This last receipt in my African repast is chin chin, or doughnut-like pastries. Here are easy instructions for making them, as well as the colorful history of various fried pastries. This chin chin recipe came to me in the early 1980’s, along with the declaration that no Nigerian wedding would be without them; I can see why, as they are so good!
Chin Chin as Found in West Africa
Originally this treat was prepared only for special occasions throughout West Africa and Nigeria, but now it is sold there in supermarkets and on street corners. In Africa, the texture of chin chin varies greatly from fall-apart-softness to teeth-breaking-hardness; it comes in various shapes, though the most common are one-inch squares. (My 1980’s receipt calls for wedges, made by rolling the dough in two eight-inch circles, then cutting each into twelve pieces-the quickest method.) 1
Chin chin are known as African croquettes; for example, in Cameroun these pastries are called ross, or croquettes du mboa. In Guinea, however, they are referred to as gateaux secs. They come with flavors specific to each country and region, with nutmeg being popular in Nigeria; though, those known as akara in this country are prepared with black-eyed peas-croquettes africaines in West Africa often include this legume. 2
Wikipedia compares chin chin to the Scandinavian snack klenat. It states that eggs, baking powder, and nutmeg are optional in this fried wheat-flour dough, made up of flour, sugar, butter, and milk. 3
Early World Development of Cooking Techniques
In Consider the Fork, Bee Wilson puts the technique of frying in context, noting that in cooking the development of pots mark the leap of mere heating, to the new status of “cuisine”. From early times, roasting and barbecuing have been present; this is the direct and unequivocal form of cooking, where raw food meets flame and is transformed. Boiling or frying, however, are indirect forms of cooking, for in addition to fire they require a waterproof and fireproof vessel. Here we see that the food only takes on the heat of fire, through the mediums of oil in frying and water in boiling-an advance on crude fire. 4
Doughnuts and Such in America
I am not sure how long Africans have been transforming dough into delectable chin chin croquettes, using vessels of hot oil. James Beard, however, declares in American Cookery, 1972, that doughnuts, crullers, and other fried cakes have been standard fare in America for centuries. The New Englanders, the Pennsylvania Dutch, and practically all other settlers adopted the habit of eating doughnuts for breakfast or lunch or as a between-meal snack, during the forming of this country. (For more information on the history of doughnuts in early America, see 1950’s Butterscotch Cookies. 5
In describing various fried pastries, Beard stated in the 1970’s that cake doughnuts were the most popular of all; he also notes that the Dutch and Germans brought raised doughnuts here. Out of these raised doughnuts, evolved the famous rectangular shaped ones, with maple icing. Crullers are richer than cake doughnuts; Beard’s receipt has double the eggs and butter and a third of the milk. He also gives his version of the great New Orleans dish called calas-fried rice cakes-for which the famous “calas tout chaud” is shouted in this city’s streets early in the morning. 6 (America’s famous The Joy of Cooking calls these calas rice crullers. 7)
Croquettes by Julia Child and Careme
Julia Child gives techniques for making croquettes, in her well-known Mastery of French Cooking, 1961, a decade before Beard provided his teaching on doughnuts. Her croquettes differ vastly from our above croquettes africaines, for they are various fondues, chilled and cut in balls or squares, rolled in egg and breadcrumbs, then browned in deep fat. Her fondues consisted of eggs, cream, cheese, ham, or shellfish, and seasonings, thickened with a roux made of several tablespoons of flour and butter. These are the more standard croquettes, while the doughnut-like chin chin that Africans call croquettes are atypical. 8
Croquettes have been popular in Europe for a long time. In his first book Le Patissier Royal, 1851, Careme includes such excellent croquette receipts, as Rice Croquettes a l’Ancienne and Chestnut Croquettes. As related by Esther B. Aresty in The Delectable Past, the first is a concoction of eggs, cream, butter, cheese, rice, and chicken or ham, which has been chilled first, dipped in egg and breadcrumbs, then deep-fried. The second employs boiling chestnuts and then making a chilled puree out of part of them; this puree consists of eggs, butter, cream, and the mashed boiled chestnuts. Once this mixture is cold, it is used to encase the remaining boiled chestnuts, which are then dipped in egg wash, rolled in breadcrumbs, and fried in hot oil. 9
Carame also notes in Le Patissier Royal that rum-banana fritters were made by Napoleon’s cook on the desolate island of Saint Helena. Aresty elaborates on Careme’s sketchy recipe, with detailed instructions of a banana dipped in batter, fried in oil, then drizzled with a rum sauce and finally baked in an oven. 10
Lesson Learned by Moderately Indulging in Sugar Treats
There is nothing health-redeeming about the above African chin chin croquettes, but oh how addictive they are! This fried sweet is loaded with the wrong kind of fats (for more information on healthy and unhealthy fats, see Balsamic Eggs, Nutty Coconut Pie, and 1880’s Ozark Honey Oatmeal Cookies .
