Making Hard Tack

Have you ever thought how the Australians at Gallipoli were supplied with food: many thousands of men, at short notice, with no refrigeration? While they were fighting on Gallipoli, the Australian soldiers were supplied with food from as far away as Egypt and Greece. This, combined with the lack of refrigeration, meant that they could get very little fruit, vegetables, meat or dairy products.

 

Hard tack biscuit collected by Captain Charles Brand during the Second South African War.

So the Australians ate bully beef (tinned corned beef), rice, jam, cocoa, tea, some bread and above all, hard tack, especially in the first few months. Later they were able get some fresh fruit, vegetables and eggs. Some officers even bought chickens on Lemnos that they took to Gallipoli.

A group of Anzacs making a meal at Gallipoli 1915

Hard tack, also known as "Anzac Wafer", or "Anzac Tile", has a very long shelf life, unlike bread. Hard tack or biscuits continued to be eaten during the Second World War. At its most basic, hard tack biscuits consist of flour, water and salt. Arnott's was one of the companies that made hard tack, and they have provided their recipe below.

Hard Tack Recipe

Caution: Hard tack is really hard! There are stories of soldiers breaking their teeth on it, so be careful!

Makes six biscuits.

Ingredients

  • 1½ cups self-raising white flour
  • 3 cups self-raising wholemeal flour
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons milk powder
  • pinch salt
  • 1 cup water

Equipment

  • Large mixing bowl
  • Mixing spoon
  • Board and rolling pin
  • Baking tray
  • Ruler
  • Bamboo skewer

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
  2. Place dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix together.
  3. Make a well in the centre and add the water. Mix together until an even dough is formed.
  4. Turn the dough onto a floured board and knead for a few minutes. Shape the dough into a ball and let rest for half an hour.
  5. Divide the dough into three and then roll each ball into thick 1cm sheets.
  6. Cut the rolled sheet of dough into 9 cm squares, using the edge of a steel ruler, rather than a knife. This pressing action helps to join the top and bottom surfaces of the biscuit and will improve the "lift" in baking.
  7. Now make a regular pattern of holes in each biscuit, five holes across by five holes down (25 holes in all). The ideal tool to use to make these holes is a cotton bud with the cotton wool cut off or the thick end of a bamboo skewer. Push it through to the bench, twist slightly and withdraw.
  8. Place on a slightly greased baking tray, being careful that the biscuits are not touching. Form a wall around the outside edge with scrap dough. This will stop the outside edges of the biscuits from burning.
  9. Bake on the centre shelf for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown. Be careful not to burn them!
  10. Leave the biscuits on a cooling rack until they harden. Or switch off the oven and return the biscuits to the oven until it becomes cool.

Notes:

If you cannot get the dough to come together with the amount of water listed, you may need to add some extra – up to half a cup, a little at a time until you make dough. This may affect cooking times.

If you don’t have a steel ruler, a thin edged spatula can also be used to ‘cut out’ the hard tack biscuits.

If the biscuits still have some ‘give’ (ie are not hard all the way through) after baking them, you might need to put them back in the oven for 1 to 3 hours at about 120°C until the biscuit has completely dried out and is hard all the way through.

Most other hard tack recipes contain only flour, water and salt. If you do not have milk powder you can make the hard tack without. You may also choose not to include sugar.

Not all hard tack biscuits included wholemeal flour. If you do not have any, you can make hard tack biscuits using white flour only.