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Afghan Biscuits & Issues of Kiwi-ness

There are certain things that are just Kiwi, all the way through. Hokey pokey ice cream…

There are certain things that are just Kiwi, all the way through. Hokey pokey ice cream (although my dad now refuses to eat it, after a shopkeeper took one look at him and said of course he was going to have hokey pokey, because it was old people’s ice cream). Whittaker’s chocolate. Anzac biscuits. Beetroot on sandwiches. The certainty that, no matter what time of year it is, someone will be wearing jandals (flip-flops/thongs), and someone else will be wearing gumboots (wellies). (Disclaimer: I am quite often the person in jandals.) Pavlova. Pohutukawa trees in bloom. Chocolate fish. Kumara (a sweet potato variety).

Which is awesome. Every country has its things. The problem, however, is that I’m starting to worry that my Kiwi passport might be revoked, because, based on this list, I’m a really bad Kiwi. Never mind the fact I’ve been away so long that my accent has most people here asking, so, enjoying your visit? I’m actually starting to wonder if the wearing jandals thing is less the fact that I have philosophical objections to socks, and more that I’m trying to make up for something.

Afghan biscuits, recipe, Kiwi, NZ, baking,

I don’t see any way to not love this.

My totally scientific and rather damning list is as follows:

  • Hokey pokey ice cream. Yeah, nah. Kind of boring.
  • Whittaker’s chocolate. Yes please all the chocolate. I’ve got that one covered.
  • Anzac biscuits. I mean, I like them, but I don’t love them. And I’d never even made them until last year, which horrified my cousin.
  • Beetroot on sandwiches. Another nope. Beetroot in salads, yes, if it’s nicely pickled. In sandwiches it just makes them soggy, and I have so many memories of childhood white bread sandwiches consisting of beetroot and butter. Maybe some ham or something, but usually just beetroot and sad, soggy bread.
  • Jandals/gumboots regardless of the weather. This one I feel confident about. I’m certainly not the only person in jandals in the current NZ winter, but I’m in a minority.
  • Pavlova. No. I realise that this is the classic Kiwi dessert, always festooned with masses of whipped cream and fresh fruit, but still no. I’ll take the cream and fruit and you can keep the eye-twitch-inducing sweetness of the meringue. Gah.
  • Pohtukawa trees in bloom. This is a cheat. No one could not love the sight of this. They’re perfectly, quintessentially Kiwi, and they take me back to childhood summer Christmases on the beach.
  • Chocolate fish. Eh. I used to love them, but now I’m veggie and they’re marshmallow based, so, no.
  • Kumara. Hard pass. Although, I should probably try them as an adult. I ate so many as a kid that I don’t think I’ve touched them for 20 … um. 30-odd years.

Which gives me three out of nine. Three and a half, if I’m feeling generous about the Anzac biscuits. I’m truly a bad Kiwi.

Afghan biscuits, recipe, Kiwi, NZ, baking,

Yes, that is a kumara-themed attraction, complete with giant kumara. And sheep, because NZ. (Photo from The Kumara Box.)

And, just to make things worse, when I decided it was time for a new recipe instalment, I immediately wanted to make Afghan biscuits. Which I must have made at some stage as a kid, because every Kiwi kid makes them. Every. Single. One. They’re fast and easy and tasty and it’d be sort of against the rules of the universe if I hadn’t. I certainly hope I have, otherwise my cousin really will disown me, if it’s both Anzacs and Afghans I’m falling down on.

But I don’t remember doing it. I do remember eating them, though, so that’s something, right?

And I did make them for this post, and they’re entirely delightful. So I shall consider myself redeemed on the baking count, and go back to considering if I should try kumara.

Not pavlova, though. Not that.

Afghan biscuits, recipe,

Yes. Good.

Afghan Biscuits

(From Edmonds Cookery Book)

Note: The Edmond’s Cookery Book is the one book that seemed to be on every shelf when I was growing up. Loads of people still have them, and they’re as much an NZ institution as Afghans. Edmonds make a whole variety of products these days, but the whole company started with one man making baking powder in the back of his store in 1879. So if I was going to make a classic Afghan recipe, it seemed sensible to start with this one …

Afghan biscuits, recipe, Kiwi, NZ, baking,

I love that they sent out copies on engagement announcements. That’s kind of fantastic marketing.


  • 200 g / 7 oz / 1 3/4 sticks butter, softened
  • 100 g / ½ cup white sugar
  • 170 g / 1¼ cups flour
  • 25 g / ¼ cup cocoa
  • 50 g / 2 cups cornflakes


  • 130 g / 1 cup icing sugar
  • 15 g / 2 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 14 g / 1 Tbsp butter, softened
  • Splash boiling water
  • Walnut halves

Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Grease two baking trays.

