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Mandazis: Spiced Kenyan Donuts

March 19, 2010

I have a special fondness for mandazis, the Kenyan donut sold streetside, piping hot and wrapped in newspaper. They’re my treat on the rare mornings where my husband and I are together at sunrise, waiting with cameras for the first morning light.

We’ve been lucky to share a month of those mornings, taken thousands of photos and started some exciting new projects that will appear here soon. But now it’s time for another stretch of splitting time across continents, and the comical New York-Nairobi commute that comes with doing what we love.

So when I wake up missing Nairobi I make mandazis for breakfast. Traditionally shaped into triangles, they’re essentially fried dough, very simple and slightly sweet. I like to make them smaller, rolled in sugar with a splash of spice and enjoyed with strong Kenyan coffee or a cup of milky tea.

Mandazis: Spiced Kenyan Donuts
2 cups warm water
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 cups, plus 4 tablespoons, all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon each ground cinnamon, allspice and ginger
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup warm milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
pinch of salt
canola oil for deep frying

All pastry ingredients should be allowed to come to room temperature if they have been in the refrigerator. In a small bowl, mix cinnamon, allspice, ginger and cardamom.

In a mixing bowl combine the flour, baking powder, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1/4 tsp of the spice mixture. Mix the water, oil, milk, and egg together.

Gradually add the wet ingredients to the flour and stir with a spoon, adding remaining flour 1 tablespoon at a time if necessary, until it comes together in a sticky dough. Turn out on a floured surface and knead about five minutes, until a smooth and elastic dough is formed. Let dough rest for several minutes.

Combine remaining 1/2 cup sugar with remaining spice mixture. Set aside. Divide the dough into several hand-sized pieces. Roll or press the pieces into circles about 1/4 inch thick. Cut circles into halves or quarters if you like.

Heat a few cups of vegetable oil to 300 degrees Fahrenheit in a skillet or deep pot. Fry the dough in the hot oil, turning twice, until they are golden brown all over. Oil should be hot enough that the dough rises immediately to the surface with bubbles, and browns quickly (60-90 seconds). Fry only as many together as can float in the oil without touching one another. Place on paper towels to drain. Roll in sugar-spice mixture, and serve warm.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. March 19, 2010 1:01 am

    Lovely photos. Lovely recipe. Everything about it sounds perfect … waiting for sunrise with the one you love, sipping coffee and piping hot sugary donuts! They remind me of a Portuguese treat called malasadas!

  2. Kris permalink
    March 19, 2010 1:28 pm

    Looks yummy!

  3. March 20, 2010 3:48 pm

    love the mandazis! love your photography…

  4. Tash permalink
    March 20, 2010 9:57 pm

    are they also called zalabia?
    or is zalabia someting different?

  5. March 21, 2010 12:55 am

    These look absolutely delicious and I love your photos, especially the one with the newspaper – what a nice composition!

  6. March 22, 2010 11:38 pm

    Those look mouthwatering-ly temptingly gorgeous. Very nice. And lovely photos!

  7. March 23, 2010 9:31 pm

    yum! reminds me of my childhood!

  8. March 25, 2010 12:15 pm

    Tash – It looks like zalabia are very similar, but more common in Egypt and served soaked with syrup. I was looking for a way to incorporate orange blossom water into the recipe – thanks for the idea!

  9. Moo permalink
    March 26, 2010 12:55 am

    Yum! Definitely trying these this weekend. :) Thank you – beautiful pictures!

  10. March 27, 2010 4:00 pm

    These sound wonderful! Perfect for a cold day! And the pics are beautiful!

  11. March 27, 2010 7:37 pm

    Hi Liz,
    I just found your post through Foodgawker. My question is the temperature of oil while frying. I was told that the optimum temperature for frying donuts is 375, else the dough will absorb too much oil (becomes greasy when cooked). What are your thoughts/experience? I’d appreciate your feedback.

  12. Liz permalink
    March 27, 2010 7:43 pm

    Hi Tuty – Thanks for the question. Since I don’t fry things all that frequently, I don’t have a huge amount of experience on this front. I tend to rely more on how the dough behaves in oil rather than measuring the temperature (300 is the estimate provided by the original recipe). Just making these I found that if you drop in the dough and it quickly bubbles to the surface, I get a good result. If it’s cooler they’ll sit on the bottom for a bit and absorb oil, and if it’s too hot they’ll burn quickly. Sorry I can’t be more precise – that’s why I’m a better cook than I am baker!

  13. April 5, 2010 8:53 pm

    Ah, mandazi–this brings back some nice memories of Kenya for me as well! Thank you for this recipe, as there isn’t the slightest chance I’ll be scoring any here in the south of France, unless I make them myself. I’ll have some with the bracing tea I brought back from Nairobi…

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