  28. James Breckenridge's comment - added on 13th of June, 2013 at 10:59 pm

    Waitrose sell them at Christmas time. Madeira sponge with a chocolate icing middle, layer of marzipan then a layer of chocolate icing with three gold sugared almonds on top. A-m-azing!!!!

  29. Susan marsden's comment - added on 23rd of November, 2013 at 10:20 pm

    S.adly miss the Tunis cake that my mum always had at Christmas.


  30. David Stephens's comment - added on 29th of November, 2013 at 7:51 pm

    Macfarlang Lang introduced the Tunis cake and it was sold under their brand name until the late sixties , during this time I was employed by them as a sales representative or as we were called at the time a traveller.

  31. Judy Bird's comment - added on 17th of December, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    I fondly remember the Tunis cake we had every Christmas when I was a child. The original McVities was the best.
    Perhaps I will try again this year to make one.

  32. Sue Barnes's comment - added on 17th of December, 2013 at 9:37 pm

    I left school in 1967 & worked for 4 years in the International Stores, we sold Tunis cakes each Christmas, sadly I can’t remember who made them, but they were big unlike todays offerings, Waitrose do a nice looking one but it is small, they are very easy to make so try it, its only a madeira cake topped with chocolate & a few marzipan fruits

  33. Elizabeth Hudson's comment - added on 18th of December, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    I know for a fact that the Tunis Cake that was available in the 50’s & 60’s was made by McFarlane Lang because my grandfather used to work at their factory which I think was in Isleworth. He always brought 2 Tunis Cakes home at Christmas, one for my grandmother and him and one for my mother and family. I remember that we children were given just a small slice as the chocolate topping was very thick and very rich. Watching Mary Berry bake a Tunis cake last night has inspired me to search for one!

  34. Helen Vaughan's comment - added on 18th of December, 2013 at 8:40 pm

    My birthday is four days before Christmas and my dad always got me a mcvities tunis cake as my birthday cake. It was always a delight and l felt so special having this unique cake given to me as having a birthday so close to Christmas was abit of a bummer when I was younger. .. I would love for mcvities to bring it back so I could relived my memories of this gorgeous cake and share them with my teenage sons.

  35. Suie Clark's comment - added on 19th of December, 2013 at 3:26 pm

    I’m so excited that I’ve just found a Tunis cake in Sainsburys. After 33 years of marriage this will be my first Tunis cake after leaving home! We had one every year when I was little in the 60s/early 70s, although I must admit to picking the chocolate off the top in those days and leaving the cake.. My husband can’t understand why I’m so excited about it all but I’m pleased to see from the other comments that I’m not the only person who remembers these cakes so fondly.

  36. sharon mccluskey's comment - added on 20th of December, 2013 at 7:40 pm

    having my birthday in December my Dad (who is not with us anymore) would bring me a Mcvities tunis cake and say it was made for me, have had other tunis cake but there are not the same please bring back Mcvities Tunis cake

  37. Clive Wilson's comment - added on 22nd of December, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    Glad to hear that someone has a Tunis cake.
    My wife seems to have failed in her quest to get me one in Hertfordshire…
    Any ideas?

  38. jo carden's comment - added on 23rd of December, 2013 at 12:41 am

    Just made, and eaten a slice of, my first homemade tunis cake. Suprisingly easy and delicious, far better than the Morrisons and Tescos versions we’ve had in recent years. I don’t recall the McVites version, I was around in the 70s but my Mum was a traditionalist at it was fruit cake or nothing. My kids take after me, hate Christmas cake, pud or mince pies, but loved this recipe. Who needs shop bought anyway!

  39. Jerry Cockeram's comment - added on 24th of December, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    I was talking of Tunis Cakes with my wife last week, and reminiscing over the thick chocolate and marzipan fruits. They were a real part of our memories of our childhood and Christmas in our households in the 1970’s and it seemed a real travesty that McVities dropped the cake from their range. Yesterday we watched Mary Berry on the Beeb and as a result have made our very own Tunis Cake this Christmas Eve. It looks fantastic & it will be a real test of will for us not to cut into it later today! Have a Great Christmas all of you Tunis cake lovers!

  40. H Bremner's comment - added on 3rd of January, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    I made Mary Berry’s Tunis Cake for a New Year party. Went down very well! The chocolate topping was ganache so much easier to cut than solid chocolate. Very simple to make too. Well done Mary!

