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Anzac Biscuits

Anyone who knows me may have wondered why I haven't done an Australian recipe, Australia being the love of my life and all. Well, there are a couple of reasons. First, one of the things that makes dining in Oz so desirable is the wide diversity of ethnic cuisines. From post-World War II European immigration to the more recent influx from the "Near North" (what we call the Far East), the country has been supplied with an astonishing array of cultures, all contributing to the country's dining tendencies. At road houses 500 miles from the nearest town you can get dim sum, and at refueling stops in the remotest corners of the Outback, you can pick up a can of Panang curry or a bar of bittersweet Toblerone chocolate. However, if one is dining on Vietnamese food in Canberra, Greek food in Melbourne, or Malaysian food in Perth, you can't really call it Australian cuisine.

Second, and even more significantly, is the fact that the great stuff that is indigenous to Australia generally isn't available here, or is mighty expensive. Australia is surrounded by water, so seafood is luxuriantly available and usually reasonably priced. There are King prawns and Tiger prawns (5 or 6 inches long), Balmain bugs and Morton Bay bugs (an indigenous crustacean that is something like a small, flattened lobster), numerous varieties of crab, rock lobsters (called crayfish in Australia), and a vast array of delicious fish: John Dory, Whiting, Snapper, Baramundi, and more.

And then there is the lamb—it's cheap and abundant in Australia (even served as bargain lunches in the pubs), but costly here in the US (and not always as good). There are also a lot of fun fruits, especially in the tropical north, though some, at least, are now available in the US. However, there are mangoes, custard apples, and sugar bananas there that I've never seen here, as well as varieties of melon and pumpkin. Also, the Queensland nut, now grown in Hawaii, where it is called a macadamia nut, is indigenous to and abundant in tropical Queensland, and therefore is more readily available.

Another thing people may have wondered is that, since this is Mensa, why haven't I done anything sweet. So this month, in one recipe, I put all to rights, and give you a sweet treat from Australia—Anzac Biscuits.

"Biscuit" is Australian (and British) for what Americans call a cookie. Anzac (or, more properly, ANZAC) is an acronym for Australia New Zealand Army Corps. The corps, which served with distinction in World War I, is probably best known for its heroic service during the bloody Gallipoli Peninsula campaign. (A glimpse of this ill-fated campaign can be had in the wonderful, devastating Australian movie Gallipoli, which stars a very young Mel Gibson.) Though the fighting was vicious and very costly for the ANZACs, the Turks came to admire the heroism and high spirits of the corps, and called them the New Spartans.

The ANZAC infantry units were then sent on to France, where they participated in some of the most brutal battles of the war. Because Britain, at the time, had a pretty low opinion of the inhabitants of the antipodes (all those transported criminals, you know), they tended to think of them as cannon fodder, and as a result, Australia and New Zealand (still considered a single political unit at the time) had the highest casualty rate of any country in the war—69 percent. The ANZAC cavalry units were sent to the Middle East, and their heroic and astonishing feats can be relished in the Australian movie The Light Horsemen. (This movie is a lot less grim than Gallipoli, especially since the ANZACs won their battle in the Middle East. And it's great if you love horses.)

When Australian and New Zealand forces were separated in 1917, ANZAC ceased to be an official designation, but the name lives on in ANZAC day—April 25, the date of the Gallipoli landing—when both Australia and New Zealand commemorate the dead of the two World Wars.

So, what, you may be wondering, do all these soldiers and horsemen and horrible battles have to do with cookies? Well, as with the US's involvement in the World Wars, people back home got involved, too. This consisted of everything from Victory Gardens to women working in munitions and aviation to simply giving up a lot of luxuries so that the soldiers could be supplied. As in the US, so, too, in Australia and New Zealand, eggs were considered good things to send to soldiers, so people developed recipes that didn't require eggs. ANZAC biscuits date to that era. However, these are such incredibly delicious, luxuriously rich cookies, you'll have trouble believing that they represent a time or hardship and privation.

One note regarding measurements: I got this recipe in Australia, which means that it used a mix of British Imperial measure and European metric. I've translated it into American standard measure, but thought you'd wonder why some measures are a little inexact. For example, one cup Imperial is 10 ounces, while in American it's 8 ounces, and tablespoons are the tiniest bit bigger in Imperial measure. However, being off one way or the other by a couple of shreds of coconut or drops of golden syrup won't really make a difference.

Anyway, these are among the most delicious cookies on earth. Enjoy.


Anzac Biscuits

1¼ cups rolled oats

1¼ cups plain flour

1¼ cups brown sugar, lightly packed

1 cup shredded coconut (or a pinch less)

one stick butter (125 grams, to be exact, so a smidge more than one stick, really)

2 slightly overflowing Tbs. Lyle's Golden Syrup (available in the baking section of most stores)

1 tsp. baking soda

3 Tbs. boiling water

Combine oats, flour, sugar, and coconut, blending thoroughly. In a small saucepan, combine butter with golden syrup, melt over low heat, and remove from heat. Add baking soda to the boiling water, then add this to the butter/syrup mixture. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and stir in the liquid. Mix thoroughly.

Drop mixture by the tablespoonful on to a greased cookie sheet, approximately 3 inches apart, to allow for spreading. Bake at 300-310°F for 15 to 17 minutes. Allow to cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes, then remove to wire rack to cool completely.

Makes approximately 36 cookies.

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