Baking the Ground |

Baking the Ground

Yes, we really do bake some of our more traditional breads in the ground. Why? Because here in Mother Africa, many local people live in mud huts and have never had any kind of modern oven or electric cooking facility.

But even in the comfort of our modern Safari Camp I love to prepare this bread for our overseas guests--it tastes absolutely incredible, and is baked just as well as it would in any conventional oven. And it is not only bread that can be baked in the ground, but also whole chickens and joints of meat can be prepared and cooked in this way.

So how do we bake or bread in the ground? Well, it's very straightforward, really. The bread dough is first prepared and placed in a heavy pan simmilar to a pan you might use for soup or casseroles at home. The bread dough is simply white ground flour, water, yeast and salt and nothing more. Most of our African breads are plain and don't use fancy seeds or nuts. Occasionally I will add some raw groundnuts which make for an interesting texture as they are quite coarse and crunchy. Once we have achieved our consistency we brush the pot inside with a little coking oil to prevent the dough from sticking, which also achieves a lovely golden crust when the bread is baked. Once the bread dough is ready it is then pressed into the oiled pot and left aside to prove for a while--around an hour.

Then the hole in the ground is dug, and is made reasonably deep in most homes. The hole is usually made in the grounds outside the mud hut and near the fire where other cooking takes place. Once the hole is deep enough, it is filled halfway with hot embers from the fire, which holds an intense heat inside the hole. The bread pot is then placed on top of the coals. The pot is then covered with a heavy lid and a few more coals are placed on top of the lid before heavy peat soil is added to fill the hole completely.
Now we wait, and depending on the heat of the coals, the bread would normally be ready after one hour, perhaps a little longer at times. The bread can often be left in the ground for over two hours so it will bake, then cool within the hole. But it is at its best like any fresh bread--eaten straight from the ground, removed from the hole and turned out with its full aroma baked to perfection, cut and enjoyed with a traditional stew (often meat stews are made from goat meat and such a stew served with this bread would be a very traditional meal in native Zambia).

Making this bread at home can be very simple. I suggest you find a small safe area in your backyard where you can make a relatively deep hole and use this same spot each time you want to bake the bread for your African BBQ. Choose a spot which is near rich soil--at the edge of the lawn, perhaps--and also have a small slab or tile positioned next to the hole to rest your pot on when you are working and when you remove the baked bread from the ground. Another small basket should be kept near by for excess soil. Work in an area which is open and inviting so your guests and stay well clear from your rosebed!

Another bread to try at your next BBQ is our Papatta bread--the dough is made in the same way as before but small rolls are shaped instead. This bread is also cooked directly over hot coals so your BBQ would be perfect for this, but please use proper charcoal and not gas to achieve the authentic taste. The Papatta rolls should be slightly charred on both sides yet cooked well in the centre so your coals must not be too hot.

A few months ago I had great success and a lot of fun baking a pizza in an African termite mound. It was an experiment that we decided to try when we were were setting up a bush picnic--we dug out the front of the mound and deep into the centre, and created our homemade pizza oven. Just like the ground baked bread, we filled the cavity with hot coals and left them for a while, and with a soft dough we made margarita pizzas topped with grilled butternut and baked them on a spade in the termite mound oven. It is no lie to say these pizzas were better than any pizza I've had in Naples, and plus they had an African twist.


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