Nils, my cousin, was in Australia recently with his sister Ellen. While staying with my parents they were exposed to a full range of Australian foods – paddle pops, tim tams, shapes, frosty fruits, (the magnificently-named) golden gaytimes. Nils took to Anzac biscuits*, which is not a great surprise as he has a great love of flapjacks, which are very similar. What was a surprise was the huge number of packets of biscuits he was able to eat in the short time he was out of the UK.
Back in London, it was Nils’ 15th birthday on Friday, and so my mother, a great champion of Australian food, suggested I give him home-made Anzac biscuits. He said it was one of, if not the best birthday present he had received this birthday.
Anzac biscuits are named for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) which fought in WWI. The legend states that they were the biscuits the women at home made for the troops overseas. As there was strict rationing going on, the women only had limited ingredients at their disposal, and needed to make something that would last and travel well.
1 and a half cups of rolled oats
1 cup of brown sugar
1 cup of plain flour
1/2 cup of desiccated coconut
125 grams of butter
2 tablespoons of golden syrup (this is becoming increasingly easy to find in the States, though you may have to look in specialty grocery stores, or shops that sell other traditional British products)
2 and a half tablespoons of water
1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
Preheat the oven to 170°C (340°F). Grease two baking trays well with butter. In a large bowl, mix together oats, sugar, flour and coconut. Put to one side.
Melt the butter over low heat. Add the syrup and water. Take off the stove, and stir in the bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) until fully dissolved.
Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the liquid ingredients. Mix thoroughly. The mixture will be quite stiff and feel dry and crumbly – don’t be put off. I did find it easier to mix it together with my hands than a spoon. Just make sure that you mix in all the dry bits from the bottom of the bowl.
Roll (or squish) into golf ball-sized balls, and place on greased tray. Flatten the balls with an egg slide or spatula, to the desired thickness.(I tried two batches and the ones I liked better were about a centimetre or so thick). You may find that they just fall apart, and will need shaping and compressing by hand. Anzac biscuits do not expand while baking, so you need to make sure they are exactly the shape you want them before they go into the oven and properly stick together. I found that this took me quite a bit longer than I thought, but they do not really need to be perfectly shaped as no matter what you do, they will have a rather ‘rustic’ look.
Bake in a medium oven for about 15 minutes. They should be golden brown, and not feel particularly soft if you press them in the centre. You can make the biscuits larger or smaller depending on preference. I have found that they seem to take the same amount of time to cook even if you reduce them in size a bit.
Allow to cool on a baking tray before lifting off. Given the fact that they were invented to address the problem of having to last for sometimes more than two months during the time it took for them to be shipped over to troops in Europe, these biscuits will last for a very long time without refrigeration.
*You may have noticed that, unlike my usual style, I have not referred to these biscuits as ‘cookies’ to translate for American readers. This is because, in this particular case, it is not allowed. Which, in respect for the reasons for the regulation, I am adhering to. For an explanation, take a look at this very interesting paragraph from Wikipedia:
“The term Anzac is protected under Australian law and cannot be used in Australia without permission from the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs; misuse can be legally enforced particularly for commercial purposes. Likewise similar restrictions on naming are enshrined in New Zealand law where the Governor General can elect to enforce naming legislation. There is a general exemption granted for Anzac biscuits, as long as these biscuits remain basically true to the original recipe and are both referred to and sold as Anzac biscuits and never as cookies.”