I’m just going to have to come out and say that we don’t really have any family recipes in my family.
There were recipes that my French grandma made regularly, and my Australian grandma bakes frequently and well. But nothing has ever been deemed such an important dish that it was worthy of passing on – frankly, we’re just not that kind of family: everyone has had to carve their own path both in life and in the kitchen.
I had originally, when I first saw this prompt, considered veganising a crème caramel. That is the dish I most remember my French grandparents making, usually on occasions when my parents and I would arrive in Paris for me to be dropped off at my grandparents’, and we all dined together before my parents left. But, for one, I feel that would be too close to my most retro recipe (i.e. another vanilla-rich set cream alternative) and, for another, I feel it would lack that authenticity of a special family dish that had been handed down through the generations.
But in the last few years another food item has accrued more significance and has, genuinely, been handed to me by my Australian grandmother.
Well, actually, it has been handed down to Ben, who appears to have become my grandma’s protégé. She immediately welcomed him with open arms when I first brought him over to Australia, and he got straight on with making tea to have with the Anzac biscuits she had made to welcome us.
Over the next couple visits, Anzac biscuits became a theme. We would arrive in Sydney early in the morning, and get ourselves straight to my grandma’s by midday where we would all sit around the table with tea and biscuits and have a bit of a catch-up – it’s such a lovely ritual and one of the best parts of the holiday, in my opinion. When we were ready to go, my grandma would pop the remaining biscuits in a plastic container for us to enjoy over the next few days – I normally have to ban myself from going anywhere near them, and Ben normally enjoys them for breakfast, snacks, and lunches until we run out!
If you haven’t had Anzac biscuits, let me hit you with a little bit of history to whet your appetite (I’d offer you cookies instead, but they haven’t developed that technology yet, so history it is).
ANZAC, coined in 1915, is an acronym standing for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. Since then the term has been associated with World War I and the Australian and New Zealand soldiers who fought in it. The women whose sons, husbands, and boyfriends had gone off to war were concerned for their nutrient intake (as you would be when your beloved is getting shot at and bombed). However, any food they could send to supplement their loved ones’ rations would take two months to reach the men, via boat with no refrigeration facilities.
So, this being pre-kale chip era, the women decided to formulate a biscuit recipe “with all the nutritional values possible” – so they used a base of flour, oats, coconut, plenty of sugar and golden syrup, and butter to tick all those essential nutrient boxes (erm…?).
As well as being inexplicably delicious – UK readers, think something like a soft Hobnob or a crispy flapjack – these are super easy to make, pretty much fool-proof/me-proof, using ingredients you probably have in your cupboard, and naturally egg-free making them a cinch to veganise even for non-vegans or those with little access to fancy egg-replacers.
But my grandma is the sort of person who cuts snippets of news or travel write-ups out of her crossword magazines to collect up and send over in a big envelope periodically, so seeing Ben’s undying enthusiasm for her Anzac biscuits she sweetly wrote out her recipe for him!
You’ll notice Nan uses chopped dried fruit in her biscuits sometimes, but we just omitted them this time round to keep it closer to the traditional recipe – never mind that I can never leave well enough alone and thought it would be fun to use brown rice syrup instead of golden syrup, and coconut sugar instead of caster sugar.
To be honest though, I’d probably consider omitting the granulated sweetener altogether and use all dried fruit and brown rice syrup for a slightly less sweet but more wholesome afternoon snack or breakfast biscuit.
Being 2015 and not 1915, I would have liked to tinker with this further and use wholewheat flour or oat flour, and coconut oil instead of sunflower spread (we use Pure), but since I got the chief cookie-maker to make these I let him do his thing… there’s a reason he is chief cookie-maker after all!
Nan always bemoans how soft her vegan Anzac biscuits go compared to the butter-laden originals, but ours surprisingly did the opposite and refused to spread. Thankfully they were soft enough that we were able to squish them down a bit halfway through baking, and they turned out great – or at least just how I like them, which is soft and slightly chewy in the middle.
Long story short, war really sucks but biscuits are great, so make (vegan) biscuits, not war.