A little known secret of traditional Afrikaans cooking and recipes is that the majority of it is “borrowed” from other cultures. Most of the dishes we have come to associate with Afrikaans (and therefore South African) food was created by the Cape Malay slaves. Whilst working as cleaners and cooks in the kitchens of Dutch and French settlers in the Cape the Malay would create dishes and recipes that were so loved that they’ve endured to this day. Examples of such dishes include bobotie, sosaties and chutney. The sweet and sour nature of South African cuisine comes directly from the Malaysian influences the slaves brought with them when settled in Africa.
Koeksisters are also a creation of Cape Malay cooking. The name ‘Koeksister’ originally comes from the Dutch word “koekje” which means “cookie” (the English word cookie itself also comes from this word). They were originally round and dumpling like in shape. It was later changed into the braided variety we know today by Afrikaans folk. They’re traditionally soaked in syrup but can be coated in coconut. Enjoyed on their own or with a dessert. We used to serve them with Cappuccino semifreddo at the Westcliff Hotel where I used to work.
For the syrup:
500ml (2 cups) water
2 pieces fresh green ginger (each 5cm), peeled and crushed
2ml (1/2 teaspoon) cream of tartar
Pinch of salt
Grated rind and juice of 1/2 lemon
For the dough:
2ml (1/2 teaspoon) salt
30ml (2 tablespoons) baking powder
55g butter, grated
250-375ml (1 to 1&1/2 cups) milk or water
To make the syrup, put all the ingredients in a saucepan. Heat (stirring) until the sugar has completely dissolved. Cover the mixture and boil for 1 minute. Remove the saucepan lid and boil the syrup for a further 5 minutes, but do not stir it. Remove the syrup from the stove and allow it to cool for at least 2 hours in a refrigerator, or overnight.
To make the dough, sieve together the dry ingredients and rub in the grated butter with your fingertips, or cut it in with a pastry cutter. Beat the egg, add 250ml (1 cup) of the milk or water and mix lightly with the dry ingredients to a soft dough. Add more milk or water if the dough is too stiff. Knead well until small bubbles form under the surface of the dough. Cover with a damp cloth and allow to stand for 30 minutes –1 hour.
Roll out the dough to a thickness of 1 cm, then form koeksisters in either of the following ways:
Cut strips 1 cm wide and plait 3 strips together, cutting the twisted, or plaited lengths at 8cm intervals and pinching the ends together.
Alternatively, cut the dough into 8cm x 4cm pieces. Cut 2 vertical slits in each piece, reaching to 1cm from the end. Plait the 3 strips that have been formed and pinch together the loose ends.
Heat 7-8cm deep oil to 180-190°C – a cube of bread should turn golden-brown in a minute. Fry the koeksisters for 1-2 minutes, or until golden-brown, then turn them over with a fork and fry until golden-brown on the other side.
Remove the koeksisters with a lifter or slotted spoon, drain them for a moment on paper towel and then plunge them into the cold syrup for 1-2 minutes. Stand the container of syrup in a bowel of ice so that the syrup will stay cold. Remove the koeksisters from the syrup with a lifter or slotted spoon, allowing the excess syrup to flow back into the basin, then drain them slightly on a wire rack.