Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve had an ongoing love affair with the antipodes. Well, come to think of it, that would be a one-sided love affair, since I’ve never actually been there. But hey, that’s okay. I’m accustomed to those; my entire adolescence was flush with unrequited love.
I’ve dreamt of visiting the Land Down Under since I was about 13. When the Australian Women’s Weekly cookbooks finally made their way across the Atlantic, I was first in line to buy them (favorites include Biscuits and Slices, Vegetarian, and Chocolate titles). I’ve read The Thorn Birds and Oscar and Lucinda; I dutifully watched the Crocodile Dundee movie and delighted over Babe; I was a devoted fan of the Dame Edna show and ran out to buy the first Crowded House CD to hit our airwaves (though I never became a fan of Kylie Minogue). I adore the whole lot of Australian thespians: Hugh Jackman, Naomi Watts, Geoffrey Rush, Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana, and of course Nicole Kidman (I mean, how could you not? She’s just so NOT Julia Roberts).
Age and years didn’t dampen my ardor, either. While studying for my PhD, I had a searing crush on a fellow student, Charlie Ferrall (I know! Can you believe his name is a homophone for “feral”??), whose Australian accent, the same one my friend Sterlin and I tried to imitate and had decided was the most incredibly sexy sound on earth, was his natural way of speaking. (Hey, Charlie, if you’re reading, G’day! How ya doin’, mate? Ever get that dissertation finished?).
Then, several years ago, I managed to arrange a teaching exchange with a college professor in Melbourne. Yippee–an entire year of Living the Dream! The arrangement had us trading jobs while still technically employed by our “home institutions”–perfect for me, considering that the Canadian dollar was worth more than the Australian dollar at the time. We got as far as the final stages of the exchange–down to specific dates, meeting places, and a steamer trunk purchase–before the other woman backed out at the last moment.
“I’m so sorry to do this to you at such a late date,” she wrote in an email. “But we looked into the rentals in Toronto, and simply can’t afford to live there.” Apparently, Toronto has recently been dubbed “the New York of Canada,” and astronomical rents may be one reason why. In fact, if I remember correctly, that Australian teacher ended up in Manhattan.
In the end, all I had to cling to were my memories of my (one-sided) intercontinental romance, a bad imitation of an Australian accent, and yet another CD to sell on eBay.
Well, I had been disappointed in love before, so I decided to stop whinging about it and just get on with it–no worries! And since I’ve entered the blogging universe, I’ve come across several fabulous Australian–authored blogs, many of which have become bookmarked favorites, so I can at least pursue a vicarious existence across the Pacific. If I couldn’t actually live there, I could cook as if I did. After all, this Sheila can still bake, right? And that made me one happy little Vegemite (though I probably still wouldn’t eat the stuff; sorry).
I’d read about Anzac cookies several times over the years, and always wanted to give them a try. A quick search on the internet turned up some interesting information. Apparently, the original cookies, baked for soldiers abroad during World War One, were created so that something nourishing (they contain whole oats) could be sent to the troops in Gallipoli without spoiling before they got there. In order to accomplish that lofty goal, the biscuits had to be able to withstand a two month-long boat ride without refrigeration. The resulting biscuits were very dry, not very sweet, and baked within an inch of a career as Tony Soprano’s favorite footwear.
Modern Anzac biscuits, I’ve discovered, have a bit more sugar in them than the traditional kind, but are still crispy biscuits made with only a few basic ingredients. Every recipe I’ve seen calls for boiling water mixed with baking soda, which is then poured into the cooked sweeteners. All the cookies contain flour, oats, and coconut, but no eggs (or salt or vanilla), so they’re naturally suited to vegans, too. My HH adores coconut, so it was a fair bet he’d like them.
I decided to play with the traditional recipe somewhat and add the missing salt and vanilla. I also used a combination of brown rice syrup (to duplicate the golden syrup of the original) and Sucanat for a little more sweetness. And, of course, I baked them a little less than the traditional kind, as I am fond of my teeth and would like to keep them. The result was a spiffy little biscuit–and that’s no skite.
Well, enough yabbering. Time for the recipe. You reckon?
(“Mum, you know we love you and everything, but sometimes, you can be such a whacker.”)
Anzac Biscuits (original recipe from Kitchen Classics’ Sweet and Savoury Bites, edited by Jane Price )
[Note: mine really did turn out pretty yellow, though not quite as Day-Glo as in this photo. I think it had something to do with the combination of brown rice syrup and being north of the equator.]
125 g. (1 cup) all purpose flour (I used spelt)
140 g. (2/3 cup) sugar (I used Sucanat)
100 g. (1 cup) rolled oats
90 g. (1 cup) dessicated coconut
125 g. (4-1/2 oz.) unsalted butter (I used coconut butter)
90 g. (1/4 cup) golden syrup or dark corn syrup (I used brown rice syrup)
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. boiling water
Preheat the oven to 180C (350F). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, or spray with nonstick spray.
Sift the flour into a large bowl. Add the sugar, oats, and coconut and make a well in the centre. Put the butter and golden syrup in a small saucepan and stir over low hear until the butter has melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat.
Dissolve the soda in the boiling water and add immediately to the butter mixture. It will foam up instantly. Pour into the well int he dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until well combined.
Drop level tablespoons of mixture onto the cookie sheets, allowing room for spreading. Gently flatten each biscuit with your fingertips.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until just browned. Leave on the tray to cool slightly, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container. Makes about 2 dozen cookies.