We are approaching the end of our African journey this month, and the recipe I chose to feature today is a great segue into next month’s theme on 196 flavors.
Yes, next month’s theme will be breads, and boy do we have a few good surprises for you!
Tapalapa is made from a mixture of wheat and millet flour, to which is added maize flour, as well as cowpea (niébé) flour. It resembles French baguette from the outside but is somewhat different and more widely available in the region. It is heavy and dense. It is a pain de brousse (bush bread) that has been known for a while by bush people, with a crust and a taste that is reminiscent of the inside of soft pretzels.
In Africa, mostly in former European colonies, anything that comes from the old continent is favored and typically more expensive. This also includes food, like bread. Baguettes are popular in those former French colonies like Senegal, but they don’t come cheap as wheat flour is generally imported.
There are quite a number of breads available in West Africa. Often consumed for breakfast, with a thin layer of mashed sardines. They are also used for sandwiches filled with meat, tomatoes and chili pepper.
In Senegal, baguette-style bread is sold in loaves called kilo although they don’t weigh anywhere close to a kilogram! Half loaves are called gënwalu kilo (gënwal is Wolof for half). Those baguettes are also called toubab, a term that is used by Africans to call white people.
Pain au lait (milk bread) is a delicious, soft, slightly sweet yeast bread that works great for hamburger buns or toasts.
The Senegalese government tried to promote solutions to expensive bread that is prepared with imported ingredients. First, with the introduction of pamiblé, a mix of wheat flour and mil flour (about 15%) but this never took off, even after they renamed it pain riche. The other answer is called mburu ndougoub, a bread produced from a locally grown millet variety. However, this bread ended up being more expensive than baguette as there are not nearly as many mills than can grind the millet.
Mburu ndougoub therefore never really became as mainstream as the bread I prepared for today: tapalapa. Tapalapa is made in small, informal bakeries and is rather inexpensive due to the ingredients that are used, but also mostly because of the fact that it is baked in wood ovens and not modern and more expensive ovens.
This has been a problem too in The Gambia, as traditional methods of production by street vendors and distributors have been criticized as being unhygienic for the past few years.
I prepared my tapalapa before I hosted my friend Betty and her brothers for our African feast. They had not eaten tapalapa since they left Africa a few years ago. They were amazed and gave me wonderful praises about my bread. My ego is doing well, thank you!
Looking for ways to eat your tapalapa? You can definitely use it as any bread to make sandwiches. In West Africa, as it is easier to find tapalapa in the morning, it is often eaten for breakfast with butter, jam or eggs. If there are any leftovers, they are used for lunch and dinner. Typical sandwiches include mayonnaise, fried onions, chicken, beef or shrimp.
What about you? What will you fill your tapalapa with?
- 1¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 2/3 cup millet flour
- 1½ cup yellow corn flour
- ⅓ cup cowpea flour
- 1½ cup water (warm)
- 3 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Cornmeal (optional)
Mix the flours together in the bowl of a stand-in mixer. Add in salt, yeast, and water. Mix well and knead the dough for a few minutes until smooth and elastic.
Place the ball of dough in a greased bowl and cover with a clean cloth. Let it rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
Cut the dough into 3 pieces and form baguette loaves. Place them on a baking sheet, optionally sprinkled with cornmeal, or lined with parchment paper. Let them rise for 30 minutes. Make one long shallow cut on top of each loaf with a knife.
Preheat oven to 450 F and bake tapalapa for 15 minutes until golden brown.