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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 Cakes
Ingredients: 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.

Anzac Cakes, original Anzac biscuit

While not an Anzac Biscuit, these little rock cakes are very good.

Anzac Biscuit, Original Anzac Biscuit recipe, St Andrews Cookery Book 1919

The first Anzac Biscuit recipe, found by Emeritus Professor Helen Leach in the St Andrew’s Cookery Book, 1919.

Anzac Biscuit

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

“Anzac Biscuits

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, Aunt Daisy's Cookbook, Anzac Biscuits

Aunt Daisy’s Anzac Biscuits: the black sheep of the recipe

2018: New Zealand Women’s Weekly

“Anzac Biscuits

1 cup flour
1 cup caster sugar
1 cup desiccated coconut
2 cups rolled oats
125g butter
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.

Anzac Biscuit

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.

RSA Biscuit Reaction

“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.

Which Biscuit?

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!
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Do the Hokey Pokey

After baking more batches of Anzac biscuits than I ever care to again (and taking a wee break to recuperate from baking fatigue), I found myself pondering the magical, foaming reaction between golden syrup and baking soda. When was it discovered? How popular is the candy that comes from the reaction? What do we all call it? Turns out, the crunchy treat is more interesting than its simple ingredients alone.

To make honeycomb toffee, or hokey pokey as we call it in New Zealand, you need sodium bicarbonate. It’s a familiar ingredient in our kitchens, used to make our baking rise. It is also a salt. A salt known to us as baking soda, bicarbonate of soda, or bicarb. Baking soda, in it’s most ancient and natural form, has been known to us since the Egyptians, in the form of natron. Now, I am no chemist, so I’ll let wikipedia explain: “Natron is a naturally occurring mixture of sodium carbonate decahydrate (Na2CO3·10H2O, a kind of soda ash) and around 17% sodium bicarbonate (also called baking soda, NaHCO3) along with small quantities of sodium chloride and sodium sulcate“. According to Mark Kurlansky in his book Salt: A World History, the Egyptians sourced it  from a wadi (Arabic: dry riverbed) in a place called Natrun, and called the harvested salt netjry. The Ancient Egyptians used natron to help preserve bodies for mummification: and may have held a level of prestige to it: certainly, it appears that regular old sodium chloride was used for the mummification of less affluent people. From what I can tell though, the raising properties of sodium bicarbonate was unknown, although I like the symbolism of an undiscovered and unrefined raising agent being used for the afterlife, when the soul would hopefully rise again.

Baking soda really became part of our culinary repertoire two millennia later, with commercial sodium bicarbonate being sold from 1846, when two New York bakers founded Arm and Hammer. Prior to that, any foods that needed to rise were achieved with our old friend yeast. Sodium Bicarbonate reacts with acids to produce carbon dioxide, creating bubbles to raise the food being cooked. Baking powder is baking soda with powdered acidic compounds, which are activated in a liquid: meaning that when you’re baking something without an acidic ingredient (chocolate, syrup, etc), you’re not scrambling to add something, like lemon juice, to get the desired reaction.

Bicarb has been with us in its modern form for 172 years, meaning that there’s been plenty of time for creative chemists cooks to play with it and create some of the delicious treats that we love today. The Food Timeline dates ‘sponge candy’ – a mix of corn syrup, sugar, water, gelatin, baking soda and chocolate with a vague date circa 1940. However, after doing some digging here in New Zealand, I’ve found earlier versions. I referenced a 1927 New Zealand recipe for hokey pokey in my Anzac Biscuit post, and it turns out that the National Archives hold a patent from 1896 for “a new confection, to be called Hokey Pokey”.

The patent holder was one William Hatton, a manufacturing confectioner from Dunedin, New Zealand. The patent included a recipe, as follows:

“a mixture of about 20 to 30 lbs of sugar, five to ten pounds of fructose is mixed with a little water to a degree not exceeding 400° Frh here from 2 to 2 3 oz of bicarbonate of soda is added causing the mixture to froth and become light – it is poured out and moulded into any desired shape”

As we can see, the essential ingredients and process is the same, and I’m yet to find an older recipe.

Hokey pokey enjoys popularity as a sweet around the world, with variations as diverse as the cultures that enjoy it. In South Korea, it can be called Dalgona, which is eaten flat on a stick, with an indented pattern in the centre. The goal is to nibble around that pattern, which would appeal to children the world over. It’s also known as ppopgi. In America, you can find it under the names sponge candy, sea foam, old-fashioned puff, fairy food or angel food. In the UK, it’s known as Cinder Toffee or Honeycomb; which is the same name found in Australia and South Africa – although when I was a child in South Africa we called it Crunchie, no doubt because of the Cadbury chocolate bars. Tellingly, Nigella Lawson says that Hokey Pokey is a Cornish term for honeycomb toffee, so I think it possible that the name may have migrated to New Zealand with some of our early European settlers. Such a wide range of names implies that there will be a culinary history in each country and region, and that if you want to find the original you’d better spend a lot of time in cookbooks from the world over hunting for the elusive first recipe.

Hokey Pokey, Honeycomb toffee

My second attempt at Hokey pokey: slightly too caramelised, but beautifully risen and flavoured

So what is it about is the relationship between Hokey Pokey the candy, and Hokey Pokey the ice cream? Hokey Pokey’s first recorded use, recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary, was in 1884 in the Sunday Magazine; calling it a “curiously compounded beverage”. A year later in 1885 we have the first reference to hokey pokey as ice cream, where A.W. Tuer in Old London Cries describes it as “a firmer make and probably a stiffer material than the penny ice of the Italians”. Italian ice cream vendors are strongly linked to the word, and it is believed that migrant Italians may have sang a (now lost) song featuring the word to advertise their sweet treats. Otherwise, it may have come from an anglicized interpretation of an Italian phrase: cries of oh che poco – “oh how little” or ecco un poco – “here is a (little) piece” are put forward as possible contenders. So, Hokey Pokey as an ice cream – any flavour ice cream – was the original definition in the UK and areas of the United States.

However, I cannot find any record of ‘Hokey Pokey’ being used to describe ice cream in general in New Zealand: it appears in relation to the flavour and the flavour alone. The country’s oldest ice cream company still in existence, Rush Munro’s, was founded in 1926, but at first sold candy before extending into the ice cream business. Tellingly, their website states that “our founder, Frederick Charles Rush Munro, may just have been the guy who invented it [Hokey Pokey ice cream]”. I wrote to Rush Munro’s to ask if they had a year for their first sale of Hokey Pokey ice cream, and what these seven forms of toffee may have been, but am yet to receive a reply. It may well be possible that Rush Munro was the first to add Hokey Pokey candy to vanilla ice cream, creating the second most popular ice cream flavour in New Zealand.

As with anything to do with language, it is strongly defined by the area and culture that uses it. I don’t know where our confectioner Willam Hatton got the idea to call this candy Hokey Pokey while it was being used, at the same time for ice cream back in the motherland, but he did, and in doing so created a nice little linguistic puzzle, as well as an iconic kiwi food. I do think that it is more likely that in New Zealand the candy took the name before the ice cream, and the ice cream flavour – as opposed to ice cream as an umbrella term – took the name of the added candy when a genius brought the two together to create an irresistible treat that no visit to the beach is complete without.

Want to know more? Great! Here’s some of what I read to write this post: