Kata Keki Tulay (Cut the cake, let’s eat)April 3, 2012
If you’ve got lots of money you can have cocoa powder sent to the farm by motorcycle and you can make the brownies that you really want, but if you don’t, it’s the banana cake that everyone else loves. Preparation is key. The day before you bake, you have to entice the fruit seller into giving you his rotten bananas (they work best) by telling him you’ll give him a piece of cake. This should work because how many fruit sellers can say that they have a mzungu making them cake? The next morning after coffee, you save a little of the fresh cow’s milk. Hide it in a good spot so nobody scams it.
When you’re ready to start, check your egg, banana and crowd size. There are no Grade A Jumbo eggs here so you have to guesstimate how your scrawny Tanzanian chickens eggs compare to what those hormone fed beasts back home can produce. Likewise, Tanzanian bananas pack a flavorful punch, but in about half the size. Increase numbers accordingly. As for how much to make, a single cake is NEVER enough at Baobab. The question is do you double, triple or quadruple the recipe? Whatever you do, write it out. If you double your flour and triple your eggs, you’re sunk.
Assemble your labor. Put two kids on the sugar/shortening. Two others can do the banana/egg mix, and two can do dry ingredients. You are command central, setting everyone up for success and making sure measuring cups are level and eggshells don’t get into the mix. Send one kid to pick a lime to make the sour milk. If its nap time and you only have big kids, you will gain efficiency but lose some of the thrill of it all. Whatever you do, don’t let them pour the batter in, that’s gotta be you. If you go too thin, you’ll burn, too thick and you get a burnt bottom and a mushy top.
Fire. The best time to make a cake is late in the afternoon when the evening rice is almost finished getting a light brown crusty layer on top and the coals are glowing red. This saves you the money and hassle of starting your own fire. Why let good hot coals go to waste? Make a cake! Just sift through the ashes with a metal slotted spoon to find the perfect gems and start putting them in the clay oven. Preheat? What’s that? Break up your coals so they are an even size. That way your cake pan, or whatever vessel you are using, rests nicely on them. The last thing you want is a sloping cake. Put a cookie sheet on top and more coals on that so it cooks evenly. Fashion a door for the mouth of the oven out of something flat and prop it up with the aforementioned slotted spoon. Do not even look at the time, as that could lead to overconfidence. Watch your cake like a new mom watches her baby sleep. Is it too hot on the bottom? Is the top getting cooked? Keep your tongs handy for coal rearrangement when needed. Smells go up the chimney so if you smell anything burning, the game is already over. By the time you get to batch number three your coals will be very tired out. You may have to go for the ‘Tanzanian microwave’ at this point. Spark up the gas stove and put some coals right in the flames. Take them out with your trusty tongs, blow on them to get them going and then add them on top or bottom as needed. Do the fork test. Done.
It should be about dinner time. Perfect. If it’s not somebody’s birthday, the kids will pretend it is anyway and will feed each other cake like everybody is a bride and groom. That’s just the way we do it in Tanzania.