Saturday, April 25, 2015

Kit's Anzac Biscuits

Another treat that was enjoyed by soldiers, and will be enjoyed by you!

Question: Gwen, what on earth is an Anzac biscuit?

Answer: a tasty cookie popular in Australia and New Zealand with a lot of history that has become kind of near and dear to me, mostly thanks to two things - Australian television and more importantly my awesome girlfriend, who has been getting me overly emotionally invested in Australian history and culture for the last couple months.

April 25th is Anzac Day, a national day of remembrance celebrated in Australia and New Zealand to honor all Australians and New Zealanders who have died in the service of their countries and continue to serve. This year, it's especially significant because it marks the 100th anniversary of the landings at Gallipoli during World War I. After hearing how seriously people take this holiday and the history behind it, even after so much time's gone by, I knew I couldn't pass up the opportunity to share the history and significance of this day and these biscuits with all of you.

Gallipoli is especially significant in Australian history because it was the first major battle in the first major conflict Australia participated in as an independent federation, rather than just another part of the British empire. While the British still commanded the Australians at Gallipoli and throughout the war, it's regarded as the time when Australian soldiers set themselves apart as independent from the British, as well as being honorable, pugnacious fighters. Although the Gallipoli campaign is considered a failure for the Allies, it still did raise the image of Australians and New Zealanders on the global scale. The youngest soldier killed in the battle between April 25, 1915 to January 9, 1916 was only fourteen years old, and the overall causalities for the ANZACs were about 35,000 killed and wounded. It's pretty amazing to hear stories from the Turkish side talking about how much respect they had for these enemy soldiers on their home soil and how seriously they take caring for ANZAC cemeteries and memorial sites, and the Prime Minister of New Zealand had a lot of significant, kind words to say about their hosts this morning at Gallipoli, and how incredible it is to see what diplomacy, friendship and mutual respect can do to ease the hurts of the past. Jessi and I were watching a livestream of the dawn service in Turkey, and I'll admit, I was moved to tears more than once.

The US doesn't really have an equivalent of Anzac Day, in my opinion. Sure, we have the Fourth of July, but that doesn't really honor soldiers involved in our fight for independence so much as the act of declaring independence itself, and we have both Veteran's and Memorial Day, but most Americans don't realize the significance of November 11th in world history, and Memorial Day (originally called Decoration Day) was specifically designed so it doesn't have a historical anniversary it celebrates or honors. We don't celebrate Pearl Harbor Day, VE Day, VJ Day, Gettysburg, or the end of the Civil War, and while the city of Boston basically shuts down for Patriot's Day, that's more to do with it being Marathon Monday than it having anything to do with Lexington and Concord.

The best explanation I've been able to cobble together is this: imagine if the US celebrated Patriot's Day in a way that honored members of our military, living and dead, while also heavily acknowledging the history of the American Revolution and how it led to the nation we are today. Honestly, that's kind of a reality I'd enjoy living in, because I'm firmly of the mind that we don't care enough about our history and are too quick to dismiss, skim or distort it to better suit our political agendas. Seriously, at least three decent quality television programs have aired or will air in Australia to honor the anniversary - ANZAC Girls, Gallipoli and Deadline: Gallipoli. Meanwhile, to honor the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the US did... basically nothing. No major motion pictures, no HBO miniseries, not even a crummy, badly researched History Channel miniseries. I am disappoint, America.

Anyway, that's enough griping from me. I'm sure you're all here for the food.

Anzac biscuits share some things in common with the trench cake I made last November for Armistice Day - as they were designed to travel quite a long way to the boys serving in the trenches of Europe, they weren't made with ingredients that would cause the cookies to get moldy and disgusting in transit. Because of that, they're generally quite dry and hard, which some people don't find appealing, but others make a chewier cookie, and people bicker about which texture is the more authentic, and the most appealing.

This recipe was provided to me by Jessi, who Skyped with me while I made them to advise (also what with one of us being in the US and the other in Australia, this is as close as we get to baking together) and you start off by adding one cup each of sugar, flour, dried coconut and oats. This all gets mixed together.

