Mandazi (East African Doughnuts)

Mandazi, a kind of fried bread that features prominently in East African cuisine, is commonly found in Kenya and Tanzania.  If you do a quick online search, you’ll notice that mandazi are often described as African “doughnuts”, although they’re not the frosted doughnuts that most of us are more familiar with. Mandazi are ever so slightly sweet, with a hint of cardamom (or other spices, such as cinnamon). They’re not glazed or coated in sugar.  They’re commonly eaten for breakfast, as a snack, or even with curries!

I’d heard about how wonderful mandazi are, and last year, I had a chance to finally try some, purchased from a local restaurant.  Unfortunately, I was rather disappointed because they weren’t fresh and were just…meh.  It didn’t get me excited enough to consider making mandazi myself.  Not to mention, I’m not generally too crazy about anything deep fried.

After making cupcakes recently however, I found myself with leftover vegetable oil.  Since I prefer to cook and bake with butter or coconut oil, I figured I’d use up the vegetable oil to try making some of the few deep fried foods that I like to indulge in every now and then.  The first thing that popped into my mind was pączki – Polish doughnuts.  I fell in love with rose jam-filled pączki when I was in Poland, and also, the similar Berliner,when I was in Germany (you might remember that up until then, I’d never tried a filled or glazed doughnut before!).  Then I researched mandazi recipes and, with fewer steps involved, I decided this would be my introduction to deep frying (can you imagine, this was my very first time deep frying anything.  Ever!!).  I followed this authentic-looking recipe with only some minor changes, and they turned out really well!

The mandazi puffed up nicely in the hot oil and were absolutely delicious!  They’re definitely best eaten fresh, right after they’ve cooled down a bit.  I even tossed a couple in sugar just like old-fashioned yeast doughnuts, which I love.  While these mandazi weren’t as light and airy as yeast doughnuts, they were soft and denser, which is equally nice!  Now, I’ve read that mandazi are usually hollow, with an air pocket in the middle.  But when I asked a Tanzanian, he assured me that you will also find mandazi with more substance, like these.  He actually prefers this kind of mandazi, and eventually ate about 15 of them!

Traditionally, mandazi are served plain, but I dusted them with icing sugar, which kind of reminded me of the Cafe du Monde beignets in New Orleans (except with much less icing sugar!).

MANDAZI (Makes 24)

Ingredients:

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (110-115 F)
1 tbsp coconut oil (or substitute with vegetable oil or butter)
2 tsp cardamom powder
1/4 tsp salt
vegetable oil for frying

Method:

1) Prepare the yeast solution by stirring the yeast into the warm water (optional: you can add in a pinch of sugar to speed up the activation process). Cover and set aside for 5-10 minutes.

2) In a medium bowl, beat the egg with a whisk. Then add in coconut milk, sugar and coconut oil and whisk together. Set aside.

3) In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt and cardamom. Add in the yeast solution and egg mixture, and incorporate into the flour mixture by hand or with the dough hook of a stand mixer.

4) Once the dough comes together, knead until it no longer sticks to the side of the bowl, and is soft and elastic (it will take about 15 minutes, if kneading by hand. Use a dough scraper to scrape the sides of the bowl). Shape into a boule (ball) and place in a lightly greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rise for about an hour.

5) Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces and roll into balls.

6) Roll out each piece into a circle about 1/2-inch thick (if you prefer mandazi that are more hollow inside, roll out thinner, to about 1/4-inch thickness).

7) Using a sharp knife, cut into quarters, place each piece on a parchment-lined tray or baking sheet, and allow to rest for about 30 minutes.

8) Heat up oil over medium heat. Fry on both sides until puffed up and golden brown. Adjust the heat accordingly so that the mandazi doesn’t get too brown on the outside before the inside is cooked. It should take about 2 minutes to fry, and then flip over for another 1 to 2 minutes. Take out and place on a paper towel-lined dish.

Once cooled, they are ready to be eaten! If desired, sprinkle some icing sugar over the mandazi.

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