Risk it for the biscuit
For all that Anzac biscuits recipes share an ancestry, their variations are many. I discovered this over the weekend, as I tackled six different recipes and munched my way through seven different forms of Anzac biscuits. Five cups of oats. Seven tablespoons of Golden Syrup. Three cups of coconut. Walnuts. 800 grams of butter and a horrifying amount of sugar. Welcome to my weekend, where I literally risked it (my blood sugar levels) to figure out the biscuit.
I baked each of the recipes in my previous post, and thought I’d share my thoughts and experiences on each of these recipes, as well as the crowd favourites. Let’s get stuck in!
1915: the first known recipe with Anzac in the name
Anzac CakesIngredients: One pound flour, 1/2 lb sugar, 6 oz Waitaki Butter, 1 teaspoonful baking powder, 1/2 lb fruit.”
This presented a challenge. With no method and no liquid, I had no idea how I was going to make it work. I ended up trying to rub the butter into the flour in the hope I could squeeze it into balls, but it formed such a fine crumb that the mix wouldn’t stick. I ended up adding 150ml of milk just to bind it, and shaped it into one big, flat cake, which was sliced into squares, and some little individual balls. Later, a friend commented that I ought to have tried creaming the butter and sugar first, before adding the flour. Genius.
You’d have to have fingers with no nerve endings, the patience of a saint, and a relaxed attitude towards perfection to make these biscuits.
I had imagined that these would spread and be easily rolled, like a brandy snap, but oh, was I wrong. The biscuits didn’t really spread as much as I imagined, and rolling was nigh on impossible: the biscuits would just break as you were three-quarters of the way through the first roll, probably because of the proportion of starch in them. Rolling them while hot burned your fingers, and at first were too squishy to even lift the edge. I gave up and served them flat and round. Their toffee-like flavour and chew factor was a hit, and were chosen as a quintessential Anzac biscuit by about one third of my testers. They were very enjoyable.
This was the first recipe to include coconut, which is the first lasting evolution of the biscuit since its introduction in 1919. I would bake these again, without the effort of rolling them.
1968-1982 The Aunt Daisy Cookbook
Melt 1/4lb butter with 1 tablespoon golden syrup. Add 1 teaspoon baking soda dissolved in 2 tablespoons boiling water. Then add following: 1 cup sugar, 1 cup coconut, 1 cup wheatmeal, 1 cup chopped walnuts, 3/4 cup flour. Take small teaspoonfuls and roll into small balls, then place on cold oven sheet, leaving space between each. Cook 1/2 hour in slow oven.”
Let’s be honest: this recipe is an aberration to what an Anzac Biscuit is. Aunt Daisy was a beloved, trusted broadcaster who shared recipes, household hints and tidbits that she knew to work: so how this completely random recipe came to be included as an Anzac Biscuit is beyond me. The recipe contains no oats, but a mix of white and wholemeal flour. There’s coconut and the requisite chemical reaction between the baking soda, butter and golden syrup, which is usual, but there are also walnuts. As my friend’s daughter reacted when I said this – “Whaaaaaat?” this recipe is weird.
The biscuits were the easiest to roll into balls, but we all agreed: these were not Anzac Biscuits. They didn’t look like them or taste like them: they felt like Anzac biscuits on a health bender. Sorry, Aunt Daisy.
Aunt Daisy’s Anzac Biscuits: the black sheep of the recipe
1 cup flour
1 cup caster sugar
1 cup desiccated coconut
2 cups rolled oats
2 tbsp golden syrup
1 tsp baking soda
3 tbsp boiling water
Heat oven to 180°C (160°C fan bake). Line two baking trays with nonstick baking paper. Place flour, caster sugar, coconut and oats in a bowl and stir to combine. Make a well in the centre.
Place butter and golden syrup in a saucepan to melt, or microwave in a bowl to melt. Dissolve baking soda in boiling water. Add melted ingredients and dissolved baking soda to dry ingredients and mix to combine.
Roll spoonfuls into balls and press onto prepared baking trays, allowing space for biscuits to spread while cooking.
Bake for 15 minutes or until firm and golden brown. Remove to a wire rack to cool, and enjoy!”
Along with the 1919 Anzac Crispies, this modern recipe enjoyed strong popularity. My testers said they looked like Anzac Biscuits, with their physical shape, colour, and visible oats and coconut.
Like the Australian 1933 recipe, this version contains 2 cups of oats, but has more flour, butter, and golden syrup to hold them together and make shaping them easy. The flavour was better than the 1919 version for Anzac Crispies, possibly due to the chemical reaction between the syrup and baking soda to give them a more toffee-like flavour, and the inclusion of coconut to add some milky sweetness. Testers commented on how fat they were, and that they had a lovely chewiness to them.
2018 NZ Women’s Weekly Anzac Biscuits
If you wanted to bake an Anzac biscuit, I’d personally recommend either the 1919 recipe or the 2018 recipe: despite being 99 years apart, they share a strong kinship in flavour, appearance, and texture. I also wouldn’t raise an eyebrow if the 1937 Anzac rolls appeal: they’re also a good version.
There is a final note to the taste-off: I mentioned in the introduction that there were seven biscuits that we tried. I bought a packet for RSA Fundraising Anzac Biscuits from the supermarket, out of curiosity to compare homemade and commercial recipes. The RSA has also introduced a chocolate-drizzle and a cranberry version, which I suppose is to widen the appeal and offers an insight into the ongoing evolution of the biscuit. I myself sometimes include raisins in my Anzac Biscuits, so I am not the one to make any accusations about ‘sticking to traditions’ here.
The first comment about these biscuits was that they “smell like vanilla” – a brilliant observation from one of the children, and which was actually overpowering. The ingredients included margarine – all of the above recipes used butter – and while oats, golden syrup and coconut was listed, you could see that the ratio wasn’t as dense as homemade versions. The ingredient’s final inclusion – “flavour” – was the source of much hilarity and bemusement. And honestly: none of us liked the biscuits. Their flavour was wrong, being too sweet and perfumed, and the as was the texture was chewy but not oaty enough. They’d make an acceptable dunking-in-your-tea biscuit, but came last in the taste-off.
“Huh?” – A genuine reaction to the RSA Anzac Biscuits.
To be fair, I imagine that there are very different considerations that go in to making biscuits for mass consumption. The biscuits would need to have along shelf life (unlike the homemade ones, which as I noted in my last post, would have been unlikely to last the long journey to The Front). There are likely cost considerations to be made as well, hence the margarine and mysterious ‘flavour’. Few of us wanted to finish the biscuit, and we didn’t want to buy them either. Saying that: do support your RSA, as they do wonderful work. Maybe just make a donation instead, especailly as all that donation will go the the RSA and not just a portion.
Our final rating of the biscuits (excluding the 1915 recipe, which could not be included because it bore no similarity to the others) was as follows:
1st equal = 1937 Anzac Rolls and 2018 Anzac Biscuits
3rd = 1919 Anzac Crispies
4th = 1933 Anzac Biscuits
5th = 1968-1982 Anzac Biscuits
6th = RSA fundraising Biscuits
Depending on what you like in your Anzac Biscuit, your rating may be different. But in terms of historic authenticity, flavour, smell, texture, and appearance, I do think that the original and modern recipes are by far the best bets, but the Anzac rolls are a great crowd pleaser.
Happy baking, and do tell me if you attempt any of these recipes!