These fragrantly spiced doughnuts (vitumba) from Cameroon are made from a batter of rice flour and coconut milk, making them naturally vegan and gluten-free. Lightly spiced with cardamon and nutmeg, they are best served dusted in icing sugar. Or, for a real treat, serve them with a salted caramel dipping sauce.
Country Number 32: Cameroon
We learnt two important lesson this week when cooking our Cameroonian dish.
- Don’t try make a recipe for the first time when you are under time pressure and have guests coming around.
- Don’t use dead yeast.
We have made many a successful dish throughout the course of this challenge, and a few that have been less successful. It is just unfortunate that the day we had our big cooking failure was when we were serving the dish to a table full of guests. Alas, we have identified where we went wrong, so you don’t have to make the same mistakes we did. What can we say… We live to serve. Anyway, more about that later.
Back to Cameroon, yet another African country that we admittedly knew very little about. Positioned between Central and West Africa, Cameroon is often referred to as “Africa in miniature”, due to the diversity of its culture and landscapes. To give an idea of its cultural diversity, from a population of 25 million, over 250 languages are spoken. It’s cultural diversity is a result of its position as the crossroads between the continent, as well as its history of colonisation by Germany, France and the United Kingdom. In terms of geographic diversity, you’ll find everything: beaches, deserts, savannahs, rainforests and mountains are all found within its borders.
History of Cameroonian Cuisine
This diversity also carries over to Cameroonian cuisine. The country is blessed with very fertile soil, meaning a variety of fruits and vegetables are grown. The staple foods eaten by Cameroonian vary by region due to its geographic diversity as this affects what grows locally. In the South, root vegetables such as yams, cassava and plantains are staple foods. In the north, corn, millet and peanuts form the basis of the diet. Throughout the country, the cuisine is characterised by bland, starchy foods that are paired with spicy sauces. In terms of protein, meat on skewers and fried and roast fish are all quite common. Fresh fruit is also plentiful throughout the country, particularly mangos, bananas, pineapples and papaya. Compared to some African nations, Cameroon is reasonably vegetarian-friendly.
Popular Cameroorian Vegetarian Dishes
- Vitumbua (Coconut Rice Doughnuts) A batter made of rice and coconut is cooked in sphere shapes to resemble small round doughnuts, then coated with cardamon icing sugar.
- Koki Corn (African Corn Tamales) – Fresh corn, cornmeal, spinach and palm oil are wrapped in a banana leaf then steamed before serving.
- Accra Cassava– This popular street food consists of fritters made of cassava. They are crunchy on the outside and chewy inside, and are best enjoyed hot off the pan.
- Corn chaff- A hearty Cameroonian stew made of corn and beans that are slowly simmered with onions, palm oil, tomatoes and various spices.
- Sangah- This simple dish is a Cameroonian specialty that is a cross between a stew and porridge. It is made of cassava leaves that are mashed up with palm oil and maize.
- Kpwem– Similar to Sangah, young cassava leaves are pounded and combined with ginger, salt, onions, garlic, then boiled with peanut butter in water until the mixture is smooth.
Vegetarian rating of Cameroonian Cuisine:
Making Spiced Gluten-free Doughnuts (Vitumba)
It seemed like a great idea at the time, making doughnuts for the first time when we were having a bunch of guests over to our house. When researching Cameroonian cuisine, we came across these doughnuts called Vitumba, which were made from rice and coconut. One of our brunch guests was vegan and gluten-free, so we figured it was the perfect recipe to whip up and *surely* it couldn’t be that difficult. Or so we thought. As you can probably tell by the photo below, not everything went smoothly in our kitchen that fateful morning.
The mistakes we made when making vitumba
Our first (and biggest mistake) was using dead yeast. Of course, we didn’t realise the yeast was dead until our guests were minutes from arriving and our doughy boys weren’t rising. Alas, our doughnuts turned out rather flat and dense, rather than light and fluffy like they should have.
