This West African, little, ball shaped, deep fried doughnut is a common food, however it bears several names from country to country. Apart from puff puff, kala, mikate, togbei and bofrot are also West African terms for the fried dough, eaten not only in Ghana, but Nigeria, Cameroon and Sierra Leone, while South and East Africa call their doughnut, mandazi.
Ghana was the first African country, which fought out its independence in 1957, after centuries of colonization by Great Britain, but prior to that Portuguese, Dutch, Swede and Danish powers kept parts of the so called Gold Coast under their control. In consequence Ghana’s cuisine is diverse and colorful, with countless of telltale food names, such as puff puff.
What is an African doughnut?
The yeasted dough, deep fried in plenty of oil, then sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar or dipped in jam is a well known sweet pastry everywhere, just named differently. While the authentic doughnut originated from the Netherlands, before being brought to and becoming well known in New York, African countries inherited it, then encased the same food into their everyday cooking from their colonizers. The French beignet and the Italian zeppole have similarities to West African doughnuts in shape, but not necessarily in technique.
How to make a puff puff
Authentic doughnuts are made with a yeasted dough, by foaming the fresh (or dry) yeast in warm, sweetish liquid (milk or water), then kneading a firm dough and letting it to rise. When it has doubled in size, the dough is cut for portions, rounded and gets a short rest, then shaped to its final form, and deep fried after a longer rise.
Beignets have expanded throughout those countries, where France settlers have appeared during the colonization, but actually it is only similar in shape, but made differently than puff puff. It’s a choux based doughnut, which means its raising agent is not yeast, but eggs added to the buttery, boiled flour after getting cool.
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It is said that Ghanaians make different recipes and even the texture depends on the region. There is also an eggless type of puff puff in Central Ghana, but those pastries are made from a runny batter, that’s why they don’t reach such an even ball shape and have a smoother, less crunchy crust.
There are a few ways of forming puff puff and it solely depends of the dough’s consistency. If you work with a runny batter, one or two tablespoons will be helpful to form a rounded piece, but you should not expect a perfectly ball-shaped doughnut.
It is worth doing a frying trial with only one piece to see the outcome and if it turns out too flat, add a few tablespoons of flour to thicken it. In case of a firmer dough, you can use your wet hand by holding some dough in your closed palm and squeeze a cherry-sized ball between your thumb and forefinger, directly to the oil.
It really shouldn’t be bigger than a cherry, because as its name says, it will puff up in the hot oil. You should be very careful with the latter method and not let any water dropping into the hot oil, to avoid splattering.
How is puff puff consumed?
Both a family classic and street food sold by vendors everywhere, puff puff is served with endless toppings, like vanilla powdered sugar, fruit jams or syrups, chocolate or caramel sauce, but often consumed on its own. The original version is light, but with the inside chewier than other doughnuts. It is also made with ground nutmeg or cinnamon, which certainly make it a fragrant pastry. In newer versions, you will find chocolate pieces, cocoa or matcha powder added to the raw dough.
- 4 cups flour
- 1 cup caster sugar
- 1 tablespoon dry active yeast
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg , freshly grated
- 1½ cup warm water (or more, at 95 F)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Vegetable oil (for frying)
- In a large bowl of water, mix 1 tablespoon caster sugar, ½ cup water, and the yeast.
- Let the yeast foam for 15 minutes.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the flour, nutmeg and remaining sugar.
- Mix and dig a well in the center.
- Pour the mixture of water, sugar and yeast in the center of this well.
- Mix with the flat beater, adding the remaining water gradually. Knead for about 4 minutes, or until the mixture is stretchy and homogeneous.
- Add the salt and knead again for 2 minutes.
- Cover the dough and let it rise for 2h30, at room temperature and away from drafts.
- In a deep skillet, heat a large volume of oil over medium heat.
- Maintain the temperature of the oil at around 340 F during frying.
- To form the donut balls, dip the hand in cold water, hold a piece of dough in the hand. Press it between the thumb and forefinger, and let a small ball of dough slowly drop in the hot oil .
- Renew the process until all the dough is used.
- It is very important to soak your hand regularly in cold water before forming new balls.
- Deep-fry the donuts on both sides until golden brown.
- Drain on paper towels.
- Serve hot.