Friday, April 23, 2010

ANZAC biscuits

ANZAC biscuits (ie cookies) are an Aussie tradition. They're also the most common biscuits I bake -- not that I bake biscuits all that often, but when I do, these are the quickest and easiest and I nearly always have the ingredients to hand. They're also delicious.

ANZAC stands for Australia New Zealand Army Corps and these biscuits were invented during World War One by the wives and mothers of soldiers away fighting on the other side of the world. The 25th April iAnzac Day, a public holiday in Australia that  commemorates the role of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps in the dreadful Gallipoli Campaign of 1915.  During this long and bloody campaign a spirit formed among the soldiers, a tradition of mateship forged under fire and in impossible conditions. It's still part of how Australians see themselves today.  (That's my grandfather on the far right, by the way, standing holding the rope. He wasn't at Gallipoli -- he fought in Flanders, also horrible.)
If you want to learn more about ANZAC day, visit the Australian War Memorial Site. I'm really only talking about biscuits here.

Australians are pretty big on sweets and cakes and biscuits. An old cookery book of my mother's, about 250 pages long, devotes the first 50 pages to soup, meat, and vegetable dishes, the next 50 to puddings and desserts, the next 50 to cakes, and 20 to sweet biscuits. And then there's jams and jellies, and confectionery.

I suppose it was partly about country cooking and hospitality -- with no refrigeration, sugar is a natural preservative, and heaven forbid visitors arrive and you have nothing to offer them with their cup of tea. My grandmother, an excellent country cook, would never be caught short, and invariably had two or three sweet treats to offer visitors - usually some kind of cake,  plus scones, and biscuits. And country men devoured them and burned off the sugar in hard physical work.

Soldiers at war lived on army rations --  basic, boring, usually stale , and often weevilly. They used to joke about the flat  "ships biscuits" that cracked teeth -- "army tiles" some called them. So women back home racked their brains to find something to send their boys that would last the 2 month journey and still be tasty.
(The picture above is of my grandparents taken on leave during WW1. Romantic, eh?)

What emerged was a biscuit (cookie) made of ingredients that most women would find in their pantries : oatmeal, flour, sugar, coconut , butter and golden syrup. No eggs, because they would go bad on the long journey. Oatmeal was a staple -- porridge was a staple breakfast food. Coconut is a commonly used ingredient here, no doubt because it's grown here. And golden syrup is a by-product of sugar production -- a kind of light molasses -- a golden brown colour, lighter than treacle, which is almost black -- and we have a large sugar industry, so like people in the southern states of America, we use it in our cooking. 

These biscuits, placed in an airtight container (often old tea tins like the one on the right) lasted the two month trip easily and were still delicious to eat. I don't imagine they lasted long after the tins were opened -- they'd be shared around -- a little taste of home to boys and young men fighting in a foreign land.
At first they were simply called 'soldier's biscuits' but as people back home became used to hearing reports about "the ANZAC boys' they were soon called ANZAC biscuits.

So here's the recipe. It's very user friendly and adaptable. I'm also giving you my lazy girls method, where you mix the whole thing in a saucepan. Less washing up ;)

1 cup rolled oats (I've used all sorts, even microwavable oatmeal) 

1 cup plain flour
3/4 cup desiccated coconut  (dried coconut)
1 cup sugar  (white, raw or brown)
125g (4oz) butter
2 tablespoons golden syrup (see note above)
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1 tablespoon boiling water

1) Preheat oven to 150C (300F)
2) Melt butter and golden syrup together in a large saucepan. Remove saucepan from heat.
3) Mix soda with boiling water and add to melted butter and syrup. It will foam up a little. 
4) Mix oats, flour, sugar and coconut into the wet mix.
5) Place walnut-sized lumps of mixture (about 1 tabsp) on greased tray (allow room for spreading).
6) Bake in a slow oven (150 C or 300 F) for 20 minutes. They will look golden and toasty
7) Loosen while warm (they come out very soft) and cool on trays.

The number it makes will depend on the quality of the ingredients used, which will affect how much they spread in the baking. If you overbake them and you find them too hard and crispy, crumble them up and use them as topping for icecream. They will soften with age, too. 

If you make them, write and let me know what you thought.


  1. I admit that I buy them, but have shown my daughter your recipe and we are going to make them this weekend - they look lovely - I'll let you know how we go. Your photos are wonderful.
    Carol M

  2. I think you resemble your grandmother, Anne. Wonderful picture. Thanks for the recipe. I love Anzac biscuits. I'll make some soon. Tonight I'm making brownies with three of the grandsons.

