Anzac Biscuits: an analysis of substance

Some weeks ago I decided to make Anzac biscuits, inspired by a kind neighbour and friend who’d brought me a batch of them in aid of my recovery. Glen isn’t an Australian or a New Zealander, but her Anzac biscuits are nevertheless truly excellent. They are slightly resistant to the bite, but not too resistant, and not too crisp. Not exactly crunchy, either: crunchy is wrong for an Anzac. Not too much dessicated coconut (I don’t really like the taste of that but you can’t leave it out, it’s part of the Great Tradition). A little bit chewy, but not too chewy – more lively than chewy, actually. And that authentic deep background flavour of buttery golden syrup. Altogether excellent: thank you Glen!

(And here for a moment I digress, in case you don’t know about Anzac biscuits. Their origin is yet another historical food disagreement between New Zealand and Australia, like Pavlova, which both countries claim as their own invention. The invented Anzac biscuit history which both countries share is that the biscuits were sent to soldiers in the First World War, ‘ANZAC’ being an acronym for the ‘Australian and New Zealand Army Corps’ who fought at Gallipoli. But it seems that those original and brave men had to make do with rock hard ships’ biscuits, and never got any Anzac biscuits at all. Read all about it here.) Maybe the Anzac biscuit already existed, and then had the name of the ANZACs attached to it. Digression ends.)

So, inspired by their deliciousness, I got out my Edmonds Classics recipe book. (Another digression is now required. The Edmunds recipe book is the biggest selling book ever published in New Zealand: over four million copies have been sold since the first edition of 1908. The book I have, though, is a relatively recent publication: my elder sister has possession of our mother’s edition of the original Edmunds book from the 1950s.)

Then I assembled the ingredients. I had to fight for the last tin of golden syrup in the supermarket aisle, too, grabbing it just ahead of a young man. “Flapjacks!” he offered as his excuse; “Anzacs,” I replied firmly, and he gave way. So then, as the triumphant owner of a tin of golden syrup as well as all the other ingredients, I made the biscuits. And blow me down, if the Anzacs from the Edmonds recipe weren’t classics at all: not in my view. They’re good, I don’t pretend they weren’t, but they did not – could not – match my idea of proper Anzacs.

Too plump.

Too soft.

Too close to the whole look and feel of an American oatmeal cookie.

How confusing is that?

We ate them, of course, and I even made a second batch and gave those away to two Australian friends, who loved them. (Maybe a soft, plump Anzac is an Australian speciality?)  And then I gave in, and asked Glen for her recipe. But when I read it – well, blow me down all over again, Glen’s recipe doesn’t have any bicarb in it!

No bicarb at all? In an Anzac biscuit true to the Great Tradition? Surely that’s not possible?

By this stage of the saga I’d put out a more general call for recipes, and now – for pity’s sake – I have four recipes, all subtly yet significantly different, one from another.

  1. One without bicarb, which I know tastes delicious even though it surely couldn’t be called a true Anzac.
  2. One that produced a soft, cookie-like result. Close– very close – but no cigar.
  3. One that was alluringly close to my memory of a true Anzac, but which veered just a tad too close to an over-crisp result for complete authenticity.
  4. One that had the relative balance of oatmeal and coconut wrong.

So I plan to spend at least some of the holidays testing batches of Anzacs. If I discover perfection (and the true Anzac) along that delicious path, I’ll let you know. And if not? Well, I’ll just start all over again with date loaf recipes, say I smugly, secure in the secret knowledge that I already have the perfect date loaf recipe… Oh, OK, secret no longer, huh? But still perfect.

4 Responses to “Anzac Biscuits: an analysis of substance”

  1. Penelope Says:§ion%5B0%5D=people§ion%5B1%5D=articles§ion%5B2%5D=books§ion%5B3%5D=collections&submit=&filter%5Btype%5D=Film

    Belinda, that link is to the Australian War Memorial site and deals with the different biscuits that have carried the name Anzac. The horrible hard biscuits were used as a base for a Christmas card, in one example.

    There are links within the article to recipes for proper sweet Anzac biscuits. Interestingly, coconut was not included in the earliest Australian recipes.

  2. admin Says:

    What a great site – I love the info about hard tack ships’ biscuits. Thank you, Penelope!

  3. Penelope Says:

    Sorry how it looks on the page, though…drifts off into the blue forever, doesn’t it?

  4. admin Says:

    Not on my computer – it’s fine!

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