By Aunty Rata
Kia ora fellow trampers
I hope you managed to eat your fill of Easter eggs and hot cross buns over the holiday weekend. For some time Aunty Rata has been promising advice on baking the legendary Tararua biscuit. There are several reasons for the delay. First, I am rubbish at baking so it has been necessary to consult with specialist tramping bakers in order to gather together some tips worth passing on. Second, I have to confess to a degree of ambivalence concerning the utility of the Tararua biscuit. They were originally invented as a reasonably nutritious, light, versatile and indestructible lunchtime staple capable of staying fresh and holding their shape for a long time while bouncing around in a tramping pack. These properties make Tararua biscuits highly suitable for transporting on long Xmas trips but are they actually edible and are they worth the time and effort that goes into baking them?
I guess the answer lies in how much satisfaction you derive from making your own food from scratch, knowing exactly what has gone into what you are eating and where the time versus money trade off lies for you. In terms of value for money , one thing is for sure, homemade Tararua biscuits are cheaper than the competition whether it be, crackers, muesli bars or one square meals.
WTMC Tararua Biscuits
Makes 14 biscuits = 7 lunches of 2 biscuits = calorie equivalent of 4 slices of bread.
- 250g wholemeal flour
- 150g plain flour
- 125g butter
- 100g sugar
- 1 TB golden syrup or honey
- Half tsp salt
- Baking paper
- Quarter cup milk powder
- Water – quantity varies from batch to batch
- Pre heat oven to 130 degrees Celsius.
- Spread a baking tray with baking paper or grease the tray with butter if you have no baking paper. (Ordinary paper or Saturday’s Dom will not work).
- Mix dry ingredients in a bowl.
- Cut butter into cubes and soften slightly in microwave or hot water cupboard.
- Rub butter into dry ingredients.
- Make a well in the centre and add enough water to form a dry dough when lightly mixed. Don’t mix the dough too much but do knead it a bit to make it stick together.
- Roll biscuit dough out to 1cm thickness, cut into biscuits and place on a baking tray.
- Bake at 130degrees Celsius until cooked (dry and starting to turn tussock coloured). This will take about 1.5-2 hours depending on your oven.
- Once cooked switch oven off but leave biscuits in the oven so they can continue to harden up.
- As with any baking you need to be organised. This means getting together all your equipment and ingredients before you start. There is nothing worse than grovelling round in kitchen drawers with floury hands looking for something that could work as a rolling pin (a pump bottle filled with water is quite good), or finding out half way through the mixing process that you don’t actually have an essential ingredient.
- Think about how you will store your biscuits and decide what shape to make them. Aunty Rata has a round biscuit cutter (a glass will do the trick), that enables her to size biscuits to fit into an empty Pringle tin but square or rectangular biscuits might be better if you carry a lunch box on tramps.
- Do not overcook. There is a subtle but important difference between a crisp Tararua biscuit and a rock. Remember visits to the dentist are invariably unpleasant and expensive and there is little point in baking a rock when you could just grab one wherever you happen to find yourself at lunchtime on your tramp…
- Adjust the sugar/golden syrup/honey quantities to suit your taste. Resist the temptation to amp up the sugar quantity though, you are making biscuits not fudge.
- You can substitute some of the flour for gluten free flour such as rice flour or soy flour but no more than half is recommended. Any more and the biscuits start to crumble. Likewise you can substitute olive oil for butter if you have cholesterol issues.
- If you want variety then divide your batch of biscuit dough into 200g lumps (4 biscuits) and add one of the following: 2 TB coconut or chocolate chips or chopped almonds or chopped dried cranberries or sesame seeds or sunflower seeds or 1TB wholegrain mustard.
Once made you can put any topping you like on a Tararua biscuit – cheese, jam, peanut butter, marmite, hummus etc. However, your biscuits should be edible naked. If they are not don’t worry as this is when their versatility really comes into its own. They will make serviceable roofing tiles or door stops. You can also throw them at the neighbour’s cat if it is trespassing. If you regularly tramp with someone who sets too quick a pace you could always hide a few biscuits in their pack. I have not done extensive testing of their aerodynamic qualities but it is probable these biscuits make good Frisbees or a useful substitute for a hacky sack. Unlike bread or crackers the humble Tararua biscuit may even be suitable for anchoring your tent or fly or as an implement for hammering pegs in. As my old geography teacher used to say, resources are cultural appraisals. So I guess on balance, if you don’t treat the Tararua biscuit as mere food you can argue that its utility is without rival.
Aunty Rata would welcome any feedback or tips on baking Tararua biscuits.
Big thanks to Amanda Wells, Illona Keenan and Ruth Parnell who generously shared some of their baking tips thereby enabling me to finally finish this article.