Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Go-to cookie: the Anzac biscuit.

Much, much easier than pie.

When I was in Australia, I sort of ignored Anzac biscuits. They were too plain-Jane, too ubiquitous, and I was on a quest for the rare and strange: vanilla and anise checkerboard ice cream in an edible cellophane frame, passionfruit mousse and curd with the crunchy black seeds left in (Australians would watch me closely as I ate these, to see if I'd crack with the usual American distaste for odd bits - I didn't), steamed upside down quince pudding, etc. While I was entranced by Cherry Ripe candy bars and chocolate caramel slices (which for all its downmarketishness is a cookie which makes brownies look like bupkis) , Anzac biscuits seemed too much like your run-of-the-mill American oatmeal cookie to turn my head.

Hah! What a fool I was. A month ago I stopped in at a very twee deli in the nearby foothill community of Montrose, and there in their pastry case were Anzac biscuits, looking really, really good amidst the Key Lime shortbread and pecan toffee cookies. The counter girl had no idea why they sold them ("Everybody always says the only place they've ever seen them is in Australia and New Zealand"), but no matter - they were fabulous: crisp, chewy, buttery, caramelly, sort of like a British flapjack, only better.

And then it hit me: what both cookies have in common is Golden Syrup, a staple of British and Commonwealth dessert and cookie (well, pudding and biscuit) cookery. You may have seen Nigella Lawson pour it over Yorkshire pudding which she'd already slathered with double cream and then devour it, an image which has stayed with me, you betcha. It is simple cane syrup, much like the one sold in this country in the South, only less...molasses-y. It is essential in the making of British treacle tart and those flapjacks (which bear no resemblance to American pancakes but are instead a sort of crisp oatmeal bar), and to Anzac biscuits, the ultimate oatmeal cookie.

I hauled this recipe back from Australia, but this is the first time I've baked them. The best things about them: they literally take two minutes to make and can be turned into a vegan cookie by substituting vegan stick margarine for the butter. Parchment paper and nonstick cooking spray are essential for these. This recipe makes a small batch, so you won't feel awash in cookies - they'll just feel like a small treat.

Anzac Biscuits

Makes 16

3 ounces butter or 3/4 of a stick (I use salted butter, but if you use unsalted, add 1/4 teaspoon extra salt) OR 3 ounces vegan stick margarine

2 generous tablespoons Golden Syrup (available in most good supermarkets, in the baking aisle or jam aisle, next to the molasses)

2/3 cup all purpose flour

2/3 cup old fashioned rolled oats (DO NOT use instant oatmeal - quick oats are OK, but old fashioned are best)

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup flaked coconut (I've used sweetened and unsweetened - both are OK)

A pinch of salt (if using salted butter)

A tiny, TINY, bitty pinch of ground cinnamon - really, just a breath

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and spray the paper lightly with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

In a small non-reactive saucepan, melt the butter and Golden Syrup together over low heat. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix all purpose flour, rolled oats, sugar, coconut, breath of cinnamon and pinch of salt (or extra salt if you're using unsalted butter) together until well blended. Add the teaspoon of baking soda to the butter-Golden Syrup mixture (it will foam up a bit) and pour this over the dry ingredients in the bowl. Add the 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract and stir everything together with a spatula or spoon until all ingredients are just blended.

Wet your hands a little, and form the dough into sixteen balls about the size of large marbles. Place eight balls on each cookie sheet, well spaced, and flatten each ball a bit with your slightly wet fingers. Place sheets in the oven. Bake for about 4 to 5 minutes. At this point (and using oven mitts), turn the sheets around, back to front. Bake for another 4 to 5 minutes, watching carefully, or until the cookies are a uniform golden brown (see above photo). Remove from the oven and allow cookies to cool on the sheets for about another 5 minutes, or until they are somewhat firm to the touch. Using a metal spatula, remove cookies from the baking sheets and place on cooling racks. Let cookies cool thoroughly. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator (they seem to do better stored this way, and cold cookies rule).

© 2008 Sandy Soto Teich

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