Our trip to Nairobi from Sharon Springs took about 32 hours door-to-door. So before we trekked another 11-ish hours into the remote Samburu region, we swung by Lamu, on the coast of Kenya, to pick up our friend Jane.  She was staying at a friend’s collection of huts on the beach for the New Year’s holiday weekend. Together, we spent a beautiful couple of days resting up and getting the supplies we needed to go visit the schools in faraway Sereolipi and Ndonyo Wasin.

The huts were magnificent in their simplicity…minimally solar powered and constructed entirely from coconut palms. It’s wonderful to remind oneself how little one truly needs in the world. And what luxury really means. Luxuries like freshly fried Mandazi – or “East African Doughnuts.” Who needs a BMW or the latest iPhone when you wake up in a hammock on the beach and have Mandazi for breakfast?

Another luxury was Francis. Francis is the cook in the huts’ communal kitchen building. Naturally, we spent a lot of time with Francis. His life’s goal is to own his own restaurant. When he does open one, we’ll be the first customers. Even if we have to fly another 32 hours to get there.

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Here’s a step-by-step photo guide of how Francis makes Mandazi. (The full recipe is at the bottom of the post.)

One of the first thing Francis does is make coconut milk. In Lamu, that requires more than opening up a can. He grates the coconut flesh and squeezes it dry through a woven, palm-leaf sleeve sieve.

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In one large bowl he mixes the dry ingredients. We don’t know about you, but we love checking out the packaging on foods in other countries.

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He then mixes together the wet ones.
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Francis keeps his kitchen immaculate as he works.

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What is it about visiting other peoples’ kitchens? They always seem more beautiful than our own.

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Ok. Back to work. Next, Francis combines the wet and dry ingredients. Slowly, though. He adds only enough of the liquid until he’s satisfied with the dough’s rough texture. Francis pronounces “dough” as “duff,” which makes total sense if you look it spelled next to “rough.” In fact, we’re going to start pronouncing it that way too. “Duff.” Everyone will think they’ve been pronouncing it wrong all along. Let’s spark a culinary trend, started by chef Francis. Deal?

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Needs a little more liquid.

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This was about right.

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He kneaded it for about 5 minutes with his hands.

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Then turned it out onto a lightly floured counter.

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He flattened the “duff” out into a long rectangular shape with his hands, then started rolling the two long ends towards the middle.

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Have you ever made palmier? Sorta like that.

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Let’s take another second to look around this amazingly simple kitchen. Every corner was like a painting.

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Next, Francis cut the duff log into approx 2 inch slices.

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Using his hands, he folded each one over-and-over on itself to form a flattened ball. This helped to create more air pockets which helps it rise.

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Then Francis rolled each duff round flat and cut it into quarters.

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He made a few little round ones too using the smaller end slices.
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Francis let the duff rest and rise for about twenty minutes. Time to look around the kitchen again. Aren’t these amazing?
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Towards the end of the rising time, Francis began heating the vegetable oil.

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Working quickly, he dropped in about four Mandazi at a time into the hot oil.

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It only took a minute or so for them to puff. Then it was time to flip until the other side was a crisp golden brown.
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Once done, Francis gently laid them on fresh paper towels to absorb excess grease.

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He then sprinkled them with confectioners sugar. Hey…speaking of which, we just got one of these during a trip to Atlanta and we totally love it. It keeps the sugar from flying all over when dusting stuff.

Ok…back to Francis…

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And back to Mandazis…

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View from the kitchen…

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Who needs fancy 15-burner stoves and programmable refrigerators and undercounter dish sanitizers?

We’ll just hang with Francis rolling out duff on the beach.

Ruff life, huh?

(Thank you, Francis, for sharing your kitchen with us.)

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 ¼ cup coconut milk
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 4 cups flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon chai spices (cinnamon, cardamom, ginger & allspice)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large egg
  • pinch salt
  • 3 cups vegetable oil for deep frying

Additional Information

  • Prep Time: 40m
  • Cook Time: 15m
  • Total Time: 55m

Instructions

Combine flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and spices in large bowl. In separate bowl, whisk together egg, olive oil, coconut milk, & water. Slowing add liquid mixture to dry mixture, in batches, and work dough with hands until rough and shaggy. Continue kneading 3-5 minutes until surface of dough is slightly shiny.

Turn dough onto floured work surface. Flatten with hands until it forms a ½ inch thick rectangle. Roll long ends of rectangle towards middle. Roll entire log together until round. Cut log into 2 inch slices. Using hands, stretch and fold slices over onto themselves repeatedly until they form a flattened, rounded disk, about 4 inches in diameter. Use rolling pin to roll disks to ¼ inch thickness. Cut into fourths. Set dough wedges aside to rest and rise slightly for about 20 minutes.

Heat oil to 325F. Drop Mandazi wedges into the oil in batches. Add only enough so that they float freely, untouching. Turn every minute or so until fully puffed and golden brown on both sides. Remove from oil and drain paper towels to absorb extra oil. Once dry, dust with confectioners sugar and serve immediately.

by Josh and Brent

Reader Comments

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Anne DeSormeau, Cobleskill, N.Y.

Loved this wonderful story, Francis seems to be a wonderful cook and what a lovely setting. Thank you

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Burndett Andres

Thanks for taking the time to share this wonderful, inspiring story. What fun!

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Cynthia

Loved this post. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. I’m looking forward to making these for my girlfriends brunch next week.

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SuzieG

My mom wanted to go to Africa her whole life and a few years ago, my brother and sister and I took her there-it was absolutely the trip of a lifetime for all of us! Between the animals, and the amazing places we stayed where you have everything you need and nothing you don’t, and the incredible animals, birds, trees and flowers, and the people we met-just hoping I can get back, ever. Francis looks wonderful, am going to try his Duff as soon as I can. Maybe he should come to Sharon Springs for a visit??????

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Karen McClellan

Thank you for sharing your stories and experiences from your trip. These photos are really beautiful in their simplicity.

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Deb

Tuff trip for you guys, looks like. ; – ) And those utensils…..didn’t see the bead work at first till I scrolled down. I gasped – so beautiful.

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jo

Thanks for the wonderful, refreshing break on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
Reminds me of something my Italian aunt use to make, I could almost smell them. What a delight !!!

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Kate's Daughter

Absolutely gorgeous. The kitchen, the view, the wonderful Francis and the delicious looking mandazi all work together to portray a serenity that you don’t find in the hectic western world. I wonder if beignets find their roots in mandazi? They look quite similar. Thank you so much for sharing this experience with us!

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kim

Thanks so much for sharing your trip info with all of us. I was so fascinated with francis’s making of your treats. What a view you all had

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Kara

Oh, in the name of all that’s holy — those look like heaven, and Francis looks like an utterly charming kitchen angel. Can you clarify the chai spice measurement… recipe just says one quarter… one quarter teaspoon?

Reply
Marcia Lepley

Confused about the quantity of spices in this recipe. The posted version just says “1/4 Chai spices.” Hmmm?

Reply