ANZAC Biscuits are classic, traditional Australian biscuits made on ANZAC Day (and any other day of the year). They were commonly sent to the troops in the First World War and are named after the soldiers. ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.
The ANZAC biscuit was called a variety of other names before 1915, and the current name came in to use after the battle on Gallipoli Beach in Turkey. The first version of this rolled-oat based biscuit reportedly appeared around 1823, and over the next century took on various names such as Surprise Biscuits, Rolled Oat Biscuits, Munchies, Nutties and Crispies. Then around the early WWI years the name changed to Red Cross Biscuits and Soldier’s Biscuits. They were used as a form of fundraising, so they gave them a war connected name which helped sell them. The biscuits quickly became a popular food to send to Australia’s overseas forces, due to their accessible ingredients, easy cooking method, and lack of eggs that meant the biscuits kept well.
It is said that they were also known as Army Biscuit, ANZAC Wafer and ANZAC Tile, and were essentially a long shelf-life, hard tack biscuit which was eaten as a substitute for bread. The biscuits are very, very hard. Some soldiers preferred to grind them up and eat as porridge. They were made commercially from flour, sugar, milk powder and sugar.
Early on there was a home version of the ANZAC Biscuit that included eggs and that were sandwiched together with jam.
Around 1920, home recipes began to appear that were similar to those of today. They used less sugar and flour and did not contain any coconut, but they had double the oats. As the biscuits are flat, they were also ideal to be flat packed in tins to be sent to family members fighting overseas. By 1933, the Australian Women’s Weekly published a recipe that included coconut.
Women at home came up with the recipe based on ingredients that were readily available – oats, sugar, flour, butter, golden syrup, bi-carbonate of soda and boiling water. None of these spoiled easily, which meant that the biscuits would stay fresh for longer. Eggs were scarce during the war, and made baked goods more likely to spoil, which is why melted butter and golden syrup were used as binding agents, and bi-carb soda as a leavening agent. Some say that the original recipe was based on a Scottish biscuits recipe – oats were and are incredibly important in the Scottish diet.
ANZAC Biscuits are now commonly available. Some have taken on a life of their own, and are no longer flat and contain sultanas and other dried fruits. These, and the ones available in the US are unrecognisable from the home made, traditional biscuits. Thankfully, since 1994, the Australian Government’s Minister for Veterans’ Affairs has controlled the use of the term ANZAC. The word may be applied to ANZAC Biscuits, but only if they’re made to the traditional recipe. The term ANZAC Cookie cannot be used.
ANZAC Biscuit Recipes
Use of Bi Carb Soda in the biscuits
Using Bicarbonate of Soda in the recipe imparts a slightly different quality to the biscuits to what Baking Powder would do. It has a slightly tangy taste and it gives a lovely golden colour. It also makes a very specific texture not achievable with baking powder. It is very important to sift bicarbonate of soda well as it gets lumpy and to use very exact measures as the “tangy” taste can quite easily become bitter or soapy if too much is used.
Don’t substitute the use of bicarbonate of soda with Self Raising Flour or Baking Powder, as its use is essential to the biscuit.
The other essential element is Golden Syrup. There is no substitute, and this Australian ingredient gives these biscuits their beautiful caramelised taste.