There is NOTHING as cosseting as a homemade Anzac biscuit. Especially one still warm from the oven. It’s the combination of crisp and slightly chewy, and that sweet mouthfeel of oaty, syrupy, coconutty goodness. And the memory. It’s baking gold!
I’ve just read Allison Reynolds’ little book with a big title, Anzac Biscuits: The Power and Spirit of an Everyday Icon. The bio says Reynolds is a culinary historian and a gastronomer-in-residence in various SA establishments. Apart from lusting after her job, I am intrigued by the meaning we’ve come to invest in this humble little biscuit.
Honestly, when it comes to local food icons in our corner of the world, the pickings are slight. It’s no wonder we tussle with the Kiwis over paternity rights to the pav, because really, what else do we have? But not so with the Anzac. It’s ours together, the biscuit that bridges the ditch.
According to Reynolds, the Anzac recipe first appeared in 1917 during the First World War. The mythology is that soldiers needed relief from the standard issue, tasteless and tooth-breaking army biscuit. Loving families responded. They baked and boxed Anzacs to send to the front. Supposedly, the absence of eggs and the inclusion of sweet and preserving golden syrup helped them last the distance. Reynolds is a believer in the myth, while other historians question it. Still, these biscuits are part of our story and arise in a season of culture-defining tragedy. I suspect ‘truth’ is more pliable that we imagine.
All of this to say, I recently happened upon a recipe for Anzac cake. Initially skeptical — who messes with the biscuit? — it was the recipe’s creator that piqued my interest. The wonderful Helen Goh. So, I pulled out the oats and syrup from the bottom draw and gave it a go.
It actually works. More than that, it’s good! Sure, it’s a cake, not a biscuit, but the associations are more than just a nod. I like it, and the fact that it’s not overly sweet made it work for my beloved too.
So, give it a try!
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED
For the cake
100g rolled oats
200ml coconut milk
170g plain flour
1¼ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp salt
100g soft brown sugar
100g golden syrup (or agave syrup if you prefer)
For the topping
100g soft brown sugar
100g shredded coconut
¼ tsp sea salt
HERE’S WHAT YOU DO
1. Preheat your oven to 175C. Grease a loaf tin (20 by 10cm) and line it with baking paper, allowing the paper to overhang the sides a bit.
2. Place the oats in a food processor and pulse just a few times. Alternatively you can break the oats down a little with your hands. You want an uneven texture not a powder. Transfer the oats to a mixing bowl and stir in the coconut milk. Let this stand while you prepare the rest of the cake.
3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and set aside.
4. Combine the butter, brown sugar and golden syrup in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat together on medium speed until the mixture is light and creamy.
5. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Goh says that at this stage the mixture will have “the appearance of scrambled eggs” which is a lovely way to put it. The message is, don’t panic if the mixture separates a bit. It’s all good.
6. Add in the oats soaked in coconut milk and mix on low speed until just combined.
7. Add the sifted dry ingredients and mix just a few seconds longer. Don’t overdo it at this stage.
8. Scrape the cake mixture into the prepared loaf tin and bake in the oven for 45-50 minutes.
9. While the cake is baking, place all the topping ingredients in a saucepan and stir over a low heat until the butter is melted and the ingredients are combined.
10. Once the cake is cooked (if you insert a skewer into the middle of the cake it should come out clean), remove from it the oven and gently spoon the topping mixture evenly over the surface of the cake.
11. Place the loaf tin on a flat baking tray to catch any topping that falls from the top of the cake and then return it to the oven and bake for further 15 minutes. The topping should be a lovely golden brown.
12. Remove the cake from the oven and leave it to cool for around 15 minutes. Using the overhang of the baking paper, you can then lift the cake out of the loaf tin and let it cool completely on a wire rack.
Once the cake is cooled, dust it with icing sugar and serve generous portions with whipped cream. Because, really, everything is better with cream!