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History of the humble Anzac Biscuit

How delicious is that?

Anzac biscuits fresh from the oven

An Anzac biscuit is a sweet biscuit popular in Australia and New Zealand, made using rolled oats, flour, desiccated coconut, sugar, butter, golden syrup, baking soda and boiling water. Anzac biscuits have long been associated with the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) established in World War I.

It has been claimed the biscuits were sent by wives to soldiers abroad because the ingredients do not spoil easily and the biscuits kept well during naval transportation. Today, Anzac biscuits are manufactured commercially for retail sale.

Biscuits issued to soldiers by the Army, referred to as “Anzac tiles” or “Anzac wafers”, differ from the popular Anzac biscuit. Anzac tiles and wafers were hard tack, a bread substitute, which had a long shelf life and was very hard.

Origins

St Andrews Cookery Book

In a speech to the East Otago Federation of Women’s Institutes, Professor Helen Leach, of the Archaeology Department of the University of Otago in New Zealand, stated that the first published use of the name Anzac in a recipe was in an advertisement in the 7th edition of St Andrew’s Cookery Book (Dunedin, 1915). This was a cake, not a biscuit, and there were no mixing instructions. A recipe for “Anzac Biscuits” appeared in the War Chest Cookery Book (Sydney, 1917) but was for a different biscuit altogether. The same publication included a prototype of today’s Anzac biscuit, called Rolled Oats Biscuits. The combination of the name Anzac and the recipe now associated with it first appeared in the 9th edition of St Andrew’s Cookery Book (Dunedin, 1921) under the name “Anzac Crispies”. Subsequent editions renamed this “Anzac Biscuits” and Australian cookery books followed suit. Professor Leach also said that further research might reveal earlier references to the name and recipe in Australia or New Zealand.

Current popularity

Today, Anzac biscuits are manufactured commercially for retail sale. Because of their military connection with the ANZACs and ANZAC Day, these biscuits are often used as a fundraising item for the Royal New Zealand Returned Services’ Association (RSA) and the Returned & Services League of Australia (RSL). A British (though still Australian-produced) version of the Anzac biscuit, supporting the Royal British Legion, is available in several major supermarket chains in the UK.

A Recipe for Anzac Biscuits

  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup desiccated coconut
  • 4 oz butter
  • 2 tablespoons boiling water
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (add a little more water if mixture is too dry)

(NOTE: Eggs are omitted from Anzac biscuit recipes, originally due to the scarcity of eggs during the First World War, after poultry farmers joined the war effort.)

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius (approx 375 degrees F). Grease a biscuit tray or line with baking paper. In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients. In a small saucepan over a medium heat (or in a microwave proof jug or bowl in the microwave), combine the butter and golden syrup until the butter has melted.

In a small bowl, combine the boiling water and bicarbonate of soda. Add the bicarb and water mixture with the melted butter and golden syrup. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly.

Dollop teaspoonfuls of the biscuit mixture onto the greased baking tray. Don’t forget that the biscuits WILL spread during baking, so make sure you leave room for them to spread! Bake for 12 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven. Allow the Anzac biscuits to cool on the tray for a few minutes before serving with tea or coffee.

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