I’m hijacking the Backstage Baker to blog a recipe I have been meaning to blog for years.
ANZAC biscuits are the traditional cookies baked to celebrate ANZAC day, April 25. My excuse is that it’s a holiday we don’t celebrate here in the US, so I never have fair warning. Luckily, one of my Antipodean cousins reminded me in time to get it together this year. And perhaps it’s appropriate that I’ve waited until the 100th anniversary of the battle it commemorates to share this recipe.
ANZAC Day memorializes the sacrifices made by the Australian-New Zealand Army Corps who fought against the Turkish Army at Gallipoli in April 1915. Landing on April 25, the ANZACs were tasked with capturing the peninsula as a first step to capturing Constantinople so that Britain could have free access to the Black Sea, thus neutralizing the Ottoman Empire for the rest of WWI. (Writing this seems like such ancient history. World War 1? Constantinople? The Ottomans? Is Helen of Troy going to show up too? Oh yeah, actually this was also near where ancient Troy was located. War has been an enduring theme for this area. But I digress)
Mother England spearheaded this campaign and used the troops from Down Under to do their dirty work. But they didn’t reckon on the fierce resistance of Kemal Ataturk’s Army, and what was supposed to be a quick, decisive battle dragged out for months. Both sides suffered heavy casualties (over 450,000 by some counts) and the remaining ANZACs were finally evacuated eight months later. It was all very complicated and futile. (Perhaps you remember Gallipoli — Peter Weir’s 1981 film starring Mel Gibson? It’s about this battle. You should watch it.)
Gallipoli is also a battle in which my great-Uncles Frank and Maurice Loftus fought, so this holiday is about a little more than cookies for me. Great Uncle Frank corresponded regularly with his mother, and sent these letters home. His Kiwi understatement combined with his sharp observations of battle are incomparable, and we’re so lucky these letters were preserved. So read them. If you want.
(Just an aside: Frank survived Gallipoli, then served further in France, where he suffered a mustard gas attack. He was wounded three times during the war, and received the Croix de Guerre and a kiss from the King of the Belgians.)
My mother once told me a story about visiting a New Zealand veterans’ home with her Catholic School choir. There was one man there, she said, who had been dreadfully wounded at Gallipoli and lost his arms and legs. He was carried into the room in a small basket, and had the most beatific smile on his face as the girls sang. My mother always felt guilty that she broke down in tears when she saw him and was unable to sing.
(You’ll excuse me as I go read some light poetry by Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon.)
Anyway, the story behind these biscuits is that they were baked and sent by the wives of the ANZACs to the soldiers because they travel well and don’t spoil easily. I think this explains why they have never been a particular favorite of mine, but if you ever need to send biscuits to soldiers overseas, these are the ones to make.
Below is my mother’s recipe for ANZAC Biscuits. I’ve adapted it below for American ingredients, but don’t you just love the neat handwriting my mother had!!
(recipe from Margaret Loftus Ranald)
1 stick butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons Golden Syrup (you can find this in most grocery baking sections, or substitute light corn syrup. I’ve used honey with fine results.)
3/4 cup oatmeal (quick or original, either is fine)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda (dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water)
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
3/4 cup flaked coconut
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a stand mixer, cream butter, sugar, vanilla and Golden Syrup. in a separate bowl, whisk oatmeal, flour, and salt. Add dry ingredients and baking soda solution to creamed mixture and mix until just combined. Stir in walnuts and coconut by hand.
Roll about a tablespoon of dough into a ball and place on lined cookie sheet, flattening slightly. (NOTE: I always use a Silpat, but parchment paper is fine too. Or just grease the cookie sheet. It’s all fine.)
Bake for approximately 10 minutes. Remove from cookie sheets and let cool.