Indulging in these fried pastries makes me think of the old saying: a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. Indeed, there is a proper way to eat sugar: infrequently and gratefully! We must apply moderation with the intake of this food, allowing for it only on special occasions (according to your medical requirements, of course), but when allowed, how we savor this treat!
Likewise in life, troubled feelings resulting from correction can be balanced with the sweetness of proper thoughts and words. Always, we need to slow down carefully and be led by the Spirit, when either receiving or giving corrective direction. (Webster’s definition of correct is to make things right.)
When correction comes to us, it may not feel like there was a spoonful of sugar in the mix. We, however, have authority over our minds, wills, and emotions, which together make up our souls, with its voice our thoughts.
We need humble ourselves, in this restorative process. Of most importance, we must forgive the deliverer of this needed direction, taking no offense, which is critical for our optimum mental health. This also includes forgiving ourselves, if any mistakes are made in our delivering help to others.
Receiving healing directives readies us to grow exponentially, best equipping us for our ordained service here on earth. Note: only when our obedience is fulfilled, are we wise enough to correct our fellows, applying all this sweetness to their given situations.
May we learn to live this way, receiving and giving correction with a spoonful of sugar, with all the freedom this brings. In like manner, may we indulge with proper moderation in the spoonfuls of sugar in our physical diet, as we enjoy these incredible chin chin to the maximum!
- Bee Wilson, Consider the Fork (New York: Basic Books, 2012), p. 3.
- James Beard, American Cookery (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1972), p. 799.
- , p. 801.
- Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker, The Joy of Cooking (New York: The New American Library, Inc., 1931, 1936, 1941, 1942, 1946, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1973), p. 707.
- Julia Child, Louisette Berholle, and Simone Beck, The Mastery of French Cooking, vol. 1 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1961), pp. 201-204.
- Esther B. Aresty, The Delectable Past (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964), pp. 139-144.
- , p. 144.
Chin Chin (Nigerian Wedding Pastries) Yields: 24 wedges. Total prep time: 40 min/ active prep time: 20 min/ cooking time: 20 min. Note: a fryer, electric frying pan, or thermometer will be helpful to regulate temperature, while frying.
2 2/3 c unbleached white flour
2/3 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt (Himalayan, pink, or Real salt is critical for optimum health; an inexpensive fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco for $4.95 for 5 lbs.)
1/2 c sugar (Organic sugar is available at both Costco and Trader Joe’s.)
1 tsp nutmeg, optional
1/4 c butter, at room temperature
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 c milk
48 oz oil, for frying (May use any vegetable oil, such as canola, which is inexpensive.)
Mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl; cut in softened butter with a pie cutter or two forks.
- Heat oil to 350 degrees.
- Stir eggs and milk into dry ingredients, until all flour is incorporated.
Knead dough on a floured board for about five minutes, until elastic and relatively smooth, adding more flour as needed (see photo).
- Divide dough into two balls. Roll out one ball into an eight-inch circle; cut into twelve pieces, see photo. (Note: the more traditional way to make chin chin is by cutting dough into small one-inch squares; this takes more time.)
Cut off a third of one pastry and place in oil, to test for proper heat; if dough floats immediately, oil is ready. (If dough quickly turns dark, oil is too hot.) When temperature is right, fry other eleven pieces. Edges of dough will be light golden and dough slightly wet in center, when it is time to turn pastry over; drain on paper towel. (See photo.)
- Repeat steps 5 and 6, until all chin-chin is fried.
- Enjoy this delicious treat.