Our second mistake was trying to bake our Vitumba in the oven. For this recipe, you are meant to use a special pan with half spherical moulds. Many countries have their own version of this- there is the Danish Aebleskiver, the Indian Paniyaram, the Japanese takoyaki. No doubt there is an English version as well, probably called something generic like a round pancake pan. We couldn’t track one of these pans down in time, so we used half spherical silicone moulds in the oven instead. Technically this should still work for making vitumba, however with the aforementioned dead yeast problem, we were doomed either way.
Now, please don’t let our tales of failure put you off making Vitumba for yourself. After all, these doughnuts are a favourite treat in Cameroon for good reason. Surprisingly enough, our guests still seemed to really like the taste of our Vitumba, even if they weren’t quite how we pictured them to turn out. Of course, we are always our worst critics. Anyway, hopefully you can learn from our mistakes so you can make a flawless batch of these doughy boys.
How to make Spiced Gluten-free Doughnuts (Vitumba)
Despite what you’ve probably assumed from our baking fail, these gluten-free doughnuts are actually pretty quick and easy to prepare. They require minimal resting time and minimal cooking time, meaning they come together in less than an hour.
- If you are using making your own rice flour, just make sure you pre-soaked it the night before. Otherwise, use rice flour as mentioned in the recipe.
- Whisk together dry ingredients, then make a well and whisk in wet ingredients.
- Leave batter to rest for 30 minutes.
- If using a Vitumba pan, grease and fill each slot with batter and cook for a few minutes on each side. If using the oven, grease and fill moulds and cook for 7 minutes on each side or until golden.
Ingredient notes for Spiced Gluten-free Doughnuts
- Rice flour- You can either buy ready-made ground rice flour like we did, or you can make your own. If you choose to make your own, soak 2 cups of rice overnight (or for at least 4 hours) before draining all the water before blending with all of the ingredients in a food processor.
- Coconut sugar– If you don’t have coconut sugar, feel free to substitute for any other kind of sugar.
- Coconut milk– For this recipe, full-fat coconut milk works best. One 400ml tin should work.
Serving suggestions for Vitumba
These coconut rice doughnuts are best served hot off the pan, sprinkled with icing sugar. We served them with a delicious salted caramel dipping sauce, which is optional but highly recommended. They are also particularly good accompanied by chai tea as the spice flavour profiles go wonderfully together.
Other healthy sweet treats to try
Spiced Gluten-Free Doughnuts (Vitumba)- Cameroon
- 2 cups rice flour
- 1 tsp dry yeast
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup coconut sugar
- 5 cardamon pods seeds removed and ground
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 1/4 cup warm water
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1 tsp vanilla essence
- Vegetable oil
- 2 tbsp icing sugar to serve
Salted Caramel Sauce (optional)
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp salt
Make Vitumba batter:
- Whisk together rice flour, dry yeast, salt, coconut sugar, ground cardamom seeds and nutmeg.
- Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add in warm water, coconut milk and vanilla essence. Whisk until smooth and lump-free.
- Cover and leave batter to rest in a warm place for 30 minutes or until bubbles form.
If using Vitumba pan:
- Brush each hole of pan with oil and heat over medium heat.
- Once warm, add batter so each mould is three quarters full. Cook for a few minutes on one side, then flip with a toothpick and cook on the other side.
If baking in the oven:
- Preheat oven to 180˚C. Grease a half spherical silicone mould or cupcake tin with oil.
- Divide batter between slots. Cook for 7 minutes, then flip using a toothpick and cook for another 7 minutes or until golden brown.
Make salted caramel dipping sauce:
- In a pot, bring the coconut milk and brown sugar to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low for about 20 minutes or until mixture has reduced and thickened, stirring frequently.
Did you make this recipe? We’d love to know! Tell us how it went in the comments below or tag us (@gourmetvegetarians) in your photos on Instagram.
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