  3. Carol, I'm glad you said you buy them -- that way people will know that they really are tasty. But they're also dead easy to make.

    Barbara, no, she was very skinny all her life! I take after the plump Irish grandmother. LOL. Have fun baking brownies with your grandsons. Maybe you could put your recipe on your blog. I'm always after a good brownie recipe.

  4. Yum, Anne! Haven't made them for yonks and we will definitely remedy that situation this weekend - they're so simple yet so tasty. Impossible to stop at just one! Gorgeous made with brown sugar too, for a slightly more caramelly flavour.

    I love the photos - esp the one of your grandparents together, what a handsome couple, and yes, Anne Mc is right, I can see the resemblance too!

    My mum's dad fought in WWI and luckily for our family (or just like yours I suspect, we wouldn't be here) made it home again. But we lost two young men, one from Mum's English side, and one from Dad's Aussie side of the family, both buried in France. Given what a lot of families suffered, we got off very lightly considering. Wretched times. So important to remember.


  5. Anne, the cookies look delicious. We have to make some cookies for my daughter's school's Staff Appreciation week. I'm sure these will go very well with their morning coffee very well.

    I agree with Anne McAllister. You seem to have your grandmother's nose and eye shape. Also a certain look in the eye.

  6. My family had a distant cousin at Gallipoli. Used to spit every time Winston Churchill's name was mentioned. Terrible.

    And those heartbreaking rows of crosses in France! How can we still think that this time a war will be worth it? (I am writing a pacifist character in 1938 at the moment, and find I'm getting closer and closer to him.)

    HOwever, biscuits are always worth it. I'm going to try these with some combination of gltuen free flours. I'll let you know the result.

  7. Thank you for the post, Anne. So much fascinating information! I loved the picture of your grandparents, who looked extremely glamorous. Loved the tin as well. We have a small collection of old tins and I am always on the lookout for things like that. Will certainly try the cookie recipe!

  8. Trish, both my grandfathers fought and both came home, but Billy , the one in the photos was badly gassed by poison gas, and his lungs were shot. He died very young, poor darling, when my Dad was just 19 and at war himself.

    I can't believe people think I look like my grandmother Rose. I wish. Keira, that look in her eyes? She was an absolute tartar. ;) I only knew her as a very scary old lady. She did not approve of small tomboys who wore trousers and occasionally answered back. My childhood interactions with Nana gave me a window into the rigid attitudes of the Victorian Age. LOL

    She might have approved of my writing, though. Apparently she was a huge Georgette Heyer fan and had a full set of first editions. They were given to the church when she died. I was only 9, and nobody thought I might want them.

  9. Jenny, yes, those endless rows of stark crosses are so tragic. And they were mostly just boys. They still are...

    I've made Anzacs with gluten free flours, with rye flour and with a combination of flours, including buckwheat. People also sometimes add nuts (flaked or slivered almonds esp) or sultanas or raisins. Some people like more coconut, some less. I imagine you could even make them without coconut -- maybe ground almonds or hazelnusl instead. As I said it's a very forgiving recipe.

  10. Nicola I love old tins, too. I have a number, mostly empty, for decorative purposes. They evoke an era so beautifully.
    I usually only make biscuits when I'm expecting visitors or to take to someone. I hope you enjoy the Anzacs. They're a great quick and easy standby. No beating or creaming of ingredients -- you can have them in the oven in 10 minutes. And they last for ages (if you hide them or lock them away.)

  11. Yummy, me and mum made them today and they were yum and were going to make more From Lucinda

  12. As above! We made them and they are far nicer than the store bought ones. I used molasses and they were very sweet, so might use less sugar next time. Really easy to make AND I had all the ingredients in the cupboard. Thanks for a great recipe.
    Carol M

  13. Hey, Lucinda and Carol, it's great that you made them. I think it's good fun, cooking together. Carol, I think it'd be no problem using less sugar -- as you say, the molasses is pretty sweet.

  14. I'm a recipe freak, so I thank you for this recipe, Anne. They sound delish.

    Re the picture of your grandparents: oh my, Billy is just gorgeous! I mean REALLY gorgeous. He has such a cocky, self-assured look in that picture, with his turned up collar.

    By the way, if you ever get around to it, you could always post your boiled fruitcake recipe that you once gave me, and which I seem to have lost. *g*