Baking for our troops: ANZAC biscuits and a few other suggestions

The other day I got an email from my friend Sam. It was titled, 'I have a baking question!', which seemed a bit odd coming from her. When I think of Sam I think, hard nosed lawyer by day, inveterate drinker and good time gal by night. Domesticated home baker? Not so much.

When I read on, I was rather touched. Sam has two people who are special to her serving in the British forces in Afghanistan. Her friend Lizzie, and a certain Daniel who is the apple of her eye, are both serving as army doctors on the front line. She wanted to bake them some cakes.

The dilemma: what lasts long enough and will stay intact as it makes its way through the length and bureaucracy of a trip to Afghanistan? Because Lizzie and Daniel are on the front line, the package could take up to a month to arrive.

The key is to avoid ingredients that contribute to spoilage, especially eggs and milk; nothing moist stands a chance of arriving uncovered by mould. For this reason most cakes are out of the question. The one surefire bet is a fruitcake. If Sam doesn’t mind sending a taste of Christmas in July, a traditional, rich fruitcake will arrive perfectly tasty and in one piece, thanks to the preserving qualitites of the alcohol in which it is soaked. The same is true of rum cake; I have no knowledge or experience of it, but it is apparently also very popular for sending to overseas troops.

Biscuits offer a few more options. Shortbread and biscotti are both good choices which last many weeks and should arrive still edible. Then there’s a classic soldier’s biscuit which I’d heard of through one of those little Australian Women’s Weekly recipe booklets, but had never tried: ANZAC biscuits.

ANZAC biscuits, so the story goes, were originally baked to send to men serving in the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps in World War I – hence the name. Since this is only one of the stories surrounding this famous biscuit, you should take it with a pinch of salt. The point is, they’re hardy and long lasting as well as being extremely tasty and one of the simplest and quickest biscuits to make. Who wouldn’t love to receive a care package full of sweet, oaty morsels?

When it comes to packing the cookies to survive the journey, the key is layering. Wrap each cookie individually in clingfilm (the things people will do for their loved ones!) before stacking them into small ziploc bags. You can add extra cushioning to the parcel with bubble wrap or by nestling sweets, gum and other soft-ish items around the cookies. And there are so many more forums and websites that provide advice on baking and packing treats that will arrive ready to eat.

Do you have any more suggestions for Sam? What could she send to her special soldiers?

ANZAC biscuits

Makes 20 biscuits

85 g oats
85 g desiccated coconut
100 g plain or all purpose flour
100 g sugar
100 g unsalted butter
1 Tbsp golden syrup
1 tsp baking soda

Preheat the oven to 180C / 375F. Line a cookie sheet with baking or parchment paper.

Combine the oats, coconut, flour and sugar in a large bowl.

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter and golden syrup. Combine the baking soda with 2 Tbsp boiling water and add to the butter mixture – it will foam up slightly. Stir this mixture into the dry ingredients until everything is evenly moistened and combined.

Place large tablespoons of the dough on the cookie sheet, leaving at least an inch between mounds. This dough holds together very loosely so you may have to use your hands to press each mound of dough together.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until golden. (Leave for an additional 2 to 3 minutes if you desire a firmer, crunchier biscuit.) These biscuits don’t spread much while baking so as soon as they are out of the oven I like to flatten each biscuit slightly with the back of a spoon.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Store in an airtight container.