World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Month: April, 2007

The Baker’s Passport – Senegal


The southern area of Senegal , known to many for it’s stunning beaches usually speckled with sun bathers from France and for its primary crop rice which is grown in this region called Casamance.  African desserts in countries south of the Sahara Desert are not common.  What is found are mixes of cut fruit  such as mango, papaya, bananas and pineapple or simply just fresh fruit, either way this "course" is called "after chop."

Some of these central dishes to this part of Africa are Tiébou Dienn  {pronounced: cheb-oo jenn}(rice and fish) and chicken au yassa (chicken with lemon, pimento and onions) and maffe (chicken or mutton in peanut sauce).   Drinks include home-roasted coffee with pimento and and mint tea, with the first tea steeped along with sugar and is very bitter.  This first pour is thought to be bad for a woman’s health so they do not partake; the second time around water is added to the same leaves and boiled again.  Unlike their Northern neighbors in Morocco who serve only three services of tea–the third being considered the perfect pour. The Senegalese just keep serving it up with more sugar as the enjoy it sweet.

Marcus Samelusson, the Ethiopian-born Swedish chef at Aquavit, has infused his passion for African cuisine into his recent cookbook, Soul of a New Cuisine.  One of the peoples of Senegal, the Fulani  people are known for their love milk. Whether this recipe originates there are more likely from the inspiration that Chef Samelusson found while traveling through the country. Here, in the following recipe he uses rice to create a very luxurious pudding; the creamy flavor is clean and bright from the lime zest, vanilla and small pieces of fresh mango.

Soulofanew_2 Lime-Scented Poppy-Seed Rice Pudding with Mango
From Soul of a New Cuisine by Marcus Samuelson

2 1/2 quarts whole milk

2 cups short-grain rice (14 ounces)

One 14-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk

1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped

2 tablespoons poppy seeds

1 1/4 cups sugar

1/2 cup heavy cream

Finely grated zest of 1 lime

6 ripe mangoes—peeled and cut into 1-inch dice

In a medium enameled cast-iron casserole, combine the milk with the rice, coconut milk, vanilla bean and seeds and the poppy seeds and bring to a simmer over moderately high heat, stirring. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring often, until the rice is tender, about 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Stir the sugar, heavy cream and lime zest into the rice and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the rice pudding is sweet and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Let cool to room temperature, then cover tightly and refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours. Spoon the rice pudding into small bowls and top with the mango.

MAKE AHEAD The rice pudding can be refrigerated overnight. Serve chilled or at room temperature. Serves 12

photo: J.C. Durka

Brownie Points @ Work


I have long harbored a cynical baking world view that not as many mothers baked from scratch as we may like to believe.  Lest, I start crushing everyone’s view of motherhood let’s just agreed that if the house smelled like baking what’s wrong with that, right? And while my mother did bake from scratch she also when she returned to the workplace there were brownies from a box. They do fill a niche need.

However, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve labored over a cake for a big dinner party or birthday gathering where the cake is devoured but no one says a word about it.  It’s somewhat confidence deflating for the baker. If anyone had someone at home as a child who did bake from scratch they would have an idea about how much effort (not time…it’s really not that much more) went into baking from scratch, certainly the accolades would be running wild. While this may be my ego whining but I started casually investigating this theory over the past few years. 

"Oh yes, I can bring a cake for 30. Certainly, homemade, what else?!"  I willingly volunteered. Brunches, birthdays and office events, wherever, whenever. It’s at gatherings like t his where I’ve been tapped on the shoulder and asked if it’s difficult to bake from scratch.  Usually I would casually wave off the compliment, slightly embarrassed and worried for my baking reputation. Once, however I let my guilt overcome me and ended up gifting a total stranger. I’m not cold. How could I not? It was at a friend’s huge birthday bash one of those affairs that has just the right amount of sophistication. I had agreed to help out a friend pull it all together by lending catering services and prep support.  I baked and simply decorated a 20" chocolate cake. (Yes, I have a pan that big!) . 

Out of the corner of my eye a woman with a huge 2 carat-diamond approached me. 

"I know I don’t know you and I’m sure that this is impossible to bake. Well, really, I don’t bake. But my husband just can’t stop talking about your cake. It reminds him of his mother’s cake. She just passed away last year. He’s near tears over there."  She bit her lip. "It would mean the world if, well, could you…"

My heart went out to this woman. I began to think I could save her husband’s soul memory of his mother not to mention solidify her young marriage.   I certainly didn’t need to have stronger proof of my theory than this.

"Can you keep a secret?" I asked in a hushed tone. She nodded. "Duncan Hines."