Next, you need to melt down eight tablespoons of butter with a tablespoon of treacle, also known as golden syrup. If you can't find any in an American grocery store, you can substitute two teaspoons of corn syrup with a teaspoon of molasses.

Surprise, surprise, I had to substitute because my grocery store doesn't have a lot of things I need.

Now, Jessi advised me to melt this down on the stove and then immediately add my mixture of one teaspoon of baking soda and two tablespoons of boiling water, but I was stubborn and melted it in the microwave because I always melt butter in the microwave, even though this isn't technically more efficient or creates less of a mess than melting something in a sauce pan. This unfortunately meant by the time I was adding in the water and soda mixture, the butter wasn't really hot enough and it didn't get as foamy as it should be. The bubbles in the mixing jar should be a couple inches higher than in the photo below.

I'll definitely be taking her advice next time!

Fortunately, popping it back in the microwave for a few more seconds got it to be nice and foamy. You need to pour this into your dry ingredients fairly quickly so it helps get everything nice and incorporated into a sticky, slightly crumbly cookie dough.

They don't spread out too much in the oven, so used a teaspoon to measure mine out, and placed them about an inch and a half apart on the baking sheet. They baked in the oven for about nine minutes, but it can vary between ten and fifteen depending on how hot your oven is. Keep an eye on them, basically. They'll look a little puffy in the oven, but get pretty flat when they come out.

Let them cool on the sheet for a while before transferring them to a rack, and then you've got a tasty, slightly chewy, slightly crunchy cookie. They're sweet, have great texture and flavor thanks to the coconut, and are kind of super addictive. I've eaten way too many of them today already. This is definitely another simple, tasty treat with a lot of cool history, and I definitely will be making them again.

So, what's with the outfit Kit's wearing?

Women in Australia didn't mobilize to do the work of the men away at war the same way women during wartime would less than thirty years later with the outbreak of World War II, mostly because there was an idea that women in the workplace in place of men would devalue the jobs and thus lead to wage decreases, but there were still ways for them to get involved in the war effort. Specifically, some women chose to travel halfway around the world to nurse the sick and wounded troops with either the Australian Army Nursing Service or the Bluebirds through the Australian Red Cross Society. Like their British counterparts, Australian nurses were called sisters, not nurses.

Kit is modeling the uniform of the AANS, and thus sort of cosplaying as my personal favorite Australian nurse, Olive Haynes. A historical figure and a featured character in the TV show ANZAC Girls, Olive was the daughter of a reverend who finished nursing school in 1912 and enlisted in the AANS in 1914. She nursed Gallipoli causalities in Ciaro and under terrible conditions in a field hospital on the Greek island of Lemnos and then moved on to France after the Gallipoli campaign ended. She met and married her husband during the war, after which she returned home because nurses weren't allowed to be married. After the war, she and her husband had several children, one of whom had Downs Syndrome, which led Olive to establish a school for mentally handicapped children in Ivanhoe. Olive - historically and in the television series - was a spunky, optimistic sort who cuts her hair Kit short on Lemnos, so Kit seemed like the logical choice to represent the Anzac women.

So there you have it. I know this was pretty off the beaten path from our usual topics on this blog, but I've been impatiently waiting for April 25th to make and feature these for the better part of a year. You've probably realized by now that I'm very enchanted at how tasty war time treats can be, and it was fun to try out something that's so popular in another country that you can buy them commercially, but most people here have never heard of. I hope you all enjoyed this look back on an important day in history and take a moment to think about the people on both sides who fought and died there, and those who continue to put their lives in harms way for their country.

Special thanks to Katherine of Katherine's Creations on Etsy for making my awesome nurse uniform - seriously, go check out her store, I've bought several of her dresses and they're all fabulous and she was a delight to work with on this custom project - and to Jessi for generally being an awesome, supportive, wonderful girlfriend, but specifically today for getting me interested in the Anzac legend. Kind of a fitting revenge for me getting her so interested in US Marines in the Pacific!

Lest we forget.


  1. Very interesting, as usual! That is a wonderful outfit Kit has on--she looks compassionate and competent, the picture of a competent "sister." What is the brooch she is wearing?

