Get your just dessert … down under

Treats from Australia designed to let you finish your meal on a sweet note

Issue: Jan 2010

Photo courtesy of

No mention of Australian desserts can ever be considered complete without including the pavlova. This meringue-based treat that is topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit has been at the centre of culinary controversy between Australia and New Zealand, both of whom claim it to be their national cuisine.

According to the Australians, the light-as-air dessert was named after Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, in honour of one of her tours to Australia in the 1920s. The New Zealanders maintained that a recipe for such a dish was recorded even earlier than that in honour of the dancing diva. Where it was created and the nationality of its creator has been the subject of many a heated debate ever since.

Today, both countries customarily serve the pavlova during celebratory holiday meals like Christmas.


English immigrants first settled in South Australia in 1836 and they brought with them the recipes from home. Most were simple and easy to make, with no complicated ingredients given the modest means of the migrants. One such recipe was created out of sheer need.

Photo courtesy of

As the story goes, Charles Cochrane-Baillie, the 2nd Baron Lamington and Governor of Queensland from 1896 to 1901 was entertaining one day and his chef was called upon at short notice to provide a snack for the guests. He used some left over French vanilla sponge cake, dipped the slices in chocolate, set them in coconut and presented the concoction. The guests were so impressed that they asked Lady Lamington for the recipe and an iconic Australian dessert was created. 21 July 2006 was designated as National Lamington Day in Australia in honour of this cake.

Ironically, Lord Lamington was believed to have detested the dessert, referring to them as “those blood poofy woolly biscuits”.

ANZAC Biscuits

ANZAC Biscuits
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The word ANZAC is, in fact, an acronym for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. It originated in World War I as does this crunchy cookie made with flour, sugar, milk powder and water.

The biscuits were first baked by the womenfolk of the two countries for their soldiers at war. Folklore has it that rolled oats and golden syrup were used because they were fairly easy ingredients to find even during war time and are nutritious. Originally called “Soldiers’ Biscuits”, these hardy treats were made to endure the journey overseas. Today, butter, golden syrup, oats and desiccated coconut are added to the recipe to give it more bite.

Incidentally, the word Anzac is a protected phrase, and cannot normally be used. But the authorities in Australia have granted an exception for Anzac biscuits, on the provison they are never marketed as Anzac cookies, only biscuits.

Australian Damper

Photo credit: C S. Wongkaew

The first inhabitants of Australia were the Aboriginal people. Their diet consisted primarily of fruits and plants grown widely on the land. Traditionally, they grounded seeds to make a kind of flour which they then added water and baked in the coals of their cooking fires. When the immigrants arrived, the indigenous people passed on this recipe to them and the Australian damper was born.

The outback stockmen modified it by using traditional flours instead and a camp oven replaced open fires. But the damper became their way of getting fresh bread on their sojourns away from home.

These days, this traditional Australian bread that is steeped in the history of the bush pioneers is made without yeast and consist of just flour, water, salt and a little sugar and has become a delicacy of sorts. You can savour the damper wrapped around a stick, accompanied by billy tea (tea made in a billy can) on traditional farm tours.

For a twist, try it spiced up with grated apples, fragrant cinnamon and brown sugar, then slather with butter and dribble with rich dark maple syrup.

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