It is a belief among many that ANZAC biscuits were an invention of nifty Kiwi or Aussie cooks (depending on which side of the ditch you hail from) sending baking off to soldiers in the first world war. The hearty oat biscuits, with no eggs, would keep well on the long journey to the front lines. Unfortunately for the soldiers it is unlikely any of these baked treats made it to them. Professor Helen Leach from Otago University believes they were more likely baked by women back home as fundraising for the troops and the actual term ‘ANZAC biscuit’ wasn’t put together with the biscuit we now associate with Anzac biscuits until after the war.

In a speech to the East Otago Federation of Women’s Institutes, Professor Leach, said the first published use of the name Anzac in a recipe was in an advertisement in the 7th edition of St Andrew’s Cookery Book (Dunedin, 1915). This was a cake, not a biscuit and there were no mixing instructions, typical of recipes back then when everyone could cook and it was assumed the reader would know what to do.

A recipe for “Anzac Biscuits” appeared in the War Chest Cookery Book (Sydney, 1917) but was for a different biscuit altogether. The same publication included a prototype of today’s Anzac biscuit, called Rolled Oats Biscuits. The combination of the name Anzac and the recipe now associated with it first appeared in the 9th edition of St Andrew’s Cookery Book (Dunedin, 1921) under the name “Anzac Crispies”. Subsequent editions renamed this “Anzac Biscuits” and Australian cookery books followed suit. So although the soldiers may not have received tins of ANZAC biscuits in the trenches of Gallipoli, New Zealand can at least lay claim to creating them with more authority than the Pavlova!

My ANZAC biscuits are made with lots of oats, coconut, butter and golden syrup but they aren’t the dry crispy type. They also include a few things like cranberries, sunflower and pumpkin seeds deviating from the true ANZAC biscuit.

These were a favourite of my husband’s back when I owned a café and he wasn’t yet my husband. To his delight the staff would often package up the broken or burnt ones for him, in fact I began to wonder if they were purposely breaking them just so they could give them to him. I have since discovered that the mix makes for a beautiful slice and thus eliminates the broken biscuit scenario.

Anzac slice

2 cups rolled oats
2 cups coconut
2 cups flour
½ cup raisins
½ cup cranberries
½ cup chopped dried apricots
¼ cup sliced almonds
¼ cup sunflower seeds
¼ cup pumpkin seeds
1 cup brown sugar
275g butter
¾ cup golden syrup
2 tsp baking soda
4 tbsp boiling water

In a large bowl mix all the dry ingredients together. In a medium sized pot melt the butter and golden syrup together until just boiling. While the butter is melting dissolve the baking soda and water together. Stir the dissolved baking soda into the hot butter and golden syrup mixture which should bubble up giving you the hokey pokey effect. This is an essential step activating the baking soda but ensuring you don’t have that baking soda flavour.

Mix the butter mixture in with the dry ingredients.

Roll tablespoonfuls onto lined baking trays leaving plenty of room between each biscuit as they will spread. Bake at 180°C for 10-15 minutes (until golden). Cool on a wire rack before storing in an airtight container.

This recipe was adapted from a version in Annabelle White and Kathie Patterson’s book Simply The Best.

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