Australian food — not the new, ModOz cuisine of today’s successful Australian restaurants, but the traditional Australian food that was made by my grandmothers and great-grandmothers — is funny stuff. More often than not, recipes were the result of creative problem solving, a need to economize, and usually had a bit of folklore attached. Take Anzac biscuits (er, “cookies,” for those of you who speak American), for example. These sweet, chewy, coconut and rolled oat treats have quite a history behind them.
In case you missed it, April 25 was ANZAC Day, an important national holiday for Australians and New Zealanders — similar to the US’ Memorial Day. A day of remembrance, it was first observed in 1916 to honor the loss of Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) forces at Gallipoli during World War I. Today the holiday commemorates all those who have served and died in military operations. (Want to know more? Get your history lesson from the Australian War Memorial site.)
The story behind Anzac biscuits goes something like this: Wives and girlfriends of ANZAC soldiers started baking these treats to send to their men overseas during World War I. As the only transport available was by sea, these cookies had to survive a long trip without spoilage. That meant no eggs or butter — items which were also in short supply during the war. Creative problem solving comes into play, and a combination of baking soda, hot water, and golden syrup were used to bind the dry ingredients.
It’s a sweet story, but not quite, well, factual. Apparently the Army provided soldiers with a tile-like bread substitute called hard tack (aka, “ANZAC tiles”), that incorporated some of the same ingredients as the sweet biscuits. However, the sweet, chewy Anzac biscuits that were supposedly sent by wives, girlfriends, and mothers of the soldiers were more likely made, eaten, and sold at home for war-effort fundraisers.
I have to admit that I did not grow up eating Anzac biscuits. There were plenty of sweet treats in my house when I was a kid — American standards, as well as few Australian classics, such as lamingtons, the occasional package of Arnott’s biscuits, and Violent Crumble bars. But no Anzac biccies. Come to think of it, most of the treats I grew up with involved chocolate, which Anzac biscuits lack. Maybe that’s why I never had them as a kid! (Yes, I owe my love of chocolate to my parents. There was no shortage of chocolate bars, cookies, or Hostess cupcakes in my childhood home.)
So, on ANZAC Day, I was feeling inspired to — for the first time ever — make those famous biscuits. As with any national classic (think: chocolate chip cookies), there’s no definitive recipe and lots of opinion about what makes a good cookie. The must-have ingredients for an Anzac biscuit are: flour, sugar, rolled oats, butter, golden syrup, baking soda. Most recipes include desiccated coconut, but some Anzac-biscuit purists say “no coconut.” Additions such as citrus zest or dried fruit can make a nice treat, but once you’ve added anything beyond the basic ingredients, purists will say it’s no longer a true Anzac.
Ooof, no pressure! Well, I wasn’t looking to improve the Anzac biscuit, but I wanted to start with the basic recipe and add a bit of my own story. So, with all due respect to the purists, my variation brings together an Australian classic, California oranges, and a passion for chocolate. The result? Orange-Scented Anzac Biscuits with Chocolate Truffle Filling — a rich, buttery, chewy, creamy, oaty, chocolately indulgence.
The two components of this treat — the Anzac biscuit and the truffle filling — can be made and enjoyed separately. To that end, I’ve created separate posts for each. The Anzac biscuit recipe follows below. The truffle filling recipe and final assembly instructions are here.
**Important to know before you make the Anzac biscuits**
The golden syrup is required — there is no substitution for this ingredient! The best description I can give is that it’s like a combination of glucose and honey, but the flavor is unique. You can likely find golden syrup wherever British products are sold; look for Lyle’s brand. In the 650, try Bianchini’s in San Carlos or Mollie Stone’s in Palo Alto.
Orange-Scented Anzac Biscuits
Yield: 24 biscuits (cookies)
Adapted from taste.com.au
Medium microwave-safe bowl
Large mixing bowl
1½” ice cream scoop (handy if you have it, but not required)
Note: I find it easier to weigh dry ingredients than measure (your mileage may vary). I’ve included the gram weights, along with volume measurements. Use whatever works best for you.
1 cup (132 g) all-purpose flour
1 cup (95 g) plain, rolled oats (not instant)
1 cup (88 g) unsweetened, desiccated coconut (medium flakes)
¾ cup + 2 tablespoons (178 g) baker’s sugar (ultra-fine)
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
8½ tablespoons (125 g) butter
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons golden syrup
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon boiling water
- Preheat oven to 355°F for a still oven (no convection) or 325ºF convection.
I used my oven’s convection function for this recipe because I’ve found that cookies bake more evenly. It’s also a better option if you want to bake multiple sheet pans of cookies at the same time.
- Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Pour the flour into large mixing bowl and stir several times with a wire whisk to give it a quick “sift.”
- Add the oats, coconut, sugar, and orange zest to the bowl and stir everything together to combine.
You can use the rubber spatula, but I find it easier to swirl my fingers through the dry ingredients to combine them and to be sure that zest is evenly distributed and not hanging out in one big clump.
- Combine the butter and golden syrup in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat in the microwave on 50% power at 30-second intervals until butter has melted. Stir to combine. Set aside.
- Combine boiling water and baking soda in a small bowl, stirring to combine.
Yep, it will get fizzy!
- Add the baking soda mixture to the butter-syrup mixture and stir to combine.
- In the large mixing bowl of dry ingredients, make a well and add the wet ingredients, stirring to combine.
After the initial stirring, I ended up using my hands to do the final mixing and make sure that all of the dry ingredients were incorporated.
- Form the dough into 1½” balls and place them on the prepared baking sheet, spaced evenly.
Here’s where I like to use the 1½” ice cream scoop. The scooping and shaping process goes quickly, and you end up with uniform cookies — which means that they all bake evenly. If you don’t have an ice cream scoop, you can use a 1-tablespoon measuring spoon.
- Using the heel of your hand, flatten each ball slightly.
Flattened disks will be about 2″ in diameter.
- Bake for 13-15 minutes, turning the sheet pan(s) halfway through baking time to ensure even coloring.
Here’s where you need to know your oven. Baking time for my oven was 13 minutes, so I turned the sheet pan(s) after 6½ minutes.
- Let the biscuits cool on the sheet pan for 5-10 minutes, then transfer biscuits to a wire rack until completely cool.
At this point you can serve or store the biscuits — or continue on to Part Deux to make the chocolate truffle filling.
- Store in an airtight container up to a week.
You might find that the biscuits become a bit chewier with storage. And yes, in theory you should be able to store these biscuits for more than a week, but, well, mine were gone within three days, so I don’t have enough data at this time.
Ready to make the chocolate truffle filling and assemble these babies? You’ll find that post here. Did you decide to skip the filling and just eat the Anzac biscuits plain? Don’t worry — I won’t tell!