I have been making koeksisters – a traditional South African pastry – for the McGregor Market for going on five years. I started doing it on the back of the suggestion of another stall holder; I had last made koeksisters in the early 1990’s. I remembered them as being enormous and for the current anti-sugar generation, far too big. Essentially they are a pastry that is dipped into a sugar syrup and left to infuse so that the more syruppy, the better.
There are two types of koeksisters in South Africa; both are a sweet, deep-fried confectionary. One has Malay roots and is traditional in the “coloured” community and are rather like a spicy doughnut that is rolled in coconut and are colloquially known as”koe’sisters”. The ones that I make have Dutch roots and are traditional Afrikaans fayre. Of course, for a rooinek* to make them and to sell them at the McGregor market in the shadow of the Dutch Reformed Church is one thing, but to be told by ‘n regte, egter ** boer or “coloured” that they are “delish!” is a source of some pride!
I did a bit of research as I was perfecting my product, and one of the things that I learned is that there is no such thing as a “koeksuster”. Every search engine I used, chucked up “koeksister”. So, the literal translation of the name cannot be “cake sister” – a common misconception. The Afrikaans word for “sister”, one’s fraternal female sibling, is “suster”. Rather, the “sis” is alliterative¹: omdat hulle so ‘siss’ as hulle in die warm vet en koue stroop gesit is***
The recipe (below) that I use comes from a book given to mem, nearly 30 years ago, in a past life. It was also the first South African cookery book I had ever had. A few years ago, I was looking for a do-it-all local book for a friend and discovered that it was still in print! What a delight to find my basic South African culinary Bible – the perfect gift for that occasion.
I have, of course, made a few minor (I suppose that depends on perspective) adjustments, i.e. butter instead of margarine, slices of fresh ginger and whole cinnamon instead of the ground-up stuff. These last go in with all the syrup ingredients – right at the beginning.
Here are my other tips for making good koeksisters:
- Make the syrup first. Do not stir – if you over stir it, the sugar crystallises and your koeksisters will be dry. Not good. Added to that, surplus koeksisters should be kept in the fridge or frozen. The syrup will crystalise with time, so you don’t want it doing that ahead of schedule.
- You cannot make koeksisters in a hurry: the dough must rest. In an oiled bowl.
- And when “they” say the longer it rests, the better, they’re absolutely right. I used to try to make the syrup and the dough the night before, but I don’t get that right any more, but still, the colder the better. Leave the dough to rest in the fridge.
I’m generally not happy with my koeksisters if I make them in the nearly 40°C (100°F) of a McGregor summer’s day: the dough gets soft and is really difficult to work with.
- The long rest also means that you don’t have to rush to cut and plait them – take your time. It doesn’t matter if they dry out a little… Each square is about 4cm x 4,5 to 5cm.
Other than the resting, during which you can do something else, this is the longest part of the job – can take about an hour.
- As a rule of thumb, I roll out the dough, on an oiled surface, to about 1cm thick.
- When it comes to the frying, I don’t have a cooking thermometer, so my test to tell that the oil is the right, is the handle of a wooden spoon. If the oil sizzles around it, I’m good to go.
- The same cold rule for the dough applies to the syrup. Keep it in the fridge until you’re absolutely sure that you’re ready to use it. At this stage, the oil is ready before the syrup comes out of the fridge and the kitchen island is covered with perfectly plaited koeksistertjies.
- Keep the syrup cold by resting the pot in a bath of iced water – it heats up from two things – being close to the stove as well as from the heat of the freshly fried koeksisters.
- Cook only three or four at a time. As soon as they come out of the hot oil, plunge them into the ice cold syrup so that they s-s-suck in all that sweetness. Place them in a plastic container and allow to cool.
Once you’ve fried all the koeksisters, you’re likely to have syrup left. Pour that (with the cinnamon sticks and ginger slices) over the pile that you have made so that they stay moist.
Seal them into the container to store, once they’ve cooled, put them in the fridge or a chiller – the cooler the better. In an ordinary fridge, they do lose their crispness, but their flavour improves as the cinnamon and ginger syrup percolates into them.
Koeksisters last well – for as much as a month – because the sugar is a natural preservative – as are both the ginger and cinnamon.
* literal translation is red-neck and is the derogatory termfor the pith-helmeted English soldiers whose necks would get sunburnt duringthe Anglo-Boer war (http://www.urbandictionary.com/)
** real, proper
***because they sizzle when they’re placed into the hot oil and the icy syrup
Updated from the original 2015 post on https://fionasfavourites.net/
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Until next time Fiona The Sandbag House McGregor, South Africa
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