What is an Afghan biscuit?
The Afghan biscuit is one of the most traditional pastries in New Zealand. It is made with flour, butter, cornflakes, sugar and pure cocoa powder. It is topped with chocolate icing and a walnut kernel pressed over the icing.
The recipe contains a high proportion of butter, a relatively low sugar content and no leavening agent. It has a soft, dense and rich texture, with a delicious crunch provided by the cornflakes.
The high butter content gives a soft melting texture and the icing compensates for the low sugar content in the dough and the bitterness of the cocoa.
What is the origin of Afghan biscuit?
Despite its name, the Afghan biscuit is unquestionably native to New Zealand. It appeared several times in the country’s institutional cookbook, The Sure to Rise Cookery book by TJ Edmonds, a book first published in 1907. It is not in the first edition of 1907, but certainly in the 1940 edition.
There are several competing theories regarding its name.
The most popular theory is that these biscuits were first sent to soldiers fighting in the Second Afghan War in the late 19th century, presumably baked by the wives of New Zealand soldiers serving in the British Empire.
The Afghan biscuit is said to be most likely the precursor to the famous ANZAC biscuit, baked by Australian and New Zealand wives and sent to soldiers during the First World War.
Note also that these two biscuits have one thing in common: they contain cereals, corn flakes for the Afghan biscuit and oat flakes for the ANZAC biscuit, and neither of them contains eggs, they were therefore less likely to spoil during transport at a time of a very long sea journey.
There are a few other theories as to the origin of the Afghan biscuit:
- Its similarity to the rugged mountainous landscapes of Afghanistan.
- They would have been invented by a New Zealand woman to send to her handsome soldier stationed in Afghanistan during the First World War.
- An Afghan gentleman is said to have visited New Zealand and made such an impression that a biscuit was created in his honor.
- The likeness of the biscuit to the Afghan man, where the base of the biscuit represents the color of their skin, the dark chocolate icing represents their hair and the walnut kernel their turban.
- Other theories link the biscuit inspiration to Britain’s involvement in the Anglo-Afghan Wars, which began in 1839.
The history of cornflakes
Corn flakes are a corn-based food cooked with sugar and vitamins. The dough is finely rolled and toasted in the form of flakes.
Cornflakes were invented to provide anti-aphrodisiac and anti-masturbation food to patients at a Michigan sanatorium.
They were born in the late 19th century when a group from the Seventh-day Adventist Church began to develop a new food that followed the rules of their strict vegetarian diet.
In 1894, Doctor John Harvey Kellogg, director of a sanatorium in Michigan and a Seventh-day Adventist, adopted a new type of diet to impose on his patients, which excluded meat, alcohol, tobacco and caffeine.
In this whirlwind of deprivations, an additional element could not be present either: the food had to be absolutely free of any type of seasoning because, according to the precepts of Sylvester Graham, the Presbyterian pastor who influenced the lifestyle of Seventh-day Adventists, sweet or spicy foods could increase passions. There were not many options for eating and therefore each type of cereal was welcome.
However, the discovery of corn flakes was completely unintentional. In fact, Doctor Kellogg and his brother, Will Keith Kellogg, left cooked grains of wheat to cool, while addressing issues in the sanatorium, and when they returned, they found that the wheat had become stale.
Given the tight budget, they decided to continue working on it, flattening it, in the hope of getting long sheets of dough. To their surprise, what they got instead were these flakes, which they toasted and served to their patients. This happened around April 14, 1894, and on May 31, 1894 the product was patented under the name of Granose.
Wheat flakes, served with milk, quickly became a very popular food among patients, so much so that the Kellogg brothers began experimenting with other grains, including corn. In 1906, Will Keith Kellogg, who was the administrative director of the sanatorium, decided to launch the product on the market, founding his own company, Kellogg’s.
To do this, he argued with his brother about adding sugar, given its rigidity due to the rules of his belief.
Will therefore decided to make their taste more pleasant and adapted it to a wider audience. The most famous breakfast cereals in history were born.
In 1909, to increase his sales, he added a special offer, the Funny Book of Jungle Dismantled Animals, offered to all those who bought two packets of cereals. This same offer ran for 23 years.
Passionate about his anti-aphrodisiac fight and married, Doctor John Harvey Kellogg never consumed his marriage with his wife: the two slept in two separate rooms and decided to adopt their children.
But, even more than sex itself, he despised masturbation. In his book Plain Facts for Old and Young: Embracing the Natural History and Hygiene of Organic Life, he even described 39 symptoms of those who practiced it, including the appearance of acne, palpitations, epilepsy, poor posture, to the point of infirmity.
Incredibly crisp with a delicious chocolate flavor, aphrodisiac or not, Afghan biscuits are purely addictive.
- 14 tablespoons unsalted butter softened
- ¼ cup caster sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1¼ cup flour
- 5 tablespoons cocoa powder 100% cocoa
- 8 tablespoons coarsely crushed cornflakes or not
- 1½ cup icing sugar
- 4 tablespoons cocoa powder 100% cocoa
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon boiling water or more
- 30 walnut kernels
Preheat the convection oven to 350F (180C) for at least 15 minutes.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy.
- Sift the flour and cocoa powder, and add them.
- Finally add the cornflakes and mix well until the mixture is homogeneous.
- Divide the dough into 30 pieces and roll them up.
- Place the balls, well spaced, on the parchment paper.
- Press them lightly with the palm of the hand or a fork.
- Bake for 15 minutes.
- Wait 15 minutes before placing the cookies on a cooling rack and allow to cool completely before icing.
- Mix icing sugar and cocoa and sift them in a bowl.
- Add the butter and 1 tablespoon of boiling water at a time mix well, adding more hot water if necessary until the icing can be spread.
- Place a teaspoon of icing on each cookie and garnish with a walnut kernel.