Just Desserts

Australians like their sweets. Why should they be any different than the rest of us? We've run across some traditional desserts that are uniquely Australian and, in the interest of cultural exchange, we've tried and enjoyed.

There are no cookies in Australia, but they do have oodles of sweet biscuits. Same thing, different name. Tim Tams are very popular and come in a variety of flavors which we've tried on numerous occasions... again purely for our cultural edification.

My personal favorites are ANZAC biscuits. Named way back in WWI for ANZACs (Australia-New Zealand Army Corps), these easy traveling, long lasting cookies became associated with wives and mums sending treats to their men overseas during the war. The basic ingredients are oats and coconut. We tasted them the first time on ANZAC Day at a tiny celebration on Pitcairn Island and thought they were the ultimate oatmeal cookie. ANZAC Day, celebrated April 25th each year, is comparable to Veteran's Day in the USA and in my mind, having a cookie specific to the holiday is an excellent idea although they're available commercially all year long.

When we were in New Zealand, we sampled Pavlova for the first time. There's an ongoing battle between the Kiwis and the Aussies as to which country first introduced the Pavlova. Evidently the prima ballerina, Anna Pavlova, visited both countries in the 1920's and this dessert was named in her honor. No matter who claims the title of origin, the resulting dessert is lovely. Made with a meringue that's crusty on the outside and soft on the inside, the whole thing is covered in whipped cream and studded with fresh fruits like strawberries, kiwis, passion fruit and blueberries. Pre-made meringues can be purchased in the stores, so all you need to do is top it with cream and fresh fruit. Pretty easy. It's typically served on special holidays like Christmas and it's delish.

They also have something called White Christmas and Chocolate Crackles, both made with rice bubbles, aka Kellogg's Rice Krispies. Though the recipes are different from the ones we grew up with in the USA like Scotch Treats and Original Marshmallow Krispie Treats, the process is similar. Kids make the recipe because it's an easy, no-bake, chill-in-the-fridge, hopelessly sweet kind of treat.

Then there is Lamington Cake or Lamington Cream which is definitely Australian in origin. I've seen them in pastry shops and the grocery store bakeries, but not yet tasted them. There seem to be several variations on the theme. It's a yellow sponge cake topped first with a chocolate cream icing which soaks into the cake, then it's dipped in shredded coconut. A filling of cream and/or strawberry jam can be layered in the middle according to some of the recipes I've read. It's on the “to make” list.

I saw “brandy custard” in the dairy case at the supermarket the other day. It comes in 1-liter waxed cardboard containers like a quart of milk or eggnog, so it's obviously liquid. The containers were decorated in Christmas colors and I thought perhaps they might be akin to egg nog. I had to e-mail my Aussie friend, Marly B., in Melbourne and get the scoop on custards. They come in powder or liquid form though making them from scratch is the best, she says. What she describes sounds like a rich vanilla pudding which can be drizzled on Christmas pudding or served with fruit or made into cream tarts. Evidently a myriad of choices. Egg nog, by the way, is not very popular here...brandy notwithstanding.

The traditional English plum pudding is still a Christmas favorite here. At least I've seen lots of them in the stores on sale. And, of course, fruit cake is available. I prefer waiting till after Christmas to buy our fruit cake. They're heavily discounted then and are great for celebrating January 7th... Fruitcake Toss Day. We know folks who have used them as dinghy anchors. They seldom drag.

Being from New England, my favorite Christmas dessert recipe is Cranberry Pudding. Though neither fresh nor frozen cranberries are available here in Tasmania (dried cranberries do not work well), I thought I'd share this old Martha's Vineyard recipe with you anyway. It's easy to make and tastes scrumptious when served warm and topped with whipped cream or ice cream.

Cranberry Pudding a la Nine of Cups

2 cups whole fresh cranberries, washed

¾ cup white sugar – separated ½ cup and ¼ cup

¼ c chopped walnuts 6 tbsp melted butter – separated 4 tbsp and 2 tbsp

½ c flour 1 egg, well beaten

Place cranberries in a well-buttered 8” pie plate. Mix ¼ cup of sugar and the walnuts with 4 tbsp of melted butter and drizzle over the cranberries. Combine the remaining sugar with the flour and add to the beaten egg; stir well. Add the remaining melted butter; stir well again. Pour over the cranberries.

Bake about 40 minutes at 350F (180C) till the top is lightly brown and the cranberries are bubbling. Serve warm or cold. Top with freshly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Please bake one for me. Send me a picture. As you're eating it, savor the taste. Think about those of us poor folks who have no fresh cranberries. Sigh! I know I could substitute another fruit, but it just wouldn't be the same.