Along with the Pavlova, the Anzac Biscuit has a contested heritage and there is some dispute about the date of the earliest recipe.
In Australia, it’s said the biscuits were baked by volunteers and packed in Billy Tea cans to be sent to soldiers during WWI. The traditional recipe includes oats, golden syrup and (usually) coconut, but no eggs, which were scarce in wartime and would affect the keeping qualities. However, it seems the name Anzac Biscuits came later.
According to the Kiwis, it may have originated in Dunedin, New Zealand. The recipe was published under various names. They claim that the first reference to Anzac was in St Andrew’s Cookery Book (Dunedin, 1921) where they were called Anzac Crispies. However, the Melbourne newspaper The Argus published a recipe for Anzac Biscuits or Crispies in September 1920. They are now known as Anzac Biscuits in Australia and New Zealand.
An earlier hand-written recipe for a version that does not include coconut has been discovered. It was written down in a notebook by Carolyn Warner between 1912 and 1920. Research by Sian Supski of the Australia Research Institute at the Curtin University of Technology has shown that recipes began to appear in Australian cookbooks in the early 1920s, originally under the name of Anzac Crisps.
Since 1994, the Australian Government’s Minister for Veterans’ Affairs has controlled the use of the term Anzac. The word may be applied to Anzac Biscuits, but only if they’re made to the traditional recipe. The term Anzac Cookie cannot be used.
The Australian War Memorial has a page devoted to the Anzac Biscuit on its website. It gives recipes with and without coconut. The popular version, with coconut, comes from the CWA and is as follows:
1 cup each of rolled oats, sugar and coconut
1 tablespoon syrup
3/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (dissolved in 2 tablespoons boiling water)
Add syrup to dissolved soda and water. Combine with melted butter.
Mix dry ingredients and stir in liquid.
Place small balls on hot buttered tray and bake in moderate oven.
Lift out carefully with a knife as they are soft until cold.