My glorious Citizens! I am beyond overjoyed to see that you have chosen to walk with Me on this journey to explore some of My most-favored recipes from the African continent – today we descend from Mozambique to the Southern tip, aka the proud country of South Africa! South African desserts are near and dear to My heart, as they are typically rich, sweet and delicious – and koeksisters are no exception! As the Master to the tyro, I shall now educate you on this very topic – and YES this does look just like deep-fried Jewish challah bread, though it is FAR sweeter! 🙂
Koeksisters are a traditional Afrikaner confectionery made of fried dough infused in syrup or honey, which is sometimes spiced. The name derives from the Dutch word ‘koek’, which generally means a wheat flour confectionery, and is also the origin of the American English word ‘cookie’, and ‘sister’ can refer to the oral tradition of two sisters plaiting their doughnuts and then dunking them in syrup, thus creating this iconic pastry. ‘Sis’ can also refer to the sizzling sound made during frying.
In a similar fashion to My post last week, koeksisters are far more of a European recipe than an African one in terms of both ingredients and techniques – it would not be out-of-place in a British or Dutch kitchen, for example. As we progress deeper into our African recipe odyssey, we will indeed be seeing the glory of true local cooking and ingredients – I urge TFD Nation to be patient, there are several more quote/unquote geographically-authentic recipes to come in the next week or two!
Koeksisters are prepared by frying plaited dough strips in oil, then submersing the hot fried dough into ice-cold sugar syrup. Koeksisters have a golden crunchy crust and liquid syrup centre, are very sticky and sweet, and taste like honey. A monument of a koeksister in the Afrikaner community of Orania alludes to the Afrikaner tradition of baking them to raise funds for the building of churches and schools.
This truly is a European recipe plunked verbatim into the African continent, but with profound meaning to South Africans! As most eruditely noted on dailydish.co.za:
For many South Africans, tea time isn’t complete without a sweet treat on the side and koeksisters are one of the most popular. Directly translated from Afrikaans, it means cake sister, though it resembles a doughnut far more than a cake. This plaited doughnut is literally dripping in sticky syrupy goodness and will leave you with sticky fingers for the rest of the day.
Dough braids are fried in hot oil and then plunged into ice-cold syrup to obtain their characteristic taste and texture – the outside is golden and crispy, and the inside is soft and oozes syrup. Definitely not for the poor souls on diet, you know this is something you have to have in moderation but sometimes it is too hard to resist.
The koeksister’s origins are not exactly clear, but it is generally believed to have originated from a recipe brought to the Cape by Dutch settlers in the 17th century. Koeksisters are not to be confused with the closely named but distinctly different Cape Malay treat koesisters, of Malay/Indonesian origin. These are more cake-like than koeksisters, slightly spicy, covered in coconut with a dumpling shape.
Just like the manner of their intertwined-ness structure, koeksisters are closely intertwined with the identity and heritage of Afrikaans South Africans. They have been lovingly made from family recipes for years, not only to be enjoyed at home, but for markets and bake sales as fundraising for churches, schools and orphanages.
The koeksister became a symbol of forgiveness and reconciliation in Orania in 1995. Nelson Mandela traveled here soon after he became President to have afternoon tea with Mrs. Betsie Verwoerd, the widow of the former Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd. It was under Verwoerd’s leadership that Mandela was imprisoned, and he implemented many major racist policies that expanded the apartheid system.
And what sweet treat did Mrs. Verwoerd, a self-respecting Afrikaans lady, serve with tea that afternoon? Koeksisters, of course. This humble plate of koeksisters they shared showed that Mandela wasn’t simply speaking about reconciliation and forgiveness, but actually acting on it. This monumental and symbolic occasion is recollected in the book Hunger for Freedom: The Story of Food in the Life of Nelson Mandela.
Food historians believe that two recipes were brought to South Africa by Dutch settlers from the Netherlands in 1652. One was for a deep-fried treat similar to a doughnut; the other was for a thin, sweet bowtie-like invention made out of pasta dough. Eventually, someone combined the two recipes by using the doughnut recipe, but instead of little balls, started braiding them. This sparked quite a craze and everyone started baking them across the country.
However, now another problem arose: what to call it? It wasn’t uncommon for names like “mieliemeel dough-nuts” and “krullers kosieters” to pop up in cookbooks. This caused a lot of confusion, so in the 18th Century the name was officially changed to “koeksusters”. In the 20th Century the name was again changed to “koeksisters”, which is now the name they are known by.
Koeksisters are a delectable treat that – while not hard to make – do require some advance thought due to the need for the soaking syrup to be ICE-COLD. The recipe will not be successful unless that syrup is as “cold as a witches teat”, to quote a very old aphorism indeed from the Salem Witch Trials (TFD is feeling His age today). As such, this recipe must be started one day in advance to chill both the spiced sugar syrup and the dough – TFD does include His usual spicing sorcery in all of this!
