I first tried these on our recent trip to New Zealand. I'm usually a good sharer and will offer my dining companion a taste or half of what I'm eating. Not so in this case. I was greedy and unrepentant. I had never tried a biscuit or cookie like this before. It was a thick cookie with an intriguing texture, dry but not desert-dry, with a slightly crispy crunchy touch to it-the closest that I could describe it was similar to cookie crossed with a cupcake-the cupcake part due to the icing. Plus a walnut half on the top.
When I returned, I kept thinking about how much I'd like to make these again so I asked Tammy from Wee Treats By Tammy who is a NZ food blogger if she knew a good recipe for them. She knew straight away what I wanted and sent me the recipe from the fantastic "Ladies, a plate" cookbook by Alexa Johnston. The cookbook's title is a reference to the community events where women were asked to bake goodies and the invitations would begin with a "Ladies, a plate". The recipe was from a Mrs Marian Benton's recipe book which was lent to the author by Benton's daughter. The gorgeous and easy to work with glossy chocolate icing was developed by Lois Daish.
Looking through the recipe I thought that it was simple and straightforward. Simple enough to get M's sons S and In to give it a try. Like many mums she wants her kids to have cooking skills and encouraging them to start making their own items is a good start so we arranged to do this at Adrienne and Nick's house where we managed to drag the boys away from their Wii obsession into making some cookies. The reward? As many cookies you can stuff into your waiting mouth. And with that, the deal was instantly struck and the Wii temporarily forgotten for S.
The best part of baking
As for the etymology of the name, there are plenty of theories and none with a consensus as to being the correct one. Some say that they resemble the craggy mountains of Afghanistan, some say that they were made by Afghan settlers in Australia although they're definitely more of a NZ thing than they are here. One theory also purports that the cookies resemble the Afghani people with the cookie their skin, the icing the hair and the walnut their turban.
Makes about 14 (depending on size)
For the biscuit
6ozs/170g butter softened to room temperature
1/2 cup/100g brown sugar
1 1/2 cups/180g flour
3 tablespoons cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking power
2 cups/60g cornflakes broken up into smaller bits (but not small enough to be powder)
For the icing
3 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons/45g caster sugar
3 tablespoons/45g butter
1 1/2 cups/190g icing sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa
Step 1 - Preheat oven to 180c. Line 2 baking sheets with baking parchment.
Cutting up the butter
Creaming the butter and brown sugar
Step 2 - Cream the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Sift dry ingredients on top of this mix and mix together. The batter will be in little lumps. Then knead in cornflakes and gathering a ball of the mix, shape rounds and place on baking tray-we made them about 5.5-6cms in diameter. Flatten them gently with a fork. They do not really spread so just put them a little bit apart from each other but not touching.
Ready to bake
Step 3 - Bake for 12-14 minutes (if cooking time is too short, they will be too delicate to set). Cool.
Step 1 - Gently heat the water, caster sugar ad butter until butter is melted and simmer for 1 minute to form a syrup. Sift the icing sugar and cocoa.
Sifting the icing sugar and cocoa
Step 2 - While constantly whisking with a balloon whisk, pour the syrup onto the sifted icing sugar and cocoa. Add some hot water to thin out icing (we added about 5 tablespoons but just judge from the icing consistency). You want it thick enough to hold its shape and not run but not thick enough so that any spoon marks hold.
Step 3 - Using a teaspoon place some icing on the centre of the cookie and then add a walnut half in the centre of each. Leave to set if you can wait or just let the kids at it. It's hard to hold them back at this stage.