Cameroon breakfast

March 30, 2013 § 2 Comments

The latest in our Breakfasts of the World Project series.

Until the recent kidnapping of a French family in the far north of the country, football had been the only reason Cameroon hit the international headlines. The national team “Les Lions Indomptables” in their red, green and yellow strip echoing the national flag, has the best World Cup track record of any African nation. Cameroonian player Samuel Eto’o is reputedly football’s highest paid player under his contract with far-flung FC Anzhi Makhachkala (Russian Premier League).

Irregularly-shaped Cameroon is situated on Africa’s West coast between Nigeria to the North and West and Equatorial Guinea and Gabon to the South. The country’s name derives from Rio dos Camarões – river of shrimps – the name Portuguese explorers gave to the region. Cameroon first became a German colony but was divided between France and Britain post First World War. Independence and the merging of the two parts of the country occurred between 1960 and 1961 with Yaoundé as capital city.

Our chosen menu was beignets, also known as Puff-Puffs – a simple deep-fried yeasted doughnut, and also bouilli d’arachides, a peanut-butter enriched version of sweetened maize porridge.

Inspiration for the menu came from Californian aid worker and blogger Mara’s post here and also the clear and eminently readable Cameroonian and African food blog Ma Cocote. Reading through these posts you immediately gain a snapshot of this incredibly varied country. The food names – bouilli and beignets are French words, a legacy of the country’s colonial past. Mara talks about the bouilli being the evening meal breaking the Ramadan daylong fast. Although Christianity is nominally the dominant religion, a significant minority of the population (about 20%) are Muslim. Cameroon extends north to the fringes of the Sahara desert with its Extrême Nord province bordering on Lake Chad. In contrast, the south east of the country is equatorial rain forest territory, home to the Baka people (formerly referred to as pygmies).

Mara gives a sketchy recipe for bouilli so rather than following her instructions to the letter I did my own thing. I used a quick-cook polenta made up according to the packet instructions but with half milk and water instead of water alone. I then added sugar to taste and finally a big dollop of peanut butter plus an extra drizzle of milk.

The resulting mush was pronounced “OK” by the family – a bit bland perhaps but a soothing easy-to-eat breakfast that, with the addition of peanut butter, really packs in the calories.

The Puff Puff doughnuts were a different story altogether. These disappeared in seconds! I give below the recipe I adapted from the Ma Cocote blog. It’s a simple yeast-raised batter made with just milk, water, flour, salt, sugar and instant yeast which, after proving, is dropped into your deep-fat fryer. For authenticity I fried the doughnuts in peanut oil which gives a very good non-greasy and nicely flavoured result (I find sunflower oil has an unpleasant greasy taste). To achieve a perfectly spherical Puff Puff the recommended technique is to get in with your hands and extrude the batter from your partially clenched fist. I wasn’t brave enough to try this in the frying-station I’d set up in our garage but I think the spoon-shaped ones were pretty creditable for a first attempt.

Recipe for Beignets (Puff-Puffs) – Cameroonian doughnuts

Adapted from a recipe in Cameroonian food blog http://www.macocote.com

Makes about 20.

Ingredients

175g strong plain flour
175g ordinary plain flour
5g fast action dried yeast (the type that can be mixed straight into the flour without the need for prior activation)
75 golden caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
300ml milk and water mixed at room temperature (no need to warm)

MIx the dry ingredients together thoroughly in a large mixing bowl.Add the milk and water mixture and stir well to combine into a thick batter. Cover and leave to prove until the batter has become very bubbly and puffed-up. This is likely to take at least an hour, maybe two and will happen more quickly if the bowl is left in a warm place.

Drop tablespoons of the mixture into a deep-fat fryer ideally using peanut oil. Fry at 190 degrees C for about 7 minutes, turning the doughnuts over halfway through the cooking time. They are ready when they are a deep golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper, sprinkle with caster sugar and serve immediately.

