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Lance Seeto
Sunday, January 06, 2013

ONE of the most common questions I get from readers is for cake, biscuit and dessert recipes. I've been reluctant to share too many of these because of Fiji's health problems of obesity and diabetes, but as people find these hard to resist I thought I'd share some modern recipes that increase the healthier ingredients and lower the bad ones. All things with flour and sugar, including most of the hot bread sold in Fiji, should be eaten as a snack, not as a replacement for a healthy meal. But if you love homemade sweet cakes and biscuits, make sure you eat them in moderation and balance them in your diet by eating more fresh fruits, crunchy vegetables and with plenty of exercise.

There are also ways to make these naughty foods a lot more guilt-free by using more Fiji-grown ingredients like its raw honey, molasses, organic spices, aromatic herbs and fruit fibre. In fact, sweeteners like Fiji's molasses, a by-product of refining sugar, contains many of the essential compounds like calcium, iron, vitamin B and potassium. Scientists from La Trobe University in Australia have also discovered that molasses is high in polyphenols, powerful antioxidants that can reduce calorie absorption from fat. If they're right, that means cakes and cookies made with molasses could actually make you lose weight, but if you eat too many they'll probably rot your teeth in the process!

Fijian's know cookies as biscuits but whatever you call them, their accidental discovery 10,000 years ago resulted in every culture developing their own distinct recipes. The word cookie is Dutch for "little cakes". Persian bakers added sugar to bread recipes to create sweet cakes that baked in a clay ovens. The wood-fired ovens made it hard to determine the right baking temperature; so small amounts of cake batter were put in the oven to test. When these little cakes were taken out and eaten, the bakers discovered they had created a delicacy by accident. The earliest cookie recipes used the same basic ingredients as a cake like flour, sugar, butter, spice and nuts. Dried fruit such as raisins and dates made the plain cookies more exotic and nutritious, and because they lasted a long time became a favorite snack of sailors, nomadic traders, and soldiers around the globe.

Today, the simple recipes are just as moreish as the newer gourmet cookie recipes. While the chocolate chip cookie is the quintessential American cookie and Oreo's are the most popular chocolate cookie in the world, the little known Snickerdoodle is a golden oldie. Using basic ingredients and with its crunchy outer crust and chewy centre, it's hard to go past just one! Cookies are a big business in the USA, and its not hard to see why they have wickedly tempting cookie, fudge, teacake, crunch and cheesecake recipes made with exotic ingredients including peanut butter, M&M's, pumpkin, pecan and lots of chocolate.

In Australia, the best known cookie is the ANZAC biscuit, named after the World War I soldiers from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The crunchy ANZAC biscuit were made by Aussie women and sent to their soldiers fighting in faraway places overseas as a source of sustenance and reminder of home. Originally called "Soldiers' Biscuits", they were originally made from just flour, sugar, milk powder and water to endure the long journey in tins at sea. Today the biscuits are a symbolic treat with the addition of butter, golden syrup and desiccated coconut. As a young boy growing up in Australia I recall my favourites of Wagon Wheels (chocolate wheels sandwiched between marshmallow and jam), Iced Vo Vos (pink coconut marshmallow on a biscuit) and the most famous of them all — Tim Tams. Known as "Australia's favourite cookie" in the USA, Tim Tam's were invented by Australian biscuit maker, Ross Arnott. After attending a 1958 horse race in Kentucky, USA, he named his new creation after the winning horse, Tim Tam!

With 2013 being a definitive year for Fiji with its new currency, new flag, new constitution and a new identity for the world to see, Fijian food and produce will also be focus of gourmet travellers in search of exotic tropical foods. Maybe even an undiscovered Fijian cookie recipe? But what would it taste like? No doubt it has to include coconut. Maybe even fresh ginger, tropical fruits or Adi Chocolate's Savusavu chocolate? What about a yaqona kava cookie for a peaceful sleep with a nightcap of tea? Or a Noni kura fruit cookie for those in search of the fountain of youth? But it might just be something really simple like the American Snickerdoodle; a chewy Cassava cookie sweetened with Golden syrup and rolled in fresh coconut and cinnamon. Organic, gluten free, no sugar and infused with the Tree of Life — how typically Fijian.

Happy baking!

p Lance Seeto is an author, television presenter and executive chef based on Castaway Island Fiji and can be contacted via Facebook at Fijian Food Safari.

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