This post originally appeared on this blog last year. It has been updated.
Here in Australia, it’s ANZAC Day tomorrow and for those of you outside of Australia and New Zealand, or who aren’t aware of it, ANZAC Day is arguably our most important national day even if this year we don’t get a public holiday for it.
As with many important national 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.
Normally we commemorate it with dawn services in towns and cities across both countries, and marches by returned servicemen and women (or their descendants). Here on the Sunshine Coast the Last Post is played by a man on a horse on the beach at sunrise.
ANZAC Day is also the only day of the year when playing “two-up” is legal and played in pubs and RSL Clubs around the country. In “two up” two coins (traditionally pennies) are thrown in the air and bets are placed on how they’ll land. It was played by convicts, spread throughout the country in each of the gold rushes, and was also played extensively by soldiers in the trenches in World War 1 and accordingly became part of the ANZAC Day celebrations for returning officers.
This year there will be no marches or two-up or services to go to. They will be broadcasting the dawn service from the War Memorial and we’ve all been asked to stand at the end of our driveways at 6am to commemorate the occasion. In our neighbourhood one of the local kids will be playing the Last Post.
ANZAC Day is more than a remembrance of military history, it’s also a reminder of the close relationship between Australia and New Zealand. While there are plenty of things that we argue about – rugby, cricket, jandals or thongs, eskies or chilly bins; and the ownership of pavlova, Pharlap, Sam Neill, Crowded House, and Russell Crowe…okay I admit we probably can’t claim Sam Neill and we’re mostly happy not to argue about Russell Crowe – ANZAC Day is something that we share unreservedly.
Another thing we share is the ANZAC biscuit.
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 being baked on both sides of the ditch at around the same time. Baked by wives, mothers and girlfriends, they 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 they were so hard you could actually write messages on them. There are, in fact, still examples of these army issue biscuits in museums today – and probably just as edible as they were when they first arrived in the poor recipient’s care package; which is to say that they weren’t edible even when they were “fresh”
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.
The ingredients were important – they were all store cupboard items that would have been in most pantries, golden syrup was used to bind the ingredients rather than eggs (which would have spoiled before the biscuit could reach its recipient), and everything was melted and mixed together, shaped into balls before baking instead of being rolled and cut.
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.
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.
If a slice is more up your street, there’s this one, or this one – which has marshmallows and chocolate and is rocky road meets Anzac slice and gets a massive no from me.
The recipe I make is my mother’s – with a few tweaks around the sugar component. She’s always called them Munchies and has 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.