Mandazi (East African Donuts)
One of my earliest cooking memories was when I asked my aunt to teach me how to make mandazis. I think I was about 8 or 9 years old, and I was very serious about learning how to do these. For some reason, we wouldn’t make these delectable little donuts at home. I got to eat them when I traveled to see my family, and only the old school grandmas and aunties knew the secret. Of course, East African restaurants were pretty much nonexistent in Florida where I grew up (not that I can find any now that serve these in NYC…I’m just saying). So I felt I had to carry on the tradition!
Of course, the dish was a bit ambitious for an 8 year old (in one ear…and out the other!), and I was more focused on enjoying the fruits of my aunt’s and my labor than on getting the technique down. As an adult, however, I decided I wanted to perfect my own using the tad more culinary knowledge I now have.
I should be clear: mandazis are savoury. They shouldn’t be too sweet or too salty. One of my most treasured food memories is sitting, facing the Indian Ocean, in Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania, using the (hollow) mandazis to scoop up a tender stew of pigeon peas in coconut milk with fresh chilies and cilantro (called barazi). But, of course, you can eat them however you like; I’m partial now to having them for breakfast.
These are very easy to make. A little yeast leavens the dough, and I use a combination of all-purpose and rice flour to make them even lighter. A touch of sweetness, lightly coconut-scented, and that signature cardamom flavor. Heavenly…Enjoy!
Yields 2 dozen donuts
¼ cup sugar
1 ½ tsp yeast
2/3 cup warm water
½ cup coconut milk
1 ¾ cup all purpose flour
¾ cup rice flour
¾ tsp salt
3 tbsp dried grated coconut (preferably unsweetened, adjust sugar if not)
¾ – 1 ¼ tsps ground cardamom*
oil for frying
salt & powdered sugar
This can easily be made in a stand mixer or by hand.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, dissolve sugar and yeast in warm water and let bloom 5-10 minutes. It should become foamy and frothy. Turn the mixer on low and add coconut milk.
In a separate bowl, sift flours together and mix in salt, grated coconut and cardamom. Add contents to liquids in the mixer and knead on low for 5 to 10 minutes. Conversely, you can also knead by hand – the dough should get pretty smooth (except for the grated coconut) and relatively sticky.
Transfer dough to a greased bowl, cover, and let rise for a minimum of 2 hours.
On a floured work surface, divide dough into 4 even pieces. Form each piece into a ball and flatten to a disc. Roll each circle out to about ¼” thick and cut like a pie into six triangular pieces. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet while working on each piece.
In a dutch oven or pot, heat 3 to 4 inches of oil to 360 F. Working in batches, carefully drop a few triangles into the oil. Don’t overcrowd or the oil temperature will drop. As soon as the triangles puff, quickly flip them over. This will ensure that both sides cook – if they become lopsided, it will be hard to keep them on the less inflated side to brown. Cook for a few minutes, flipping at intervals until golden brown. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate or baking sheet and lighltly salt.
Before serving, sprinkle with powdered sugar.
They are best served warm as they can get a touch chewy once they’ve cooled. If you need to reheat, do so in a very low oven or on a low power in the microwave.
*Traditionally, cardamom is roughly ground and added to the mandazi batter. This results in biting into delightful pieces of cardamom while eating the donuts. I add about 1 ¼ teaspoons when I’m using roughly ground cardamom and more like ¾ teaspoon when I use the powdered / ground form.