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What Is Mandazi?

By Eugene P.
Updated May 16, 2024
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In Eastern Africa, mandazi is a Kenyan food that is made from a simple dough that is deep fried until puffy and light. It has a slightly sweet, sometimes spicy flavor that has made it popular as a breakfast or dessert dish and as a daytime snack. Mandazi often are made into small triangular or circular pieces that can be eaten in one or two bites. The dough can have ingredients such as crush peanuts or toasted coconut mixed in with it, and the finished bread can be coated in sugar or fruit preserves. When made with yeast, the dough can take on a richer flavor that allows it to accompany some savory dishes.

The basic dough for mandazi is made from flour, eggs, milk, sugar and baking powder. Yeast can be used instead of the baking powder to leaven the dough, although this means allowing it to rise once or twice before cooking. The ingredients are all combined and mixed at room temperature until they are well incorporated. Butter is sometimes added to help the bread puff while being cooked.

It is very common in Eastern Africa to find spices added to the dough to give it a more distinctive taste. Ground cardamom is often used, although allspice, cinnamon and ginger also can be found in various combinations. The liquids that are used — the milk and eggs — can be replaced with coconut milk or yogurt.

Dough for mandazi is allowed to rest for a time, or to rise if yeast is was used. Small pieces are pulled off and formed into spheres. If the desired shape is not a small sphere, then it is rolled out flat until it forms a circle. Depending on the size, the flat circles can be fried or further cut into quarters to create small triangles.

Oil — usually one with a neutral flavor, although coconut oil is sometimes used to impart a different taste — is heated in a pan. A few of the mandazi are placed in the oil and allowed to deep fry until the outside has started to turn golden brown and the shape has puffed out. The oil is drained off the treats before they are served.

To make mandazi more dessert-like, they can be sprinkled with sugar or covered in roasted, crushed nuts. Fruit preserves or sauces can be served alongside the dough as a dipping sauce. Mandazi that are not overly sweet can be used as dinner bread with savory dishes.

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