Baking at Altitude in Addis Ababa

Baking in Addis Ababa

On arriving at an Addis Ababa party with offerings of home baked food, you’ll generally be asked one of two things (most likely you’ll be asked both): “How did you find baking at altitude” and “where did you find all of the ingredients”?

In line with these questions, there are a couple of well-known facts in Addis – both altitude and ingredients play havoc with baking. You can’t do a lot about either, other than to persevere or to just stop trying and buy from a bakery that has solved the challenges for you (see below)!

For the fans of persevering, here’s the science behind baking altitude…

From 1,000+ metres, the low air pressure means your bake will rise more easily, and lose any moisture it has far more quickly (as water boils at a lower temperature at high altitude – who knew?!). As if this wasn’t enough, air in your bake can collect into large pockets resulting in a funny texture, or reach such a high pressure that cell walls stretch and burst, making a crater like cake. Really, it’s a minefield!

By amending your baking times, or ingredient quantities, you can overcome all of these issues, it just needs a little (read a lot) of trial and error.

Then comes your second challenge – ingredients. I continue to maintain that you can get pretty much everything you need in Addis Ababa; depending on what it is, it just might take a bit of hunting (that time you saw marshmallows and Lindt Chocolate on sale… it’ll be another four months before they’re imported again) and quality varies (so much so, that on trips home, you hear of expats returning with butter, chocolate chips, cheese and sugar… all of the usual customs suspects!).

Why do people do this? Well, in Ethiopia butter doesn’t taste of much, eggs are miniature (literally laid for The Borrower family) and sugar particles are so big, you’re first ever cake baking attempt will come complete with crystals caverns in it.

As an eternal optimist however, these challenges are fun to overcome (including power cuts mid-bake), and if you choose to be in the perseverance camp, you’ll likely also feel incredibly proud of yourself if you manage to take an offering to any party that is edible and looks vaguely like anything you’re pretending it is!

Whilst not really proper ‘bakes’ (I’m an optimist, not a real Addis baker!) these few recipes have been tried and tested, and you can often get hold all of the ingredients…

Chewy Sultana Cookies from Deliciously Ella

Instant Chocolate Mousse from Nigella Lawson

Katie’s Cheese Straws, courtesy of the Gill family: Rub 42 grams butter into 85 grams plain flour so that it looks like breadcrumbs and then add 55 grams grated cheese, salt and plenty of pepper. Mix in ½ an egg yolk (one yolk if you’re using mini Habesha eggs) and 1 tablespoon of water to bring the mix together into a ball. Add more water as necessary. Chill for 30 minutes, and then roll out, cut into strips and twist. Cook at 180 C for between 20-30 minutes. You can add chilli flakes if you like, and play around with different cheeses…half feta half Gouda works well.

For the less optimistic reader…you’ll find wonderful cakes and bread at Mulmul Bakery, Five Loaves Cafe, Munch German Bakery and for a real treat, the Sheraton Bakery.


Written by Adam Fenton