Twisted Cakes

Atwemo

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Makes about

    16

    servings

Appears in

The Ghana Cookbook

By Fran Osseo-Asare and Barbara Baëta

Published 2015

  • About

Often in the U.S. when I make the deep-fried dough called atwemo or “twisted cakes,” people say it reminds them of Pennsylvania Dutch “funnel cakes” and they want to sprinkle them with powdered sugar. That is definitely a North American idea. West Africans are traditionally more moderate in their sugar consumption. These crispy treats are a combination cracker/cookie. A hard savory version is called Chin-chin in Nigeria.

I was first taught to make these by my friend and neighbor Abenaa Owusu, from the Ashanti region, and later found printed recipes for them where they were called atwemo or atwimo (Twi and Fante), and atsomo (Ga and Ewe). The indigenous names are interesting since usually recipes using imported Western ingredients like wheat flour have European or European-derived names (e.g., “twisted cakes,” “diamond cakes”).

As in Ghana, atwemo is a standard holiday/birthday/special occasion treat at our house. However, in Ghana it is also a popular snack food packaged in clear plastic and sold in supermarkets, at kiosks, and marketed by street vendors. They are not always “twisted,” but can be simply cut into small cubes or diamond shapes.

Along with plantain chips/strips, “twisted cakes” is one of the most requested recipes at my cooking demonstrations. This is also a fun recipe for assembly-line production with almost any age group. I have made them with nursery and kindergarten students through to adults, including nursing home residents. They cook very quickly, the frying kills any lingering germs from children’s fingers, and, with a deep-fryer, they can be made any place with an electrical outlet. However, when preparing these with children it is important to have a designated adult to do the frying away from the preparation area, and to oversee rolling the dough out so it is thin enough. Cutting the dough into diamonds using plastic or dull table knives, and the twisting process are fun, and even very young helpers can carry plates of twisted dough to the fryer, or loosen the cut diamonds from the board so they can be twisted. The dough can easily be rolled into balls, frozen, and fried in smaller batches as needed. This is a richer, more tender version than many sold on the streets in Ghana.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ cup margarine or butter, cubed
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ¾ cup milk (in Ghana it is made with half evaporated milk and half water)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Vegetable oil for deep-frying

Method

Directions

Make dough

  1. Sift the flour, salt, nutmeg, and baking powder together in a large bowl. Use a pastry blender or your hands to rub or cut the margarine or butter into the sifted ingredients. Add the sugar and mix in with a spoon.
  2. Break the egg into a small bowl and beat slightly with a fork. Add the milk and vanilla and mix together.
  3. Add the liquid ingredients to the flour mixture and mix well (after stirring a little with a spoon, I dust my hands with flour and mix the dough together with my hands), knead it lightly but not enough to make it tough. Add a little more flour if it is sticky; a little more milk if it seems too dry and will not hold together. Divide the dough into 4 equal parts.

Form the cakes

  1. Sprinkle a few drops of water on the counter, then put a couple of sheets of waxed paper down, sprinkle some flour on top of that and a little on the rolling pin, then roll the dough out to between ⅛ and ¼ inch thick. (I like my atwemo on the crispy side, so I tend to go thin; the dough can also be rolled out on any flour-dusted work surface.)
  2. Cut the dough into strips about 1 inch wide. Next, cut the dough strips diagonally to make diamond shapes about 1¼ inch long.
  3. Cut a slit in the center of each diamond. Pick up one diamond, push one end through the slit in the middle and pull that end all the way through (that’s the “twist”). If the dough is only pulled partway through the slit you end up with what my children used to call “birds.” Those will taste fine, but it’s better to learn to twist the dough properly and pull the pointed end all the way through. Repeat with the rest of the diamonds.
  4. Continue rolling out the scraps of dough and repeating the process. To prevent the dough from becoming tough, or simply to simplify the process, just cut the excess dough into triangles or other shapes and skip the twisting (however, cook any untwisted ones separately since the cooking times will vary a bit).

Fry the cakes

  1. While cutting and twisting the atwemo, fill an electric deep fryer or pan with vegetable oil (never more than half full; it will bubble up when adding the atwemo) and heat it to about 365 degrees F.
  2. Carefully but quickly slip a couple dozen or so atwemo into the hot oil, one by one. Do not drop them and splatter the oil. Stir them frequently while they are cooking, making sure to turn them over so they brown on both sides. It will only take a few minutes to cook each batch. They should be quite golden when they are ready; perhaps a little browner than you think at first.
  3. Remove them with the slotted spoon as they cook, and place into a paper towel-lined colander (or directly onto paper towels) to cool and drain off excess oil. Store the pastries covered in an airtight container.

Make ahead: Atwemo freeze beautifully.

To serve

Atwemo work equally well as a snack or a dessert, alone or served with ice cream or a fruit salad. Even children who are more likely to say “yuck” to new foods seem to say “yum” from their first taste.

Variation

You can make smaller daintier atwemo by cutting the strips smaller in Step 5, about inch by 1 inch works well.

Troubleshooting: (If the oil is not hot enough the atwemo will fall to the bottom of the pan and stay there; if it is too hot they will bounce up immediately and brown before they are cooked all the way through.)