This classic Anzac biscuits recipe is as close to the early 1933 Australian Country Women’s Association Anzac biscuit recipes that I could get and it makes the best Anzac biscuit ever – even better than the Anzac biscuits of my memory. It seemed fitting to make them this Anzac Day.
The ability to make this classic Anzac biscuits recipe is one of the reasons I’d wanted to move house for so long – apart from a landlord who drove me mad, an increasingly noisy street, and a swelteringly hot apartment because the landlord cut back most of the green curtain of vines that shaded and cooled the building, which was the main reason we moved in.
After years of leaving almost all the cooking to Terence, apart from my specialties of dumplings and spring rolls (and why would I cook when he’s just so good at it?), I have had a strong desire to cook again, and to bake again in particular. I just wanted a better kitchen with a proper stove and oven to do it in.
While Terence, dripping with perspiration in singlet and boxers, was miraculously able to make mouthwatering feasts of Thai, Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Sichuan food on two gas burners, and bake the most wonderful sour dough bread I’d ever savoured in a small hundred-dollar oven-grill in a kitchen that got so hot and humid it was like cooking in a sauna, I couldn’t face it.
When I finally discovered my dream apartment right under our noses, just across the river in Siem Reap’s old French Quarter, I was over the moon. Not only did it have pretty colonial floor tiles, French doors with shutters, a balcony overlooking palm-filled gardens, fragrant with frangipanis, and a swimming pool, it had a lovely kitchen with a Western-style stove and oven.
Last week I bought a heap of ingredients to make a handful of recipes for Russian Easter this weekend, but it was Australia’s national holiday of Anzac Day that presented me with my first opportunity to make what I’ve been itching to bake for ages: the biscuits of my childhood. Terence has made some delicious biscuits in recent years using Southeast Asian spices, nuts and tropical fruit, but I wanted to start with an Australian icon: the Anzac biscuit.
Classic Anzac Biscuits Recipe That’s Very Close to the 1933 Country Women’s Association Recipes
It’s Anzac Day today, a day special to many Australians, and when you live away from your home country for as long as we have (21 years this year!) you start to take some moments on these national holidays to reflect upon home, your loved ones there, and your countrymen and women. National holidays unite citizens so I guess it’s about remembering that we do belong somewhere despite having been at large in the world for so long.
In the lead up to the ANZAC Day holiday in Australia and New Zealand, it seems every Australasian newspaper, magazine and food site has published and republished some form of the classic Anzac biscuits recipe, often with a twist on the traditional, or an Anzac inspired dessert, from Gourmet Traveller’s Apple Anzac Pie to my food blogger friend Lorraine Elliott AKA Not Quite Nigella’s Quince and Apple ANZAC Biscuit Crumble.
Call me old-fashioned (I know, hardly) or a tad obsessed with culinary history and the origin of recipes (okay, so more than a tad), I decided to bake the earliest Anzac biscuits recipe I could find. I also wanted to make the Anzac biscuits of my childhood, the biscuits I made with Dad (he was responsible for sweets in our family; mum handled savoury) and my Nanna (generally on school holidays).
As Nanna was born in 1913 or 1915 I figured that her biscuits, which were very traditional, would have been made to a classic Anzac biscuits recipe so I decided to used the earliest Anzac biscuits recipe I could find, which it turns out is what most Anzac biscuit recipes are based upon, and that’s the 1933 Country Women’s Association recipe.
There are earlier recipes, and there are many various recipes, as culinary historian Allison Reynolds who wrote a book on the subject called Anzac Biscuits, the Power and Spirit of an Everyday National Icon found when she discovered a similar rolled oats-based biscuit. Dating to 1823, it was typically called “crispies” among other things. Obviously it wasn’t called an Anzac biscuit, as the acronym A.N.Z.A.C didn’t come into use until after the battle of Gallipoli in 1915. You can read about the ANZAC history and Anzac Day here.
Reynolds’ research revealed that the biscuit’s name changed during World War I, when they began to get called ‘Red Cross biscuits’ and ‘Soldiers biscuits’ as they were baked to sell as a form of fundraising for the war effort. Some believe they were also sent to the forces overseas, as their lack of eggs meant they’d last longer, but this is often disputed with some arguing there’s confusion with the wafer-like Anzac Tile biscuit.
