Friday, 6 July 2007

ANZAC Biscuits

For those who've never experienced the delights of ANZAC biscuits, they are made from rolled oats, butter and golden syrup, sometimes with coconut, and they taste delicious. Many myths surround the origin of these little bakes. It is generally assumed from their name that the biscuits were made by antipodean wives for their menfolk serving in the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) during World War I. The recipe was supposedly created to ensure the biscuits would remain edible after lengthy periods of naval transportation to their loved ones fighting in Europe and North Africa. However, recent evidence suggests that these war-time provisions were shaped more like rock cakes and made from different ingredients, with ANZAC biscuits being created after the war as commemorative items for consumption on 25th April. Whatever the truth, they make an excellent snack on their own or, as in my case, a fine accompaniment to a fruit dessert.

The "original" rugged, crunchy rolled oat ANZAC biscuit
ANZAC biscuit figured in my Australian Gastronomy Project menu in a dish that I conceived and described as Quandong Pavlova made with ostrich egg albumen, served with a forest peppermint ANZAC biscuit. A month ago the time came for me to cook one of the dishes on my menu for the final stage of my project and this was the dish that I chose. Unfortunately, I was unable to source either quandong or forest peppermint in London, even with help from The Australia Shop and the High Commission. As I hadn't left enough time to import the ingredients from Australia, I was forced to substitute English peaches and herbal peppermint instead. But it all worked well and the resulting dish was well received. As this piece of cooking was an examined part of my Diploma course, I thought it best not to take photographs or publish an article about it. But I was so pleased with the ANZAC biscuit that I determined to repeat the exercise at home a week or two later - and here are the results.

Browsing the web for an ANZAC biscuit recipe, the first thing I noticed was that there are thousands of them out there. It didn't take long to realise that there are significant differences between typical Australian versions and their New Zealand cousins and I wouldn't be surprised to find interesting variations from town to town. Some recipes use plain flour, some use self-raising, others use no flour at all. Some call for coconut, others don't.
I hate using scales - I much prefer to work by instinct

As I think I already explained in a previous post, the aim of the Gastronomy Project presentation was to chose a dish with historic significance and put a modern spin on it.

Ancient and modern - two ingredients a century apart
My limited historical knowledge and rather better instincts led me to believe that coconut would not have been used in an original recipe, because I couldn't imagine that even the desiccated form would have been part of the average antipodean's ration allowance during WWI. And the peppermint that I used to flavour the modern version certainly would not have been readily available. But tinned treacle, or better still, tinned golden syrup, was indeed available to the wives and mothers back home.

So these are my modernised ANZAC bikkies, incorporating today's much more accessible "exotic" ingredients: coconut and peppermint. In the absence of the forest kind, my peppermint was powdered oil extract, courtesy of health food retailers Holland & Barrett.

I deliberately made these much thinner than the classic version, and cut them into a tuile-type shape for über- modernity. I then finished them with a dusting of peppermint-infused icing sugar.
My idea of a modern, flavoursome tuile-type ANZAC biscuit

Judging from the rate at which they were scoffed, I'd say the experiment was a resounding success.


lindy said...

Is there a recipe in your post somewhere? I'm not finding it- perhaps I am suffering from early morning doltishness? But if not, could you please add it on?-I want to make these, they sound great.

Trig said...

Lindy - you're not missing anything, I didn't post a recipe because there are hundreds out there and they are all pretty much identical. I weighed out my ingredients to document them for my presentation, but I don't have a copy at hand and it's not really necessary at all.

In essence you need a dry mix of plain flour (I used a gluten free flour), rolled oats, desiccated coconut and brown sugar. Use a cup of each, with less sugar if you don't like the result too sweet, and mix thoroughly. As I recall, I added about 1 tablespoon of dried peppermint oil, which was more than the recommended consumption limit on the tin. Use your taste for the peppermint.

You then make a wet mix of about 120gm of melted butter and two tablespoons of golden syrup. The more golden syrup you add, the more crisp the final product will be. Add 1/2 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda to the wet mix.

Pour the wet mix into the dry mix and stir. If it is too dry, add a little water (very little - probably no more than a teaspoon). You want a very firm mix, not a sloppy one.

The difficulty is avoiding over-caramelisation on the outside, which will burn easily if you are not careful. They are also prone to stick. So bake on a low heat on baking paper previously rubbed with a few drops of olive oil. Watch them carefully so you remove them at the right moment (don't worry - they won't collapse like a soufflée if you open the oven door).

The perfect product is soft and moist on the inside and crunchy on the outside. Obviously my modernised version, flattened out before baking, is more crunchy throughout.

Hope this helps.

Kiriel du Papillon said...

Here is my recipe - very similar to trig's. I like my anzacs a wee bit crunchy on the edges but chewy in the middle; they end up quite flat, unlike some versions which are much more like an American cookie than mine, which are closer I guess to a tuile or florentine.

1 cup plain flour
1 cup rolled oats uncooked
1 cup desiccated coconut
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 tbsp golden syrup
3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tbsp boiling water
Combine the flour (sifted), oats, coconut and sugar in a bowl.
Melt the butter and Golden Syrup in a saucepan over a low heat until melted.
Dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in the water then add to the butter and Golden Syrup - it will foam up.
Pour the liquids into the dry ingredients and mix well.
Spoon dollops of mixture, about the size of a walnut, onto a non-stick tray leaving as much space again between dollops to allow for spreading.
Bake in a moderate oven, 180C / 350F, for 15 minutes. I pull mine out when they have just started turning golden, as they continue to cook a bit on the tray. Allow to cool a little on the tray and then move to a wire rack and once cool seal in airtight containers.

Do not taste-test these or you will discover that you have accidentally eaten them all!

tbsp = tablespoon
tsp = teaspoon
cup = 250ml

Trig said...

Thanks Kiriel. You are right, I probably used more water than I said previously, but I do remember being very careful not to let the mixture become too moist.

I'm not really a recipe chef at all - I prefer to assemble ingredients and work using my heart and senses, drawing on my brain only when strictly necessary.

Interestingly, in three years of professional training at college we never opened a recipe book. We wrote dish specs (something like a recipe) for the dishes we copied or created, but recipes did not figure on the course.

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