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More Proper Puddings – Individual Spotted Dicks

March 5, 2013 § Leave a comment

It was back in February 2010 that I last wrote about good old-fashioned English puddings so it’s high time I returned to the subject. Yes I know it’s March now so technically we’re in what the Met Office calls Spring but looking out of the window this morning there’s a sharp frost on the ground so a warming suet pudding would still be very welcome.

I have a weakness for traditional suet puddings which have an undeserved reputation for heaviness. Carefully made, ideally with freshly grated beef suet rather than Atora, they can be beautifully light.

Tracking down an authentic Spotted Dick recipe from my quite extensive collection of recipe books proved surprisingly tricky. After leafing through Mrs Beeton, Jane Grigson, Delia, Prue Leith et al I’d drawn a blank. The only recipe named Spotted Dick I could find was in my trusty battered old copy of The Good Housekeeping Cookery book. This very simple recipe includes just suet, flour, breadcrumbs, currants,milk to bind and a flavouring of grated lemon peel. It’s shaped into a neat roll shape, enclosed in greaseproof paper and foil and steamed for 2 hours.

The traditional roll-shaped pudding worked just fine but I was after something a little daintier and more appealing to a suet pudding first-timer. I tried the same mixture shaped in individual pudding moulds first steamed and another batch water-bath baked for just an hour. This didn’t work half so well and in the case of the baked pudding was really quite unpleasant – stodgy and oily. I concluded that long steaming to allow the ingredients to meld properly was important.

I then sought inspiration from 2 further places – 1) the ingredients list on the pack of Marks and Spencer individual Spotted Dick puddings (yes,really, and rather good too!) and Mrs Beeton. Mrs Beeton may not have a pudding called Spotted Dick but she does list countless different suet puddings many of which contain eggs and more flour than my recipe.

After a little tweaking and experimentation (adding eggs and more milk to give a softer batter-like texture, increasing the flour, soaking the currants in cold tea overnight to make them beautifully moist, adding a little ground allspice to lift the flavour) I came up with my own recipe below which I think is a winner and can hold its own with its Marks and Spencer counterpart both in terms of appearance, flavour and texture:

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Don’t forget to serve with plenty of proper custard!

Recipe for Individual Spotted Dicks

Adapted from a recipe in “The Good Housekeeping Cookery Book”. Makes 7

Ingredients

150g plain flour
3 level teaspoons baking powder
150g fresh white breadcrumbs
112g suet
210g currants soaked for several hours or overnight in tea
75g golden caster sugar
level teaspoon ground allspice
grated rind of 1 and 1/2 lemons
2 medium eggs, beaten until lightly frothy
75ml-125ml milk (3-5 tablespoons) to mix to a soft dough consistency

1. Lay out 7 individual pudding basins in one or two large lidded casseroles or saucepans. There’s no need to grease as the suet will do this for you as it melts during steaming. I use Lakeland foil disposable basins available in packs of 50. Preheat an oven to 160 degrees C if you plan to steam in the oven.

2. In a mixing bowl stir together thoroughly the flour and baking powder. Add the crumbs, suet, sugar and lemon rind to the bowl and stir to mix.

3. Add the drained currants, beaten eggs and 75ml (3 tablespoons) milk. Stir until well blended adding a little more milk if necessary until you achieve a soft dough consistency.

4. Divide the mixture between the pudding basins, placing them back in the steaming pan. Cover each one tightly with foil. You can judge whether the basins are equally filled either by eye or more accurately by weighing them on some digital scales. My filled basins weighed 140g each including the 4g weight of the empty foil basin ie the weight of mixture was 136g each.

5. If you’re steaming in the oven, place the pan in the oven then fill with boiling water from the kettle to come half way up the sides of the puddings. If you’re steaming on the hob, again place the pan in position and add boiling water from the kettle.

6. Steam for 2 hours. Turn out (you may need to run a knife round the edge of the basis first) and serve with lashings of proper custard.

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