I had a bunch of friends over for a dinner on the eve of Australia Day, which is 26th of January for all you non-Aussies.
The idea behind Australia Day is that it commemorates the landing of the first fleet at Sydney Cove in 1788. Needless to say, one man’s meat is another’s poison and some Aboriginals call the 26th, “Invasion Day”. Fair enough, but to be honest the average Aussie takes the opportunity to have the day off to drink and feast without much thought or reflection on the matter.
Like all young nations, Australia is still struggling with it’s sense of identity. For instance there isn’t what could be called an Australian cuisine in the sense of how the Italians can claim to have a national food culture that is recognisably theirs.
So it was with these nebulous feelings of being culturally adrift that I started to think about what I was going to serve for dinner. It is generally accepted by many people here in Oz that lamb will be eaten on Australia Day, so the main course was a no-brainer. Trouble was, lamb is eaten by lots of other cultures and it’s not exclusively Australian. How was I going to put an intrinsically Australian stamp on my dinner?
When I studied design we were told to always research a theme before we put pen to paper, and it was with that advice that I approached making my interpretation of an Aussie dessert.
My first thought was about what foods are uniquely Australian or at least grew here before colonisation. As everyone knows, Australia was inhabited by Aboriginals before European settlement and about the only uniquely native food that they collected, that has gained international acceptance is the macadamia nut. Coconuts also occur naturally up north in the tropical areas, so I thought they and the macadamia nuts would be a good start.
I also thought about some of the incidents in Australian history that have shaped our collective sense of who we are.
The early history of Australia as an English penal settlement is peppered with stories of convict misery and the corruption of the NSW Corps (the low quality semi-criminal soldiers sent from England to manage the prisoners), which became known as the “Rum Corps” and who were involved in the “Rum Rebellion”. So rum had to be in the list of ingredients as well.
For the first 100 years of white history in Australia, most Australians saw themselves as de facto English and were only too happy to jump into whatever wars England was participating in. One of the biggest military blunders of the First World War was Churchill’s decision to send Australian and New Zealand troops (known as ANZACS which is an acronym for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) with the British Army to Attack the Turks. Thanks to criminal ineptitude on the behalf of the British navy, the ANZACS were landed on the wrong beach at the base of some fairly steep cliffs. This tactical blunder was further compounded by the incredibly poor British army leadership that delayed movement of the soldiers off the beach for so long that the Turks were able to send reinforcements and pin the ANZACS and the British soldiers down on the beach at Gallipoli for almost a year. The disaster at Gallipoli is seen by many Australians and New Zealanders as the watershed moment of our respective senses of nationhood.
Being the willing cannon fodder for the British had lost it’s appeal.
During WWI, the wives, mothers and sisters of the colonial expeditionary forces would send packages which often contained food, to their loved ones overseas in the war. A common food in those boxes of love from home were sweet, buttery oatmeal and coconut biscuits (probably based on traditional Scottish oatmeal biscuits) called ANZAC biscuits.
By the way, when I use the word biscuit, it should be interpreted as “cookie” by North Americans. What North Americans call biscuits, we English speakers call scones.
As I thought about the ANZAC biscuits I remembered when I was a child, a friend of my grandmother, Phyllis Budd, used to make a variation of an old Victorian era dessert out of ginger-snap biscuits and whipped cream. The biscuits were coated on either side with whipped cream and put together to make a log. The biscuits and cream were left over night and the moisture from the cream moved from the cream to biscuits to soften them and as a result, the cream thickened to a ricotta cheese consistancy.
I used to love visiting Phyllis.
Here’s the recipe for what I came up with.
1 1/2 cup plain flour
1 1/2 cup rolled oats
1 1/2 cup desiccated coconut (I use McKenzie’s “Moist flakes” for better flavour and texture)
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
190g (almost 7oz) butter
6 tbs golden syrup (you can substitute 2 tbs of treacle)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 cups of fresh cream
1 cup of coconut cream
2 cups of roughly broken up unsalted macadamia nuts (if you can’t get unsalted nuts; wash salted ones)
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup Rum (I use Bundaberg Rum because it’s so quintessentially Australian, in a bad way!)
