Here in Australia, it’s ANZAC Day. Sure it’s a public holiday – and hands up anyone who doesn’t like them – but for those of you outside of Australia and New Zealand, or who aren’t aware of it, ANZAC Day is also arguably our most important national day.
As with many important dates, there are political issues that muddy the water – but today isn’t about that and I’m not going there. To me, this day is about respect, honour, mateship, freedom of self-determination and freedom from oppression – the values that we hold dear and important and worth fighting for. It’s also about the shared experiences and collaboration of the Australian and New Zealand armed forces – not just at Gallipoli but in all the campaigns and exercises since.
And it’s not just about the military side of things, it’s also a reminder of the close relationship between our two countries. There are plenty of things that we argue the ownership of – pavlova, Pharlap, Sam Neill, Crowded House…okay I admit we probably can’t claim Sam Neill – but ANZAC Day is something that we share unreservedly.
Like the pavlova, the original origin of the Anzac biscuit is one that has, from time to time, been in dispute. A Dunedin cookbook apparently was the first to publish a recipe titled Anzac biscuit. It wasn’t, however, a biscuit but a cake and there were no instructions as to how to make it. Then a cookbook published in Australia also named an Anzac biscuit. That was in 1917, but it wasn’t an Anzac like the ones we know today. In that same cookbook was, however, a rolled oats biscuit which is similar to what we know as the Anzac. It was, apparently, catchily named a “rolled oats biscuit”.
Regardless of who was the first to write it down, stick it in a book and publish it, Anzac biscuits were originally baked by wives, mothers and girlfriends and were designed to last weeks or months until they could reach their recipient on a battlefield somewhere. Todays are lucky to last past morning tea.
These biscuits not only held up well on the voyage but were edible when they got there – unlike the Anzac “tack” or “tile” – aptly named given that you could actually write messages on them they were that hard. These were so long-lasting that there are still examples in museums today – and probably just as inedible as they were when they first arrived in the poor recipient’s care package.
Contrary to popular opinion, though, what we now know as Anzac biscuits weren’t just baked to be sent to hungry, homesick soldiers, they were, also (and mostly), baked to sell (and be eaten) at fetes, galas and other public events to raise money for the war effort.
These days there’s controversy over the use of the name Anzac biscuit – yes, it’s bureaucracy gone mad. They say that it’s to protect the integrity of the original recipe – although who can say exactly what that is. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the biscuit should be made with a combination of coconut, rolled oats and golden syrup – with some deviations allowed for gluten or lactose intolerance, but no new ingredients. They’ve gone as far as threatening fines of between $10,000 and $50,000 for commercial sellers who meddle with the basic recipe. I kid you not.
Nigella does a version with a variety of seeds in it – if you’re interested you can find it here. Other recipes might have macadamia nuts – which I’d take over the seeds any day – and one I found online today had burnt butter and rosemary in it. No, I couldn’t be faffed either. As for the ones with chocolate chips? I say no. I did, however, see a version the other day which was the basic Anzac bikkie filled with a chocolate whisky ganache – I could be tempted. The recipe is here.
The recipe I make is my mother’s – with a few tweaks around the sugar component. She’s been baking these biscuits most weeks for most of my life. She doesn’t call them Anzac biscuits, but we do. This recipe doesn’t involve any equipment other than a bowl and a spoon and, allowing for 15 minutes prep and 15 minutes in the oven are a super quick and easy morning tea treat.
What you need…
- 1 cup each of plain flour, rolled oats, and desiccated coconut.
- ¾ cup sugar (split between brown and caster sugar – I use ½ cup brown, ¼ cup caster)
- 125g butter
- 2 tablespoons golden syrup
- 2 tablespoons water
- ½ teaspoon bicarb
What you do with it…
- Preheat the oven to 175C
- Mix the dry ingredients together (except the bicarb)
- Melt together the butter, syrup & water
- Throw in the bicarb and watch it all froth up. I love this part.
- Add the wet to the dry and stir it all up
- Roll tablespoonfuls into balls and place on trays lined with baking paper.
- Flatten a little with a fork, but not too much
- Bung in the oven for 15 mins or until they are golden or smell oatily delicious
- Be careful on the bicarb as too much will leave a metallic taste
- For a dark & crunchier biscuit, use only brown sugar
- If you prefer a blondie, with a softer and chewier consistency, use only caster sugar
- Make sure that your oats are real oats, not those instant ones- it will make the mix spread across the pan.
- Over-mixing will make a tougher biscuit- possibly better suited to months at sea…
- My daughter prefers a rounder, chewier Anzac and my husband likes them to be flatter and crisper. This time I gave into my daughter’s wishes, but for a crisper biscuit flatten the little balls a tad more and cook them for a few minutes longer.