Keke is it aye!
Keke ‘isite, Tongan for ‘yeast cake’ is a round yeast raised doughnut that is a hot favourite in many Pacific homes. The sweet smell of freshly cooked keke, its lightly flaky skin and soft chewy centre makes this the ultimate comfort food.
On a cold night, hot keke with maybe a little butter and teamed with a hot cuppa is hard to beat.
And if you’ve only ever enjoyed this treat made by somebody else, it’s time to learn. Once you know, it’s like making pancakes, you’ll make it without thinking and you’ll get better with practice. This is definitely worth learning to do. So here’s the recipe with loads of pictures to help you get it right.
- 4 cups of plain flour (500 g)
- 2 teaspoons of active yeast (or 7g sachet)
- 2/3 cup of sugar
- 2 cups warm water
- 1500 g Shortening or vegetable oil for deep frying (8 cm deep)
- Combine yeast with 1 cup of warm water and 1 teaspoon of the sugar in a large bowl and mix until the yeast has dissolved. Leave for 10 minutes or until frothy.
- Add remaining water, sugar and flour and stir to mix. It should form a very wet dough and more like a very thick batter. Add a little more water (up to 1/4 cup of water) if it's too dry or add a bit more flour if too runny.
- Using your hands, mix the flour in well until a smooth batter is formed and coming away from the side of the bowl. Cover and leave to rise until doubled in size (about 1-1&1/2 hr).
- Release the gas by stirring the mixture and giving it a quick mix using your hand. Then allow the dough to rest for about 20-30 minutes.
- Begin heating the oil in a large heavy pan (about 15-20mins). Test oil is ready with a small scoop of batter. It should drop to the bottom and rise with a couple of seconds and begin to turn light golden slowly. If it browns quickly (within 30 seconds) it's too hot, turn heat down and retry. Keke should cook slowly (take around 2 minutes each side to brown golden), but should rise to the top within a couple of seconds otherwise it's not hot enough and will absorb too much oil.
- Using your hand, scoop up a handful of batter and sqeeze out a golf ball size doughnut into the oil (see pictures). Continue until there's a single layer of keke in the oil. Turn with a long fork and allow to cook for around 2 minutes each side until golden brown. Remove from the oil with a slottted spoon and allow to drain. Test the first keke to ensure it is cooked through and adjust cooking time or heat for the rest.
Hand mix dough until well combined and smooth (around 2 minutes), squishing, scooping and stirring it. Yes it’s messy fun and yes you can use a spoon or an electric mixer if you like. The dough will become very sticky and slightly elastic and be the consistency of a very thick batter.
Cover & leave the dough to rise (1-1&1/2 hrs) then release gas by scooping dough and hand mixing it gently. Then allow to rest while you heat the oil.
Heat oil for around 15-20 mins, then reduce heat to medium and test to see it is ready with one keke to start with. A heavy pot or dutch oven is ideal for deep frying and you can use a deep fryer if you like but a pot is ideal because it has a greater surface area for the keke to cook in.
Scoop dough into your hand and squeeze out golf ball size keke into the oil. A small bowl of water to dip your hands into will help you manage the sticky batter better. The keke will rise whilst cooking and just remember that any ‘bigger’ sized keke need a bit more cooking as it will take longer to cook through to the centre.
Cook doughnuts for around 4-5 minutes per batch until it turns a golden colour.
Test the first doughnut to ensure it is cooked through and adjust cooking time and/or heat if required.
Keke should look fluffy when cooked through and slightly ‘springy’ when pressed. If it is ‘sticky’ then the oil maybe too hot so that the outside is browning too quickly while the inside is not yet cooked. Reduce heat and retry aiming to cook the doughnuts for around 4-5 minutes each batch. On the other hand if the oil is not hot enough, the keke will absorb too much oil and become very greasy. A little trial and error with your first batch will help you get it right.
But once you’ve learnt how to do, it really is just ‘a bit of flour, sugar, yeast and water, mixed together and cooked in a pot of oil’ just like your aunty told you.
These are so worth it. Add this recipe to your island food repertoire.