1 block of dark chocolate (I use Gold’s organic, fair trade 70% coca chocolate)
Several A4 or foolscap sheets of heavy card or paper (about 200 gsm or so)
Start this recipe two days before you serve.
Soak the raisins in the rum, over night in the fridge, on the day before you start this recipe.
The day before you serve.
Preheat your oven to 160C (320F).
Melt the chocolate in a bain marie and pipe it out in 10 abstract grids onto a flat portable surface covered in baking paper that will fit into your freezer. Place them in your freezer while you deal with the rest of the ingredients.
Combine the oats, desiccated coconut and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl. Melt the butter and mix in 3 tablespoons of golden syrup or 1 tablespoon of treacle at low heat. When the butter is completely melted add the bicarbonate of soda. The bicarbonate of soda will cause the butter to froth up so mix it in quickly and pour the combined ingredients onto the dry ingredients in your bowl to combine.
On a large baking tray (I used 300mm x 450mm or about 12″ x 18″) lined with baking paper, evenly roll out the biscuit dough until it covers the whole tray. This operation will be easier to perform if you cover the dough with another layer of baking paper. Remove the top layer of baking paper and place the tray with the dough in the oven for 13 minutes or until the biscuit just begins to turn a light brown. DO NOT cook the biscuits for too long as they will become too crisp.
The sheet of biscuit will still be quite soft after cooking but don’t worry as it will firm up as they cool down. While the sheet of cooked biscuit is still warm use a 6cm or 2 1/2″ biscuit/cookie cutter to cut out 24 ANZAC biscuits.
While the biscuits are cooling down, make a tube of baking paper 9cm or 3 1/2″ high by wrapping it around your biscuit cutter and then wrap the same size of heavy paper around the baking paper to reinforce it. Make a total 8 of these tubes.
Place the Macadamia nuts in a folded tea towel (dish drying cloth) and break them up into large pieces with a rolling pin. Place the nuts under a grill until they begin to go brown. Keep an eye on the nuts as they brown quickly and can burn in a surprisingly short time.
Whip up the cream and slowly add 3 tablespoons of golden syrup or 1 tablespoon of treacle as you go. As the cream starts to thicken, add the coconut cream until until it is well mixed in.
In a large airtight container with a sheet of baking paper in the bottom, place your paper tubes on their ends and sprinkle a some macadamia nuts into them. Then place about 2 tablespoons of the whipped cream mixture into each of the tubes on top of the nuts. The next step is to drop a biscuit into each tube and push it down until a little cream comes out of the bottom of the tubes (just so you know there aren’t any big air pockets).
Next you add the same amount of cream again. On top of the cream drop 3 or 4 rum soaked raisins. Don’t go overboard with the raisins as rum will be the only thing you will taste.
The idea of the raisins it that they are a little hidden surprise and not the main event.
On top of the raisins and cream drop another ANZAC biscuit and push it down to flatten out the cream underneath. More cream and raisins are added again on top of the ANZAC biscuit. Again this layer of cream and raisins is topped with what will be the last ANZAC biscuit (3 ANZAC biscuits are used for each dessert).
Spoon some more cream on the top ANZAC biscuit and then sprinkle some more macadamia nuts on very top of everything. Push the nuts down a little into the cream to level it all off (I used the tamper from my espresso machine).
Push the lid onto the airtight container with all the desserts in it, and put it into your fridge overnight.
Just before you serve your desserts take them out of the airtight container with a spatular so you don’t squash or loose your desserts through the bottom of the tubes.
Place the tubes onto the plates that you will serve them on and carefully cut off the paper tubes with a sharp knife. I used an exacto knife to cut through the sticky tape holding the tubes together.
The last step is to carefully and quickly (so they don’t melt in your fingers) push the chocolate grids into the top of the desserts. If you like, you can put some passionfruit pulp around the dessert as a tasty garnish.
Here’s an amusing video by the talented American comic Rich Hall in the guise of his much convicted uncle Otis Lee Crenshaw, about Bundaberg Rum.