Recipe: Mali’s Gluten-free “Pancake Doughnuts” (Maasa)

A mosque in Timbuktu, photo by KaTeznik.

Sometimes waking up to pancakes just isn’t enough. Sometimes I want to travel to Africa all in a single morning – all the way to Timbuktu – and be home in time to take my daughter to the park. And then I want a doughnut.

Is that too much to ask?

I think not.

Enter our hero – today’s recipe for the eager stovetop traveler – Maasa.

Maasa is a special gift for our gluten-free stovetop travelers. (Hi, there. I hope you are hungry!)

Every once in a while I happen upon a recipe that is naturally gluten-free. First, there were the quesadillas from El Salvador (super yum and award-winning, by the way). This week we’re going gluten-free with Maasa – a sweet treat from Mali made with rice flour and millet flour, the two most common grains in the region.

Maasa is served fresh from roadside stands, hot from shimmering oil and blanketed in a cozy layer of powdered sugar. One bite in, and you’ll see why I couldn’t settle on a name; this is a yeasty, pancakey, biscuity, doughnuty treat – crispy on on the outside and doughy on the inside.

Which, of course, means I made enough for a party:

Makes 12-18, depending on size


1/2 cup whole milk plus about 1 1/2 cups
1/4 cup boiling water
2 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp active dry yeast
2 cups millet flour
2 cups brown rice flour
1 Tbsp baking powder

vegetable oil, for frying
Garnish with a generous dusting of confectioner’s sugar


So what do you say? Shall we visit Timbuktu while we cook?

We can get there with a wish (and a little elbow grease in the kitchen).

Timbuktu, photo by upyernoz

First, add boiling water to 1/2 cup milk. Then add in the sugar and yeast. Set aside for a few minutes until frothy.

Next, whisk together millet flour, brown rice flour, and baking powder. Feel the “gluten-freeness” overwhelm you (thanks Joy the Baker for that expression in her podcast with Shauna James Ahern (a.k.a. Gluten-Free Girl) – so fun!)

Now, combine the yeasty milk mixture with the flour mixture. Add the remaining 1 1/2 cups milk, a little at a time, stopping when you reach a thick batter. Now, let the batter sit in a cozy, warm spot… covered … for about 30-45 minutes. Meanwhile, take a walk through the streets of Timbuktu.

Street in Timbuktu. Photo by upyernoz from haverford, USA.

If you get tired, have a seat and play some checkers.

A game of checkers, photo by upyernoz

When you get home, the batter will be fluffy and bubbly and grand.

Perfect! It’s time…let’s make some “pancake doughnuts”! Pan fry the Maasa by the spoonful in a thin layer (about 1/8″)  of hot oil until golden brown. This is almost too much oil, as the batter is very absorbent.

Turn once. Try not to dive into the deliciousness… not yet!

Drain the crispy-on-the-outside-soft-on-the-inside Maasa on paper towels and dust with a heavy coating of powdered sugar.

Eat immediately with a few dear friends…… people with whom you wouldn’t mind going to Timbuktu and back.

Photos by KaTeznik

P.S. Safe travels, my globetrotting dreamers.

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  1. My Dad should have sent us to TimbuKtu…I love these pancakes!!

  2. That film”visit Timbuktu while we cook” is fascinating…The libraries are amazing….I want to go…
    Did you hear the 500 year old recipe for toothpaste?

  3. Just saw this video about traveling to Timbuktu and it made me think of you! Cannot wait to try the pancake doughnuts!!

  4. Brian S. says:

    I met a 100 year old man in Timbuctu. Well maybe closer to 80 but still… He spoke French and I was thrilled because of the fascinating tales he would tell me. So I asked him if things had changed since he was a boy. Oh yes, he said. His eyes lit up. “The prices! You could buy a whole meal for less than the price of a tomato today.” And that was all the stories I got.

  5. Looks a little like funnel cakes, which is a very good thing! Can you imagine living in a country where one of their staples is something like funnel cakes?!

  6. You just gave me a great idea to use up my rice flour. I bought some a few weeks ago and baked a cake (the only one I could find with large amounts of rice flour in it) with it and asked my readers to suggest ways to bake/cook with rice flour (other than using it to make noodels or as a thickening agent). Now I have your suggestion, thanks. These look and sound delicious!

  7. Victor Lee says:


    am surprised by existence of Timbuktu! Awesome post Sasha!

    By the way, where do you buy your cooking ingredients in Mali? How are the prices there in Mali? like the flour, baking powder, etc.

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Thanks Victor :) I’m actually in Tulsa, Oklahoma travelling via “Stove top” to each country in the world… it’s a fun journey for the imagination, although I wish I could visit these various countries, including Mali.

      • Yatimme Dolo says:

        My African name is Yatimme Dolo.
        My parents were missionaries in Mali.
        I am making your recipe right now and am looking forward to it.
        I grew up with the Dogon and went to Timbuktu. I love the flavors of the
        Malian food.

  8. looking forward to making this, i have 4 gluten free sisters!

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