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A Taste of Benin: Two Recipes

Adeline Morisset, CESO VA September 1, 2017

In January 2016, I travelled to Porto-Novo, Benin for my first CESO assignment with Centre Songhaï, a local NGO. I was tasked with mentoring Songhaï’s Agribusiness team in pastry production techniques and decoration skills for cakes and cupcakes. It was an extraordinary experience with a team of fabulous female pastry chefs, and I would like to share two of the recipes that I brought with me to Benin.

Easy Cupcakes


Among the recipes I demonstrated in Benin, the simplest was cupcakes with easy frosting. Milk and butter is very expensive in Benin, and the women I worked with barely used it in their pastry-making. The ingredients listed here are from my original recipe, but in Benin, I adapted it to use powdered milk and margarine. The basic cupcakes adapt easily to the needs and taste of the baker, so this recipe applies perfectly to everyone.

 

Ingredients:


The Cupcakes:

  • 3 ½ cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup soft butter
  • 2 ⅓ cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 ½ cups milk

The Frosting:

  • 1 cup soft butter
  • 2 ¾ cups icing sugar

Directions:

Cupcakes:

  • Preheat oven to 175°C (350°F). Grease muffin pan or line cups with papers.
  1. Cream butter sugar until light and fluffy. Slowly beat in eggs and vanilla.
  2. In another bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.
  3. Gradually combine dry mixture with butter mixture, adding the milk in small quantities until smooth.
  4. Pour the mixture into cupcake pan molds and bake for 15 minutes. Cupcakes are fully baked when a toothpick poked in the middle comes out clean. Allow the cupcakes to cool before frosting.

Frosting:

  1. Whisk butter and icing sugar until uniformly white and free of lumps.
  2. Transfer mixture into a piping bag. Decorate the top of each cupcake with a small rosette

Modification ideas:

  • Add chocolate chips or frozen fruit before baking
  • After frosting, decorate the top of each cupcake with fresh berries

Click here for a printable PDF of this recipe!

Dry Meringues

Once I was well into my two-week visit, and the team of women had become like my girlfriends, I had the brilliant idea of ​​making dry meringues. I wanted to present a “traditional” pastry that they were not familiar with, to push their limits. Sugar is not heavily consumed in Africa in general, except in drinks like Coca Cola. They had a hard time accepting that between drinking cola and consuming a homemade pastry, the cola is actually a lot worse. 

It was also a challenge for me, because we had to come up with a method that would accommodate the difficult environment and limited equipment–and we did! Instead of a “bain-marie”, we heated the meringue mixture in a bowl over a small saucepan. Instead of an electric mixer, we used hand whisks. And instead of a piping bag, we used a plastic bag. To capture the flavour of the area, we topped the meringues with the coconut that Centre Songhaï grows and dries themselves. The result made me very proud. It made me laugh tenderly to see the girls discover and enjoy the pastry, and eat something with such sugar content for probably the first time in their lives – honey is not quite the same. To my surprise the meringues were still pretty nice and dry the next day, despite the overwhelming heat and high humidity.

Ingredients

  • 1 ¾ cups sugar
  • 5 egg whites
  • ½ cup dried coconut

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 100°C (215°F). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Mix sugar and egg whites and heat in a bain-marie, stirring constantly, until the mixture exceeds body temperature.
  3. Remove mixture from heat and transfer to a mixing bowl. Whisk until the mixture cools and peaks begin to form.
  4. Transfer meringue mixture to a piping bag with a small nozzle, and pipe meringues onto the parchment paper-lined baking sheet. (12/sheet, evenly spaced)
  5. Sprinkle meringues with dried coconut and bake for 2 ½ hours. Finished meringues should be dry on the inside and sticky under the teeth.

Click here for a printable PDF of this recipe!

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