Why It Works
- Using fast-acting yeast produces a relatively quick rise, letting the batter reach the desired consistency without over-proofing, thinning, and taking on sour flavors.
- Stirring the batter until smooth ensures crispy puff puff with soft and chewy interiors.
- Using a 1-tablespoon cookie scoop is convenient, relatively neat, and produces uniformly sized puff puff. (The recipe also works without a cookie scoop.)
Puff puff (also puff-puff) is a snack of deep-fried yeasted dough, reminiscent of doughnut holes in appearance, but with a crisp exterior that gives way to a chewy, spongy interior. In Nigeria, puff puff is rarely spoken of in the singular or used with an article. “Can I have puff puff?” is the question you'll hear, not "a puff puff," nor "some puff puffs." I speculate that the origins of the name come from the way the batter puffs up in the oil when fried, doubling in size as it takes on its signature golden hue. Puff puff is consumed all over Nigeria: at home, as street food, and as an essential part of small chops, a collection of Nigerian snacks served at parties, events, and celebrations along with other bites like mosa (plantain fritters), Chinese-style spring rolls, Indian samosas, and an array of meat and seafood nibbles.
The batter is made in a similar fashion to a yeasted dough: flour, sugar, fast-acting yeast, and water are stirred together along with seasonings like nutmeg and vanilla extract. It's then covered and left to sit in a warm spot until doubled in size. Once risen, all that’s left to do is fry it. I suggest using a 1-tablespoon cookie scoop to form and drop rounds of the batter into the hot oil, since I've found it to be the most convenient way to make puff puff. If you don’t have a cookie scoop, use two spoons to scoop and form the batter into rough rounds before dropping them into the hot oil. Puff puff–making experts will forgo any tools, instead relying on their hands, which can be moistened with water, to shape, scoop, and "pipe" the batter (I wouldn't recommend this for anyone who isn't a very experienced fry cook, and even then, it's probably not the best idea for most).
One of the challenges when frying puff puff is their reluctance to brown uniformly: Due to their round shape, the puffs will tend to want to roll to one side, making it difficult to brown the part that floats above the oil. To work around this, I like to fry puff puff in a single compact layer, which gives them less room to flip back over once turned. A wire mesh spider can also be used to push the puff puff down into the oil and ensure every side is exposed to its heat.
Puff puff are often eaten on their own, but they can also be served alongside crispy fried whitebait, a pairing I learned to enjoy later in life after decades of eating them plain. That pairing, in turn, introduced me to a world of possibilities in which puff puff can be flavored with different spices, fruits (like passion fruit), nuts, seeds (black sesame seed is a favorite of mine), and served with meat, seafood, and sweet or savory sauces.
At home, I like to serve puff puff with a fried pepper sauce (something along the lines of Nigerian beef stew or obe ata, but with a touch more heat); serve or stuff them with sweet sauces like mango cream, passion fruit cream, or lemon curd; or toss them in orange or cinnamon sugars for a sugary crunch. The batter can also be cooked up and eaten as pancakes or waffles; this is a great way to use up any leftover batter that has become too thin to fry into puffs. Anyway you eat it, on its own or served with sauces, dips and more, puff puff is always a winner.
- 13 ounces all-purpose flour (360g; about 2 3/4 cups)
- 7 ounces sugar (200g; 1 cup)
- 4 teaspoons (13g) fast-acting yeast
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract
- 2 quarts (1.9L) vegetable or other neutral oil, for frying
In a large bowl, thoroughly whisk together flour, sugar, yeast, and nutmeg, about 1 minute. In a small bowl, combine vanilla extract with 2 cups (475ml) lukewarm water.
In the center of the flour mixture, make a well about 4 inches wide. Pour vanilla water into well, and, using a wooden spoon, gradually stir flour into the water until a thick, sticky batter has formed and no lumps remain, about 5 minutes (batter should have the same consistency as cake batter with a few bubbles). Cover bowl loosely with plastic wrap or a clean, damp kitchen towel, and let sit at warm room temperature (75°F/24°C) until roughly doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with paper towels. In a wok or large Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat to 330°F (165°C). Using a 1-tablespoon cookie scoop, dip scoop in hot oil, then scoop a 1-tablespoon portion of batter and carefully add to oil, dropping portion from as close to the oil’s surface as possible to minimize splashing. (Alternatively, using two spoons dipped in the hot oil, scoop roughly 1-tablespoon of batter onto first spoon, and, using second spoon, gently form into a round shape, then carefully release into hot oil). Working quickly, repeat process until wok is full but not overcrowded. Fry puff puff, using a spider or slotted spoon to turn them as they cook, until puffed and golden brown on all sides, about 6 minutes. Transfer puff puff to prepared baking sheet.
Return oil to 330°F (165°C) and repeat frying with remaining batter, continuing to work in batches. Transfer puff puff to a serving bowl and serve hot, warm, or at room temperature. Puff puff can be eaten on its own, tossed in spiced sugar, or with a dip (see recipe headnote for more serving ideas).
Rimmed baking sheet, spider skimmer or slotted spoon, wok or large Dutch oven, instant-read thermometer, 1-tablespoon cookie scoop (optional).
Make-Ahead and Storage
Puff puff can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 1 month. To warm puff puff, cover with a damp paper towel and reheat in the microwave in 10-second intervals.