A true melting pot of flavours, cultures, traditions and influences, Australian cuisine is interesting, enticing and fun. And with Australia Day on the horizon, it’s time to revisit some of my iconic favourites, explore their quirky side, and add my own twist or two.
First stop is every camper’s best friend — the damper. Developed as simple sustenance for travelling stockmen and bushmen, who only had very basic rations on hand, damper was originally a dough made with flour, water and possibly a little salt, if they were lucky. It was baked in the coals of their campfire and eaten with meat or golden syrup (aka ‘cocky’s joy’).
Indigenous Australians also make a version of damper using native grains and berries. And then there’s my blueberry damper — far more palatable than the original stockmans’, and cleverly complete with its own filling, so no need for additional spreads or syrups.
Although no particular country can lay exclusive claim to the meat pie, Australians have certainly had a long and robust love affair with the national treasure munched on so often at sporting events and the like. Double-crusted, hand-sized, filled with beef and gravy (of varying quality!), and finished with a squirt or blob of tomato sauce, this phenomenon is eaten at the rate of 300 million each year! For my Aussie meat pie, I have added a distinctive Chinese twist with allspice, shiitake mushrooms and a good hit of ginger.
Many of us grew up eating vanilla slice from the local bakery — reminiscent of the French mille feuille, a rich vanilla custard sandwiched between crisp layers of puff pastry, but often topped with passionfruit icing. My version swirls mango through the custard to add the fresh sweetness of this quintessentially Australian flavour from our North.
Simple, yet totally moreish, Anzac biscuits — originally sent to Aussie and New Zealand troops during WWI, they say — are usually dunked and eaten with cups of tea. But I have teamed them with ice-cream that’s studded with chunks of Violet Crumble — a confectionary that hit the market in in 1913, around the same time as the Anzacs — to create fun and slightly wicked dessert sandwiches.
And then there’s the pavlova. With its marshmellowy centre, crisp outer, and slightly retro traditional topping of whipped cream, kiwi fruit, banana and passionfruit, there really isn’t a more Australian dessert (despite what the New Zealanders claim). Meanwhile, I make a pavlova roll — same concept, just a slightly different proportion of ingredients and a new shape — that surates the abundance of tropical fruits at this time of year.
Finally, inspired by my nostalgia for the classic Iced VoVo biscuit — made by Arnott’s since 1906 — my VoVo cakes are a simple butter cake laced with raspberry jam, coated with coconut and topped with fresh raspberries.
Imitation with innovation is the best form of flattery when baking, I think. So enjoy these takes on my favourite Aussie originals on 26 January this year.
For more Australia Day ideas, check out our recipe collection here.
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Anneka's mission is to connect home cooks with the magic of baking, and through this, with those they love. For hands-on baking classes and baking tips, visit her at BakeClub. Don't miss what's coming out of her oven via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
Photography by Alan Benson. Styling by Sarah O’Brien. Food preparation by Tina McLeish. Creative concept by Lou Fay.
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