The Biscuiteer: Unibic Anzac Biscuits
Manufactured by: Unibic
On this solemn day when we remember the way that war has destroyed so many people’s lives and been used so cynically for political gain (or perhaps just join our mates for two-up and a pony of beer), The Biscuiteer turns to Unibic’s version of that Australian classic, the Anzac biscuit.
The legend begins in 1914 when the Australian and New Zealand contingents sent to World War I were regrouped into the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) and their wives, mothers and girlfriends began to bake biscuits to send to them at the front. The most widely used recipe was known as “Soldier’s biscuits” and was derived from traditional Scottish oat cakes. Importantly, the biscuits did not contain eggs; otherwise they would have gone bad on the long journey to the front.
After the disastrous Gallipoli campaign burnt itself into the public consciousness in 1915, the biscuits were renamed “ANZAC biscuits”. It’s hard for us to imagine how shocking the ANZAC defeat must have been to those at home, considering that a very new nation was staking an entire generation of its most vigorous citizens on this war. Also, it’s difficult to comprehend how people received news back then, given that we’re so used to instantaneous, detailed and nuanced communication of major world events.
How long, I wonder, did it take for Australian women to learn that so many of their men had died in a stupid military error? Or even to discover that it was an error rather than a “noble sacrifice”? Perhaps the biscuits were a therapy for grief, or a recuperation of national ideals that now hung in the balance. In a 2006 article in the Journal of Australian Studies, Sian Supsky charted a history of Anzac biscuits as a “culinary memorial”, a way of transferring memories through generations of Australians as recipes were passed down in families.
There are thousands of recipes for Anzac biscuits – everyone reckons their mum, or their grandma, makes the best ones – but the basic ingredients are flour, sugar, rolled oats, coconut, butter and golden syrup, with bicarbonate of soda to make them rise. (It’s also interesting to consider how these recipes were influenced by popular cookbooks, from the CWA Cookery Book and Household Hints (first published in 1936 by the Country Women’s Association) and NMAA Cooks (first published in 1975 by the Nursing Mothers Association of Australia) to the Australian Women’s Weekly recipes and cookbooks.
While some are very large and thin (my grandmother made hers that way) and others are plumper and smaller, what I have always enjoyed about Anzac biscuits – and what I believe is their hallmark quality – is their chewiness. They’re also quite rich and buttery.
Since 1999, Unibic has operated in partnership with the Returned and Services League to sell a proprietary version of the biscuit. The RSL keeps a tight hold on any commercial use of the terms “ANZAC” and “ANZAC Day”, and currently, four per cent of the biscuit’s wholesale price goes to the RSL. The biscuits are also available in smaller, fundraising-sized packs.
Intriguingly, Unibic also sells the biscuits in other national markets as ‘war memorial’ biscuits, working with local associations for returned service personnel and/or victims of war. They currently support the Royal British Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) in the US, the Royal Canadian Legion (RCL), and the Royal New Zealand Returned Serviceman’s Association (RNZRSA). Since 2005, Unibic has also been selling Anzac biscuits and donating three per cent of sales to support India’s war widows and people in need of artificial limbs.
The recipe is based on a competition run by Women’s Weekly 40 years ago to create the definitive Anzac biscuit. “The taste of the product and the texture has been derived from the competition and is broadly accepted as the ANZAC taste. We created an industrial version of that,” says Unibic chief executive Michael Quinn.
Worthy biscuits indeed, but how do they taste? The medium-sized, medium-thickness biscuit is a light golden colour, paler than the Anzacs I’m used to, and very dry and crunchy. It’s quite tough on your teeth when you bite into it, so I hate to think what it must do to dentures. Nonetheless, the flavour is very sweet and the texture was agreeably rough, with bits of oats clearly visible.
Only upon dunking into a cup of tea does the Unibic Anzac develop the chewiness that’s characteristic of my favourite Anzac biscuits. However, its hardness means that it holds together well after dunking and won’t disintegrate.
Good on Unibic for creating a community-minded version of an Australian classic; however, the biscuit itself is a mediocre imitation of its home-made equivalent. Track down a recipe and make your own.
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