Reynolds discovered the first printed Anzac biscuit recipe in the War Chest Cookery Book, dating to 1917, however, this doesn’t resemble the biscuit we know and love as Anzac biscuits. That recipe has eggs and is sandwiched with jam and cream. She found a more authentic Anzac biscuit recipe in a South Australian housewife’s notebook, dating to 1910-20, although one ingredient was missing: coconut.
The oldest recipe using coconut was published in one of the Country Women’s Association’s 1930s calendar cookbooks, Cakes and Afternoon Tea Delicacies. As my Nanna was a country woman at that time – she and my Pop had a dairy farm in Singleton, which my Dad and aunty grew up on – I guessed she may very well have learnt to make her Anzac biscuits using that recipe.
I found that 1933 Country Women’s Association Anzac Biscuit recipe with coconut here on the Australian War Memorial website, which they called Anzac Biscuits No. 2 recipe (number 1 was without coconut) and that’s the one I began to make – because I also didn’t want to get fined or go to jail!
However, after combining all the ingredients, it was far too dry – so dry that it was impossible to form into balls – as it only called for 2 tablespoons of butter. Google was my friend again and I found the 1933 Anzac Biscuits No. 1 recipe without coconut on the Country Women’s Association New South Wales Exeter branch website – with ¼ cup butter, which made much more sense:
2 cups rolled oats, ½ cup flour, 1 small cup sugar, ¼ cup butter, 1tablesp. golden syrup, 1teasp.carb.soda, 3tablesp.boiling water. Put rolled oats and flour into basin: melt butter and sugar together and mix well with flour and oats; dissolve syrup in water and stir in soda till it foams well, then add to other ingredients and mix well. Put in 1/2 teaspoon drops on a cold, well greased slide and bake in a very a very slow oven, as they burn very easily. It is necessary t put them fairly far apart on the slide as they spread. -Miss Murray, Manildra Branch
The method was different, however – the Anzac Biscuits No. 2 recipe is far easier – and it was too late to start over, so I simply added the additional butter. And I added a tablespoon of golden syrup for good measure. I am not a CWA member so I wasn’t about to take the liberty of calling this Anzac Biscuits No. 3 recipe, though I was very curious to know if there was one out there…
I remembered that my Nanna also loved her Australian Women’s Weekly and that the notebook in which she hand-wrote her recipes also contained clippings of recipes she’d cut out of the magazine, so I scooted over to their site. The Australian Women’s Weekly’s Anzac biscuit recipe is a bit similar to Recipe No. 2 with a different method and with coconut and brown sugar.
I’d already opted for brown sugar over white sugar in my classic Anzac biscuits recipe as the older recipes didn’t specify which sugar and I remembered my family using brown sugar as a child and knew it resulted in more intense flavours and a moister biscuit. The result was absolutely perfect. They tasted exactly the same as I remember them – only better!
Classic Anzac Biscuits Recipe – Chewy or Crunchy?
Anzac biscuits can be chewy or crunchy and every Australian has an opinion and preference. I spotted one recipe that said to add more golden syrup for a chewier biscuit but that’s not necessary. This classic Anzac biscuits recipe makes both.
If you want your Anzac biscuits crunchy, they’ll need around 12 minutes in the oven (but check them at 11 minutes to make sure they’re not about to burn). If you prefer them chewy, pull them out at 9-10 minutes, but note that they’re going to be soft, so you’ll need to take care when shifting them from the oven pan to a cooling tray.
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup desiccated coconut
- 1 cup flour
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons golden syrup
- 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- 2 tablespoons boiling water
- Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F and line large oven trays with baking paper.
- Combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
- Melt the butter.
- Add the golden syrup.
- Dissolved the bicarbonate of soda in the hot water and combine with melted butter and golden syrup.
- Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and thoroughly combine.
- Form a flat tablespoon of mixture into a small ball, place it on the baking tray, and squash it down a little into a fat hamburger patty shape, and repeat, ensuring the balls are 5cm apart.
- Bake for 9-10 minutes for chewy biscuits and 12 minutes for crunchy biscuits.
- Lift them carefully off the baking trays onto a cold plate.
Did you make Anzac biscuits today? Do you have a favourite recipe? Do let us know if you make this classic Anzac biscuits recipe here in the comments below or on social media, as we’d love to know how it turns out.