"What?" she said, confused.

"Everyone likes to believe ‘mom’ baked from scratch. Truth is that she did but it was from a Duncan Hines cake box."

She grabbed and hugged me and took her leave smiling.

Many years have passed since that day.  But I continue to test the notion. On Friday afternoon I sat in a conference room overlooking San Francisco’s Civic Center waiting for 16 office mates to participate in a Brownie Blind Taste; in front of me where three different brownies made from three recipes and three types of chocolate.  One was a Betty Crocker brownie mix featuring semi-sweet chocolate; another was prepared-from-scratch version made with Nestle Chocolatier bittersweet chocolate (62%) and the third made from Baker’s unsweetened chocolate.

People love chocolate.  Since I had come across a new bittersweet chocolate from Nestle that held up pretty well in a side-by-side tasting against Ghiradelli I thought it might be worthwhile to put it to the brownie test.  There’s no better demonstration of a chocolate’s qualities than this all-American treat. Everyone loves brownies.  The division seems to come in preference to either a cakey or chewy consistency. 

So which brownie won over the crowd?  By an astounding 75%….(drumroll) Betty Crocker.  So while I am smugly reassured that my theory continues to hold up my new favorite is from Nestle.

Oh, and while you may want to do your blind taste panel, the guys and gals in the office of varying ages and places in the States overwhelmingly chose the chewy over the cakey.


Nestle Chocolatier Brownies

Quite possibly this is one of the best brownie recipes around.  The brownie is rich, moist and chewy.  Clearly many mothers did not bake in the style of the "moms" at Nestle! This final recipe shared here is a slight variation from the one on the package and from the product’s website, where there is a cookie recipe that I’ll be trying later this recipe with the 52% morsels. 

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

2 tbsp water

10 oz. pkg of Nestle Chocolatier 62% bittersweet morsels

2 large eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup AP flour

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

PREHEAT oven to 325º F. Line 9-inch-square baking pan with foil; grease.

HEAT in a double boiler the package of morsels, sugar, butter and water over low heat, stirring constantly, until morsels and butter are melted.  The consistency and color should look like vanilla pudding. Pour into medium bowl. The liquid should be warm but not steaming hot before proceeding to the next step. Stir in eggs, one at a time, until mixed in; add in vanilla extract. Add flour, baking soda and salt;  mix well.

POUR into prepared baking pan.

BAKE for 16 to 20 minutes until wooden pick inserted in center comes out slightly sticky. Cool in pan on wire rack. Lift brownie from pan with foil to cutting board. Carefully remove foil. Cut

Random Word Eats

I’m spending more time reading than writing these days…

I recently learned from Bea  that there’s now (ok it’s been over a year) an Edible Boston edition.  Bea, is appearing in the Spring 2007 edition with a recipe for Honey & Lemon Tea Cakes. There’s some tempting images of the delights at her site.  Additionally there’s also a great article on Planting a Culinary Herb Garden and the Traditions of Maple Sugaring (both links in PDF).

Thailand is the largest exporter of the world’s stinkiest fruit, durian. And many are not happy about this change at all. And yes, it really does smell bad, worst than a locker room after an August doubleheader. But one of the world’s leading fruit experts has figured out how to breed for no odor. In Malaysian culture durians are said to be an aphrodisiac…"when durian falls the sarongs fly up", goes a Malay phrase.  The dark side is that there’s usually one death a year from a falling fruit. A friend from Malaysian tells me that growing up she would eat mangosteen with durian to balance out some of the effects of durian eating.

Hot cross buns! Hot cross buns!
One a penny two a penny – Hot cross buns
If you have no daughters, give them to your sons
One a penny two a penny – Hot cross buns

And it seems that hot cross buns, or as the historical tomes say Good Friday buns, are the theme of the moment.  A great history piece at the Old Foodieanother at Spitton with some luscious learnings; step-by-step instructions there; and arrestingly sharp looking ones in New Zealand and here in San Francisco Sam shares a bit from her  past and notes from the present.


In Italy at this time there are many food-related Easter traditions. In the Marches region crescia, a Parmesan pepper bread is shared at the table. Food on the Food shares a family recipe yielding seven loaves!  Or you may prefer the ring-shaped ciambellone which was originally more of a harvest bread but it now seen at Easter particularly in the area of Rome. There are many recipes some with limoncello another more savory. And it wouldn’t be Easter without the mention of Peeps.  Check out this great demonstration video class for homemade chicks from CIA.  Also check out the menu via this photo essay of a California family sitting down to a Palestinian Christian Easter meal.  And finally for the ambitious in the crowd how about assembling an Easter Bunny Cake,