To increase the flavor complexity of the syrup beyond just tooth-numbingly sweet, My version of the soaking syrup uses not just white sugar, but also Lyle’s Golden Syrup (a classic sweetener in British baking, it gives a more ’rounded’ sweet flavor profile). To provide a scalpel-like acidic flavor edge to counter that sweetness, I also use not just lemon juice, but also lemon essence, tartaric acid and even a hint of fresh lime juice for more complexity in the tart portion of the final flavor profile.
To add an extra shine to my koeksisters, I like to add a touch of food-grade glycerine to the ice-cold syrup right before dipping the koeksisters in – this is an optional step but I for one consider it a full-on necessity – you mileage may vary. 😀 Be advised that since this is a baking recipe where precision is not optional, I have kept the ingredients in Metric form – the actual recipe below has a button to convert Metric to Imperial (U.S.) measurements, never fear! Cream of Tartar, cake flour and buttermilk all contribute to an exceptionally tender koeksister – and tender is really what you want here!
Citizens, this delightful African recipe will assuredly become a beloved delight to enjoy with your next coffee or tea. I like Mine with a steaming cup of top-grade Japanese green tea, aka matcha – listen to My podcast about it with one of the top experts and sellers of Matcha in the United States here! A full list of all seven (as I write this) South African recipes exemplified here on TFD may be found at this link.
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
The Hirshon South African Deep-Fried Dough Twists in Citrus Syrup – Koeksisters
- 1000 ml white sugar
- 500 ml bottled still water
- 1 ml Kosher salt
- 10 ml golden syrup
- 1 ml tartaric acid
- 2 ml cream of tartar
- 7 ml fresh lemon juice
- 3 ml lemon essence
- 3 ml fresh lime juice (TFD addition, use lemon juice for traditional recipe)
- 1/2 Ceylon cinnamon stick
- 1/2 finely-chopped nutmeg (TFD addition – replace with the extra 1/2 of the Ceylon cinnamon stick for the traditional recipe)
- 3 allspice berries, bruised (TFD addition, omit for classic recipe)
- 3 cloves, bruised (TFD addition, omit for classic recipe)
- 1 small knob of ginger, peeled and sliced
- 1/2 tsp. glycerine (optional but recommended for extra shiny koeksisters)
- 500 ml cake flour
- 10 ml single-acting baking powder
- 3 ml Kosher salt
- 30 ml butter (TFD strongly prefers unsalted KerryGold brand Irish butter in this recipe)
- 1 small egg
- 75 ml whole milk
- 75 ml buttermilk
- corn or peanut oil for frying (TFD prefers corn oil in this recipe)
- Syrup: Place the sugar, water and salt into a pot and stir until the sugar dissolves and slowly bring to a boil. Boil for 8 minutes and remove from the heat and add all remaining ingredients except lemon essence and glycerine and mix well. Place in the fridge overnight.
- Strain out all the solids, then stir in the lemon essence the next day before using the syrup. Keep VERY cold in the fridge (or freezer!) until using.
- Sift the dry ingredients together. Rub the butter into the dry ingredients until it resembles breadcrumbs. Whisk the egg and milk together and add to the dry ingredients and mix to form a soft dough. Place in an airtight container overnight.
- Twisting the koeksisters – roll out the dough on a lightly-floured surface to a rectangular shape and about 0.5 cm thick. Cut lengthwise into strips about 4 cm wide and then crosswise into rectangles about 8 cm long. Keeping about 1 cm at the top end of each rectangle intact, cut it into three strips. Plait the strips very loosely to allow for rising while frying and press the ends together well to seal neatly. Set aside on a tray until all the plaits are made and cover with a damp cloth.
- Split the syrup into two containers, that way the other half stays cold in the fridge. Or put the container with syrup in a bowl with ice when you dip the koeksisters. Add the glycerine and divide the syrup into two bowls – use the first bowl until the syrup starts to warm up and then use the second bowl. Return the first bowl with syrup to the freezer to chill again.
- Pour enough oil into a medium sized saucepan to come 5 cm up the sides of the pan and heat the oil to moderately hot (170 º C). Fry the koeksisters a few at a time until golden on both sides. Lift out with a perforated spoon and place into the ice-cold syrup. Press down lightly for about 30 seconds and lift out with a fork or tongs. Take care not to use the same implements in the oil and syrup.
- Place onto a cooling rack set over a plate or tray to catch up the syrup that will drain off for it may be necessary to re-use it at the end. Repeat until all the koeksisters are fried and dipped. Let cool and dry for an hour before serving. Serve as a special treat for dessert or with tea or coffee.
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the syrup for this sounds delicious. when i eat something really sweet like this, i want it to be spiced and/or citrusy as well. i once had a moroccan sweet which was a fried dough twist, dipped after frying into a fragrant spiced syrup. it has haunted me for years…maybe i should make these koeksisters!
randomly noted, the phrase “colder than a witch’s tit/teat” is something older locals say where i live. it was probably preserved, like so many other linguistic flies in amber, from the elizabethan era english settlers’ speech to the present day by our relative isolation, until recent times, anyway. seeing it here made me smile.