  41. Andy Donovan's comment - added on 13th of January, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    I have just shared my Xmas Tunis cake with the lads at work and it went down well, great reading the posts I am 47 and have fond memories of the iced topped Tunis, waitrose used to do it as well and my grandmother used to get it each year, thanks for all the great memories I thought I was alone in my love for this great cake !

  42. Shannie B's comment - added on 6th of November, 2014 at 11:54 pm

    Mmmm..the thought of an “original” Tunis.Yes please. My dad used to work for McVities in the 70’s and always bought us home a Tunis cake for Christmas. Can’t beat the original and although I’ve tried some of the supermarket ones ,they’re just not the same. Shame!

  43. Angie O'Sullivan's comment - added on 2nd of December, 2014 at 6:07 pm

    It is now 2014 and here i am on my yearly quest for the elusive tunis cake. I am 62 and i don’t remember a Christmas without one. Last year my son found one at m&s. It won’t be Christmas without one.

  44. Garry Whitehead's comment - added on 17th of December, 2014 at 9:54 pm

    As a child of the early 1950’s whose eventual career was in the retail grocery trade, I most certainly recall the McVities Tunis Cake with much fondness – and a longing for that unique flavour! My father was an avid consumer and in my early days, ours was invariably purchased from our United Dairies milkman – at around 14/- (14 shillings = 70p). When at some stage the price increased to over 15/- (75p) my mother refused to purchase! (There was no doubt that the product had ‘shrunk’ considerably over the years and each Christmas my father lamented the increasing reduction in the thickness of the chocolate and deterioration in the flavour of same. However, the cake’s eventual demise under the McVities brand was brought about one year in the 1980’s by a particular problem with quality. The cakes were found to be going mouldy well before their ‘best before’ date. McVities (United Biscuits) were forced to issue a public recall of cakes already sold and a warning that they should not be eaten. Within the trade, all stock was uplifted from shops and traders duly recompensed. The whole debacle must have cost UB an absolute fortune and much loss of face with consumers, as the cakes were still quite popular in those days. Having later spent some years as a buyer in the grocery trade, I would surmise that the cakes were frozen after manufacture (which is common practice with many factory made cakes, as it allows the flavour to improve and ‘mature’) and were not were not subsequently allowed to dry out sufficiently once defrosted. (I also wonder whether that particular year, they might have been made outside the UK). In any event, the resulting dampness would, almost certainly, have caused the cakes to develop mould once they were enveloped in their cellophane wrapping.

  45. Sarah W's comment - added on 21st of December, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    I have tried all the modern Tunis cakes and Mary Berry’s too but none of them are quite right, the old one had chocolate that was perfect, hard but not too hard to cut, lovely firm but light sponge, and full of happy memories. My mum would never have had a shop bought cake so this was a treat reserved for Auntie Muriel’s house. Just seeing the photo on this page made me smile and be a 9 hear old again, eating the cake and saving the chocolate for last, getting rid of any marzipan (yuk) fruits I was unlucky enough to get to the nearest dog!

    Bring back the Tunis Cake!!!!

  46. Ruth Faucho (nee Crang)'s comment - added on 26th of December, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    My Father would sell loads of these from his Combe Martin grocery store. Ihave been making my own for years including heaps of mini marzipan fruits.witty

  47. Gloria Crouch's comment - added on 27th of December, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    Please bring back original McVities Tunis Cake…have just tried an alternative make and wont be buying one 2015 unless its from McVities!!…really miss it!

  48. J J's comment - added on 3rd of January, 2015 at 12:59 am

    Please bring it back …I had one from M&S
    it was a poor second. .chocolate to soft, cake dry please hear my plea

  49. Louise Watts's comment - added on 25th of November, 2015 at 9:35 pm

    Definitely going to have a go at making it as really miss Tunis Cake! We used to have it every where when I was growing up in the 80s.

  50. Lee Gibson's comment - added on 20th of December, 2015 at 10:16 pm

    We re-discovered Tunis cake some years ago and have always been reasonably happy with Sainsbury’s version. Although not in the same league as the original McVities, it was as near as we could remember from childhood. Sadly, this year somebody at Sainsbury’s must have decided they would change the recipe!
    The Madeira cake was replaced by what tastes and feels like a bog standard sponge mix, and even worse, the chocolate was a soft fondant. One mouthful was all it took before they were returned. I am now hunting high and low for the real thing again.