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Koeksisters: A Taste of South African Sweetness

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May 31, 2014 / African / By
Nicola

 

When you think of traditional African food, you probably think of maize or meat based dishes such as pap or babotie, which are served as main meals. After all, in a region where money isn't always easy to come by, poor families need to make the most basic ingredients go far, so there isn't much room for embellishment or extra courses. However, there is one traditional South African sweet treat: the koeksister!

The word 'koeksister' (or 'koe'sister') comes from 'koekje'. This is the Dutch word for 'cookie', and stems from the fact that the Dutch settlers came over in the 17th Century, developing into the Afrikaans culture and language that we know today. Despite all of this, koeksisters are quite different from the biscuit-like cookies that we are familiar with in the Western world. Koeksisters are essentially deep-fried plaits of doughnut dough which are covered in syrup. There is another Cape Malay version which is usually much spicier and has a coconut twist, but in my opinion, when it comes to koeksisters, the sweeter the better!

You probably won't see koeksisters on the menu in restaurants in South Africa unless you search far and wide. It is much more common for them to be made at home and sold at fêtes or events put on by schools or churches, where they are very popular. They can be bought from some grocery shops, but as fresh is best, here's an example of just one recipe which you could use to make some koeksisters with your own fair hands.

To make the syrup, mix 1 cup of water with around 4 cups of sugar, 2 teaspoons of cream of tartar and 1 teaspoon of lemon juice. You can also add a teaspoon of flavouring at this point such as ginger, orange rind, vanilla essence or cinnamon, if you wish. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally. After 10 minutes, remove it from the heat, leave it to cool, then move it to the fridge. Your koeksisters will turn out best if you can prepare this syrup the day before you need it.

For the batter, mix 500g of flour (around 300g of this should be self-raising; conrnflour is fine for the rest) with 1 tablespoon of baking powder and the same amount of sugar. Rub in 100g of butter. Beat an egg and mix it with a cup of milk, then pour this wet mixture into the dry mix. Knead the dough thoroughly, then wrap it in clingfilm and leave it in the fridge to chill for an hour. When it is ready, roll it out until it is just less than 1cm thick. Cut the dough into strips which are 10cm long and a couple of centimetres wide, then cut two long slits down the length of each strip. Plait the three strands, and make sure that the ends are pressed firmly together.

Your koeksisters are almost ready! Heat up a pan of oil until it is very hot, so that you can deep fry the dough. Carefully place each plaited koeksister in the hot oil, and cook until golden. Remove the koeksisters from the oil using a slotted spoon in order to drain off as much oil as possible, then while they're still hot, place them straight into the cold syrup. This should make them nice and crispy on the outside, and deliciously soft and gooey on the inside. Perfect!

Finally, all you have to do is allow them to cool properly, then eat and enjoy! Koeksisters are quite tricky things to get right, but once you've mastered the art, they are amazing. Practise them until they're perfect, and make them exactly to your tastes, then enjoy some traditional South African sticky, gooey, syrupy deliciousness!

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