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. 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 vet en stroop gesit is***
The recipe that I use comes from a book given to me more than 20 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.
- Make the syrup first. Stir it as little as possible – if you over stir it, the sugar crystallises and your koeksisters will be dry. Not good.
- 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 usually make the syrup and the dough the night before.
- As a rule of thumb, I roll out the dough, on an oiled surface, to about 1cm thick.
- 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.
- Also, 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Store them, once they’ve cooled, in the fridge. They do lose their crispness, but their flavour improves as the cinnamon and ginger syrup percolates into them.
- They 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 term for the pith-helmeted English soldiers whose necks would get sunburnt during the Anglo-Boer war (http://www.urbandictionary.com/)
** real, proper
***because they sizzle when they’re placed in the oil and the syrup
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