Thursday, January 8, 2015

Anzac Biscuits - A Taste of Australia

I've been reading Sue Elvis' The Angels of Abbey Creek to the children, on and off, since just before Christmas.  It is a fictional story following a large, Catholic, homeschooling (or homeschool-like) family through the course of one year of their lives in Australia.  Each chapter is a short story, that can stand alone, or join together with the others as part of the larger narrative, making it perfect for a now and then kind of family read-a-loud.

The writing is simple enough for emerging readers to read themselves, with short easy sentences.  The stories are charming however, and entertaining, and surprising enough to hold the interest of older listeners, too.

As we are not Catholic, or from Australia, each chapter-story has provided us with plenty new sights, events, and vocabulary to look up, even as we've found some very familiar, if seasonally upside down, scenes through the pages.  While I have primarily been aiming my reading at the younger children, the teens have been quick to jump in and Google places and things - such as the Anzac biscuits, mentioned in the first couple of story-chapters of the book, to find out more about them.

As soon as they discovered that the "biscuits" were really cookies, I knew we'd have to make some to enjoy with more of the story.  Gathering the ingredients for the cookies proved to be a challenge, but also a gateway to all kinds of discovery.

Anzac biscuits derive their name from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. Soldiers in the corps were known as "Anzacs".   Anzac biscuits were a popular care package item from mothers to soldiers during World War I.  With no eggs, or diary, they were spoil resistant, and perfect for the long sea voyage to the soldiers European, and Middle Eastern locations.

Eggs and milk might not be called for in the recipe, but there is golden syrup, and desiccated coconut.

Golden syrup, also known as treacle (as in the main ingredient of Harry Potter's favorite kind of tart, or one of the Boxtroll's grocery list items in  Alan Snow's novel), is an amber colored, caramel-ish, liquid byproduct of refined sugar cane.  It is also extremely difficult to come by State-side.   We ordered a bottle online.

If you live in the US, are bored one day, and want a good laugh, ask a clerk at your local grocery store, where they keep the treacle - and watch the expression on their face, as they try to remain polite and professional.

As to the desiccated coconut, we settled for a bag of unsweetened, dried stuff, we found on the health food aisle, and called it close enough - the clerks were all wisely busy elsewhere in the store, at the time.

Happily, after double checking that old fashioned oats were the same thing as rolled oats - we were good to go.  The rest of the ingredients - sugar, flour, butter and baking soda, are kitchen staples in our house.

Then, the only problem we had, was deciding whether to try out a recipe for chewy biscuits, using brown sugar, or the more traditional(?), white sugar, crunchy ones.  We're all for tradition, but we really prefer chewy to crunchy cookies, and so opted for a brown sugar recipe.

The children loved the biscuits (all except for D, who doesn't care for coconut, and wouldn't try one).  They thought we should make another batch with macadamia nuts and white chocolate, and the Man of the House agreed, but...

...with the coconut and rolled oats, they tasted so much like the Gumdrop Cookies my mother used to make, at Christmastime, when I was a child (substituting candied fruit for the gumdrops - because gumdrops are impossible to chop), that I was too busy having a Ratatouille moment, to care what they thought.

Which, now that I think of it, was probably the point of mothers sending their sons cookies on the battlefield, in the first place.


Angelic Scalliwags said...

This was really interesting for two reasons (well, probably more than two but two immediately come to mind)
First I always wondered what ANZAC stood for. Now I know. And second, although Golden Syrup is on all the shelves over here and very common, I had no idea it was the same as treacle. I thought treacle was black and horrible tasting. This might explain why any recipe I try containing treacle turns out a bit yukky! I've been using the wrong ingredient all this time!!

Sue Elvis said...

What a wonderful post! Thank you so much for buying a copy of my book, sharing it with your children and then writing about it. I really do appreciate it! I am so overwhelmed by the kindness of you and other blogging friends. Thank you! Thank you!

Another overseas friend asked me about ANZAC biscuits and suggested I put a recipe in a future edition of my book (or in the sequel). I would have to explain all the ingredients too, by the looks of it! I gave you quite a challenge working everything out. Isn't Google wonderful?

Your flaked coconut looks like what we call shredded coconut. I think the only difference between desiccated and shredded is the size of the flakes, and one is probably drier than the other. Anyway, they can both be used in the recipe, as you found out. Just a difference in texture!

We have both treacle and golden syrup in Australia. Our treacle is dark and not so nice just like the treacle Claire describes! Golden syrup is much lighter. We sometimes substitute honey for golden syrup and that works well too.

Also, we have a coconut free recipe and a chocolate one. We did some experimenting of our own. I'll add a link but I do think your macadamia nuts and white chocolate version would be tastier!

I have really enjoyed reading this post and discussing ANZAC biscuits. Thank you again for writing about my book!

Camie Madsen said...

I love it when a book comes to life through a recipe. Very cool!

Ticia said...

I always think of Alice in Wonderland when I read about treacle. Now I might be rereading Harry Potter to find the biscuits you're referring to.

Amber Hockman said...

Only you could make a post about cookies so touching...*happy sigh*

Lucinda @ said...

We love Sue's book too. What a good idea to bake Anzac biscuits.

It's funny how some products are still not easily available on the respective sides of the Atlantic. (And Pacific!) I keep both golden syrup and black treacle in our pantry. Black treacle is what I substitute when US recipes call for molasses, and it seems to work well.

I've sometimes wondered whether I can substitute golden syrup for corn syrup (unavailable here but seemingly ubiquitous over there).

Kendra said...

You can make ANZAC biscuits with Corn Syrup too. It's not exactly the same, but it does work, & the very fine unsweetened coconut in the USA is nearly the same as desiccated coconut here. Whizzed in the blender a moment it'd be perfect-o. :D

An Almost Unschooling Mom said...

Kendra - That's good to know about the coconut. I was thinking maybe half corn syrup half molasses - but we wanted to get as close to authentic as possible for our first batch.