Beat butter, sugar, and vanilla until creamy. Sift flour and cocoa over top, then chuck in the cornflakes. Mix the whole lot up until everything’s well combined. Don’t worry about breaking the cornflakes. The mix’ll be really stiff – don’t panic! It’s meant to be. I haven’t forgotten to write eggs on there. There aren’t any. And no raising agent, either. Trust me. Or trust Edmonds, really.

Roll mix into balls of about a tablespoon in size and pop on trays. They won’t spread much, so you can flatten them a bit if you prefer. You’ll get 20 – 24.

Bake for about 10 minutes, until tops are cracked and they’re still soft to the touch. Cool on the trays until they firm up enough to transfer to a cooling rack.

While they’re cooling, sift your icing sugar and cocoa into a bowl. Add softened butter, then a splash of boiling water. Mix well, adding extra water as needed until you get a good spreading consistency. Add more icing sugar if needed, or more water to get it to where you want. Spread a little icing on top of each Afghan, and top with a walnut half.

Done! Eat one to check it’s okay. Probably two, really. Quality control, you know.

Author/eater of biscuit’s note: These were actually even better the next day. And yes, I did have some left. Jeez.

Afghan biscuits, recipe, Kiwi, NZ, baking,

Tea and an afghan. Don’t mind if I do.

And now over to you, lovely people. What foods and/or quirks are emblematic of your country? Do you embrace them, or are you not a fan? Let me know below!

Afghan biscuits, baking, biscuits, NZ, recipes

  1. Kelvin Gosnell says:

    Quirks of UK stuff? Could fill a book, KIm! Food wise: fish and chips, jellied/hot eels, pie and mash. Latter two being particular to London. Love ’em all. General quirks? Continuing ability of Brits to elect terrible, criminally incompetent bullies to govern them.
    Your earlier post on science fiction: thanks for Lindsay Buroker and Star Kingdom. So good, at last, to find a good SF female writer. Been trying for years. Buroker does a great job of good, old-fashioned space stuff. Humour’s good too.
    Recommendation for further SF reading must be for the late Iain M Banks, particularly the Culture novels. Although “Feersum Enjinn”, a standalone novel, is just marvellous. If you haven’t read him, do go take a look. Other classics often ignored would be Clarke’s “The City and the Stars” and Asimov’s “The End of Eternity”.

    1. Kim Watt says:

      I may have physically shuddered at the thought of jellied eels. I have eaten eel, in my fish-eating days, and that was fine, but jellied? Oh, no. Definitely not!

      And I’m so glad you like Star Kingdom! It was a great read. I’ve read a bit of Asimov and Clarke in my teens, and Iain M Banks more recently – I preferred his work as Iain Banks, to be honest. I found he was a bit too heavily science-y for me, although it may have been the books I tried. I’m not big on lots of world building or technical detail, which is a bit of a pain when I do enjoy sci-fi and fantasy. I do love the title Feersum Enjinn though – I may have to try it for that alone!

      1. Kelvin Gosnell says:

        Hi Kim… Do try Fearsum Enjinn when you get the chance. As you might guess from the title, it is told largely in first -person from a character who is pretty much dyslexic. Banks manages to do this without confusing the reader AND bringing a great empathetic understanding of what it is like to be “different”.

        1. Kim Watt says:

          That sounds excellent – I’ll definitely look for that one!

  2. Carolyn Saunders says:

    I remember getting Afghan biscuits as a child but didn’t know that name. I confess to loving beetroot sandwiches – no butter, just beetroot, but then I love beetroot juice too. I do enjoy Kumara potatoes too; so with that and Anzac biscuits I’m a little bit Kiwi. Being a Scot by birth and heritage. I have to confess to mutton pies (no good for you veggies) and haggis but none of that deep fried Mars bar nonsense – I’m not from Glasga.

    1. Kim Watt says:

      You sound like a better Kiwi than me! Although, I love beetroot and beetroot juice – especially if pickled – but it’s the sandwich bit that gets me every time. Gah. No. Not unless eaten immediately, anyway. I can’t stand the sogginess that inevitably ensues! I’m just the same with tomatoes, to be fair. I absolutely love tomatoes, but not in sandwiches.

      Dad’s actually from Arbroath, and I will confess to adoring vegetarian haggis. But otherwise, yep – I think the fare up there is a little too carnivorous for me…

      1. Carolyn Saunders says:

        Ooo – a smokie. Actually, it’s not that long ago that my veggie sister practically starved in Spain through the carnivore experience. I do believe there may be a few outposts in Edinburgh where you might survive. (p.s. the sandwiches must be eaten directly – no sogginess for me)

        1. Kim Watt says:

          I lived in Spain briefly, and was actually vegan at the time (this was about 12 or 13 years ago). Chips and green salad was about as good as it got…!


