Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Celebrate with Cassava Cookies (Gari "biscuits")

Spring is coming! Last December I mentioned baking some classic cookies made from the West African cassava meal called "gari." It's now March, and I'm finally sharing the recipe--just in time for spring celebrations, or Easter,  or graduations, or a special teatime snack.

These crispy cookies are simple to make, and have an uncluttered, fresh, pure taste. The coconut and gari deliver a crunchy texture with a mild, pleasing flavor. Incidentally, I started to make them yesterday, cracking open a fresh coconut only to find it was spoiled, so had to return to the store today for some frozen unsweetened grated coconut. Apart from the time saved from not having to do all the work of opening and grating the coconut myself, the only difference was that the frozen one was more tightly packed, so I only needed about two/thirds of a cup of it (instead of about 3/4 cup) to make up my 2 ounces. 

Also, I used evaporated milk (as one would likely do in Ghana), and since I didn't have any margarine, substituted unsalted butter. For a vegan version, use margarine and substitute soy or almond milk.

Gari Biscuits (Cookies) 
Yield: 2 dozen


1/2 cup fine sifted Ghana-style gari
1 teaspoon water
1/2 cup plus 1-2 tablespoons sifted unbleached wheat flour
1/3 cup sugar (or less, to taste)
1 teaspoon baking power
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 oz or about 3/4 cup medium freshly grated (or about 2/3 cup defrosted frozen  unsweetened coconut)
1 oz (2 Tablespoons) margarine (or butter)
2-3 Tablespoons of evaporated milk (or regular, soy, or almond milk)

Set the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit  (191 degrees Celsius, or 5 gas mark) to preheat.
Grease or oil a baking sheet.
1. If using fresh coconut,  crack open, prepare and grate the white meat (see blog posting). Set aside.
2. In a bowl, sprinkle a teaspoon of water over the gari, and mix it in well with your fingers  (see picture on right).
3. Add the remaining dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt, baking powder) to the bowl, along with the coconut.
4. Using your fingers or knives, cut the margarine (or butter) into the mixture until it resembles cornmeal.
5. Stir in 2 Tablespoons of milk. If the mixture seems too dry to stick together, add up to one more tablespoon (a teaspoon at a time) until the batter will form small patties.
6. I made the cookies 3 different ways, :
first, I hand-formed 8 of them into small patties; secondly, I patted some of the dough onto a lightly floured board and cut 8 small circles using a small jar; thirdly, I formed 8 small balls, set them on the cookie sheet, and pressed them with a fork as one would for peanut butter cookies--first one way, then once again at right angles to the first)

Finally, I baked them in the preheated oven for about 12-15 minutes, until they turned very lightly golden. The tops are whiter, the bottoms browned. The longer you cook them, the crisper they become, which is the way we like them.

These are delicious, and one cannot help but reflect on the reality that if people in Ghana made them more often, they could cut their use of imported wheat flour basically in half. Plus they make use of locally available coconuts, rather than expensive imported flavorings.

Variations could include sprinkling the biscuits/cookies with coconut or gari, or adding other flavorings/spices (vanilla, lemon, etc.).
I'm sure these would keep well in a covered container or in the freezer, but they never last long enough at my house to try that. These cookies are festive for any occasion year round.


Unknown said...

These look fantastic. I look forward to trying this recipe!

Mavis said...

Where can I buy "gari" (aka "cassava flour)?

Uzo said...

This looks and sounds interesting. Will definitely give it a try. A question though - whats peculiar about Ghana style gari? I am Nigerian - so can i use our local version?

Fran said...

Uzo, I imagine Nigerian gari will work, too. It's just that I find it to be grated more coarsely than the Ghanaian gari I'm familiar with, and wasn't sure if it would have small lumps (that's also why I sift mine before using). It may be that it makes no difference. Let me know how yours turn out.

Mary said...

I found Ganaian gari in a Chinese grocery. I had no idea what it was, but as the subtitle said 'cassava grits', and seeing as I'm a Texan, I HAD to give them a try. Thus I stumbled upon this recipe and whipped up a batch.

My family has recently had to go gluten-free, casein (milk)-free, and soy free, so I'm relearning how to cook. I altered the recipe in the following way: sweet rice flour for wheat flour, coconut oil for butter, almond milk for cow's milk, omitted the coconut (didn't have any), and added 1 t. vanilla.

Thanks for posting this recipe. Onward and upward in the quest for wonderful alternative foods!

Mary said...

I forgot to mention that these smell and taste like malted milk balls (to me). Also, I actually know that there's an 'h' in Ghana! lol

Kate Loftin said...

These look great! I'm currently living in a small town in Ghana and am having trouble finding things to bake with limited ingredients! I will definitely be trying this! Thanks :)

Fran said...

Hi, Kate:
Let me know how they turn out. If I may ask, where in Ghana are you (you can email me directly at