1808: this is the year of the first known recorded usage of the term “dough nut” in a short story.
However, Washington Irving’s reference to doughnuts in his History of New York a year later is usually more commonly cited as the first reference to the term.
The history of the donut goes back many centuries before the discovery of the New World. In ancient Rome and Greece, strips of dough were fried and coated with honey sauce. In the Middle-Ages, Arab cooks began to bake small pieces of unsweetened yeast dough that they plunged into a sweet syrup. Donuts arrived in northern Europe in the 1400s.
Worldwide, there are more variants of donuts than there are days in a year. Every continent, every country, every region has its own versions with all kinds of flour, either sweet or savory. For example, we featured a version from Seychelles with flambéed banana fritters.
Do you know the Kingdom of Dahomey? The former Kingdom of Dahomey includes the geographical area covering Benin, Togo, and Ghana. It was a patriarchal African kingdom located southeast of the current Benin since the seventeenth century. Since 1894, the name has been referring to a territory of the French colonial empire, that became Benin in 1975. This is exactly where acras were born!
The African origin of the word acra is well defined. It means “vegetable fritters” (or donuts) in the Ewe language of Dahomey but nobody knows when people started to create variations of the donuts by adding cod or ingredients other than vegetables. In the first half of the 20th century, those acras along with bread, composed the breakfast of workers from Martinique. They were mostly sold by street vendors.
Akaras appear in a multitude of recipes around the world, both savory and sweet. As a matter of fact, I posted one of those recipes last June with the salt fish cakes from Barbados, which look very similar to the famous cod fritters.
In Africa, several names have been given to donuts. For example, gbofloto, puff puff, pof-pof or botocoin, mikaté and finally… sfenjs, the donuts from my native Morocco of which I have fond memories. Sfenjs were the ubiquitous hot snacks of my childhood; my paternal grandfather never failed to bring some to us as he picked us up at school, every day at 5PM.
Sierra Leone is a former British colony founded in the late eighteenth century to host the freed blacks from slavery. It gained independence on April 27th, 1961 and is a member of the Commonwealth. It extends over an area of 27,000 square miles, in the Gulf of Guinea, West Africa. It shares borders with Guinea to the north and northeast and with Liberia to the southeast.
For Sierra Leoneans, rice is the essential staple food, eaten at every meal.
“If I haven’t eaten rice today, I haven’t eaten anything” – Famous Sierra Leonean saying
Bananas are also very present in the cuisine of the country. Today, my recipe is a combination of both ingredients: a great snack for kids and adults!
- 4 bananas (ripe)
- 1 cup rice flour
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 vanilla bean , split and scraped or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ cup hot water
- Vegetable oil (for deep-frying)
- Icing sugar (for garnish)
In a mixer bowl, mash the bananas, vanilla and sugar until reaching a smooth consistency.
Gradually add the rice flour and then hot water while mixing in the food processor bowl. The mixture should be moist but not liquid.
Let cool 20 minutes.
Heat oil in a non-stick pan.
Drop spoonfuls of the batter into the oil. Pay attention to leave enough space between each donut and fry on both sides until browned.
Sprinkle with powdered sugar.