    Also being a veggie there are a lot of typical American foods that are now verboten for me. Although I have happily found ways to make some of them as veggie options. I still miss things I grew up on like Tuna Melt Sandwiches, Meatloaf, Etc…. I make a mean Lentil Loaf that’s very good but not really much like Meatloaf and I’ve found nothing to sub for the Tuna in Tuna Melts (so far). The new Pea Protein meat substitutes have made the best Taco’s so far. I’ve never seen or heard of those Afghans but I’ll definitely be trying them 🙂

    1. Kim Watt says:

      Afghans are very Kiwi – I don’t think they’ve made it very far outside this part of the world! And it is always difficult when so many childhood comfort foods are meat-heavy. It’s nice that there are so many veggie options these days, though. I’m not a huge fan of meat substitutes, but I do use soy protein in chillies, where it works really well. And a love a bit of tofu in stirfries!

  4. Lynda Dietz says:

    I do love trying foods from other countries and cultures as a general rule. It drove me crazy when I was in Turkey with a group of people, and half of them were constantly looking for American food. I mean, come on! We’re in the land of kebabs and pide!

    This is probably terrible, but all the foods people associate with the USA are the ones that will kill you if you eat too many of them: chilidogs, buttermilk biscuits (raised biscuits, not cookie biscuits), burgers, fried chicken, etc. I remember us discussing the traditional PB & J sandwiches and your horror at the thought of grapes being made into jam. It really is a terrific taste (because of concord grapes), but most adults end up going with a nicer variety of jam, like black raspberry or tart cherry. I live in a very grape-y area (lots of wineries, lots of juice and jam companies) and had never tried grape pie until I moved here. It’s okay . . . but I’d much prefer a cherry pie or an apple one—maybe it’s like your aversion to grapes in jam, just never thinking of them as something other than eating off the vine or juicing them.

    1. Kim Watt says:

      Grape … pie … I find that quite weird, but I shouldn’t. I mean, we make pies and cakes from pretty much every other fruit, so why not? It’s quite interesting how we have very set things in our heads regarding the way things *should* be eating, and deviating from that just seems all wrong. I love putting baby gem lettuce on a barbecue to char them a little, then having them with homemade ceasar dressing, but any time I tell other people that you’d think I was suggesting a raw chicken salad…!

      And I know exactly what you mean about not understanding why people want the same foods away as they have at home. I always remember feeling embarrassed (even though I’m not English) when I was in Spain by the amount of cafes in the holiday resorts advertising full English breakfasts and English fish’n’chips. I understand when you’re living away that sometimes you want familiar food, but when you’re just on holiday it seems such a shame. All the amazing food you miss out on!

      1. Tharg says:

        Agree that it is silly in, say, Spain, to have cafes advertising “full English breakfasts and English fish’n’chips. ” Even worse, “Real coffee – Nescafe instant”. Not making it up. I really do wonder why Brit’s go abroad on holidays; much cheaper to buy a sunlamp and order takeaway fish ‘n’ chips!

        1. Kim Watt says:

          It does seem to defeat the object of travel somewhat! But it’s true a lot of people are just not adventurous eaters – they must miss out on a lot, though. 🙁

          1. Carolyn Saunders says:

            I confess to carrying English tea as I’ve suffered too many countries where the taste of their offerings is less than stellar. I’m always amazed by the number of Brits who can’t manage a holiday abroad without an Indian restaurant to hand – even though most citizens of India would struggle with the offerings on the menu (ditto Chinese). In Nordic countries, especially Norway, the coffee could give you heart failure it’s so strong but it’s an interesting experience

          2. Kim Watt says:

            English tea is also my weakness. I can happily adapt to most different cuisines, and am always willing to at least try (well, unless they’re meat-based…), but a bad cup of tea is a terrible thing. And starting the day wondering ‘is it going to be Lipton’s Yellow Label?’ is just never going to set the tone right 😉

          3. Carolyn Saunders says:

            nonono – not the Yellow Label!

  5. Linda says:

    Growing up in the states are food quirks tend to be a bit more regional I think, given the size of our country and growing climates. When living in Seattle I LOVED Sushi, Tim’s potato chips (wasabi flavour!!), and Huskey Deli’s ice cream. From New Orleans/Down South I miss Fried Catfish, Crawdads, Po’boys, and Mirlton salad. Living in Detroit has really spoiled me for amazing authentic cuisine from pretty much everywhere. Middle Eastern food here is phenomenal! Growing up in Southern Ohio I do miss black raspberry jam and elderberry pie from my childhood. But I still won’t eat catfish north of the Mason-Dixon. Not sure why but Yankees just can’t cook it right. LOL

    1. Kim Watt says:

      It’s such a massive country – no wonder there are so many variations in local cuisine. That does make for some wonderful food trips, though! I love Middle Eastern cuisine – so many glorious veggies and fabulous spices. I’m going to have to go and get the pans out just thinking about it…!

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