    I can't wait to try the cookies--they look delicious!

    1. It's a Rising Sun badge! Jessi got me a link that explains the history and the design of the badge:

      Nurses would have worn it on their uniforms because they were technically a part of the army, even if they weren't given the same wages or benefits as their male counterparts.

  2. Hi, I just found your blog! I must saw, I adore the idea of creating treats modeled after each doll (okay, in this case the idea is quite different, but you get my point). My dolls are currently 10,000 miles away from me, and I miss them thank you. I think Kit looks so cute in the AANS uniform, even though I am sort of sick of seeing it. As someone who recently moved to Australia, I'm glad Anzac day is gone and done with. If you were here, I'm sure your sentiments would be the same. From November of 2014 to April 2015 that's all we had shoved down our throats, along with Gallipoli. The TV series was in fact, cancelled, for poor ratings, but many entertainment writers attributed it to "Gallipoli" fatigue. I'm surprised you glazed over Memorial Day and Veterans day when explaining relating U.S holidays! In essence, Anzac Day is Australia's memorial day as they honor fallen soldiers of all major wars and battles..not just WWI or it's most famous battle for them. I don't know where you live, but we have parades every year in my home town as well as an "in memorium" put on by high school students on Memorial Day which is very similar to my experiences here. Anyway, I hope you can visit this amazing country some day and can show off Kits beautiful outfit!.

    1. Hi there! Glad you're enjoying the blog. I live in a small town in New England, and I know Anzac Day is basically Australia's Memorial Day. :P However, as I mentioned in the post, I think it's cool that it's a day that's actually significant in Australian history that the average Australian actually knows at least a bit about. Most Americans don't know that our Memorial Day started after the Civil War and was chosen as a day that specifically didn't commemorate Gettysburg/Antietam/Bull Run/etc because they didn't want to offend the former Confederate states, and considering how glazed over WWI is in most public history classrooms, I'd legitimately be shocked if most kids knew Veteran's Day is Armistice Day. I've met adults who had never heard of Pearl Harbor before meeting me! My town has a parade for both Memorial and Veteran's Day, but that's pretty much it, even in the classrooms. As a whole, my experience with Americans who aren't interested in history has been that they really don't get the historical, political or social aspects behind our days of remembrance, and it's something I enjoy about Anzac Day because they make a bigger fuss about the history behind the event, not just turning it into a generic day to have cookouts and wave flags. As I said, I'd prefer it if people spent more time talking about the history behind say, Veteran's Day or Patriot's Day instead of just using it as a day off of work or school.

      (Another reason I glazed over the US holidays is that my readership is primarily American, so I figured they already know that they're days we have parades and stuff, and since this was an Anzac Day post, I'd rather focus on the history of that. But I did actually do a post for Veteran's Day last year! It's over here, if you're interested!:

      And honestly, I don't think I would have been sick of it or felt the same way because I'm a huge fan of historically accurate period dramas and other people's enthusiasm for local history in general. :P I've watched Gallipoli and Anzac Girls, read a couple books on the subject, watched the dawn ceremonies streamed from Turkey with my girlfriend, and had a lot of fun over the past year getting to know more about another culture and story I'd never really been exposed to before. I'm genuinely really frustrated and upset with the US for largely ignoring the 150th anniversary of the Civil War - not to mention the 70th anniversary of D-Day, VE Day, VJ Day, Iwo Jima, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki... - because we're still living with the legacy of that war every single day and more of a fuss should have been made about it. I'm sorry you didn't enjoy it, but that is so up my alley. xD

      I'm planning on visiting next summer and bringing Kit with me! So hopefully we'll get some pictures to show everyone. C:

    2. And just to clarify, I don't mean we should be celebrating things like Hiroshima or Nagasaki the same way as Anzac Day, but it disappoints me that we care so little about our history and the connection between past events and the world we're living in today, not to mention the loss of so many lives that it barely gets a passing mention on NBC. 8v

      Long story short, I'm a bit of a bitter historian who cares too much about most people's (lack of) memory of the past, haha.