May 13, 2010

Koeksisters (South African Deep Fried And Sugar Coated Pastry Braids)

Koeksisters are a South African pastry that’s deep-fried and then dipped in spiced sugar syrup. Somewhat reminiscent of doughnuts, koeksisters are made by twisting/ braiding either 2 or 3 small strips of dough, deep frying them and dipping them in a ginger and cinnamon spiced sugar syrup.
It seems of the two versions of the koeksister, the Afrikaner version is crisper, syrupy and usually braided while the Cape Malay version is softer and cake-like, spicier and rolled in coconut.

According to Jeanne (she’s South African and her blog is called Cook Sister), the name koeksister or koeksuster (pronounced cook sister) comes from the Dutch “koek” or cake and “sissen” or sizzle. She says the sizzle part of the name might be from it being a deep fried pastry, but I think it could also be from the slight sizzling sound that comes when you dip the hot pastry in the chilled sugar syrup.

I first came across koeksisters in an article which mentions Nelson Mandela eating Mrs Verwoerd's koeksisters. This new and interestingly twisted preparation caught my attention as much as the mention of Nelson Mandela.

I spent my senior school and university years in Nigeria, so hearing and reading about the apartheid in South Africa was a daily affair. I have always admired Nelson Mandela more especially because he showed us, at much personal cost, that in today’s world peace and perseverance can achieve freedom.

Getting back to koeksisters, I found a lot of different recipes online and as is the case with many traditional recipes I’m not sure there is an “authentic” recipe for these. If anyone does know of one, please point me to it.

Many of the recipes used eggs, though I found a couple that didn’t. Many of them seemed to use a lot of baking powder, up to 2 tbsps! I couldn’t find the cream of tartar used for the sugar syrup, so left that out.
So I made some adjustments to the quantities of some ingredients, but otherwise stayed true to the spirit of the recipes.

I made the Afrikaner version which is the crispy variety of koeksisters. The trick to this is to move the hot koeksisters to the chilled sugar syrup as soon as possible. It is very important to keep the sugar syrup chilled. Once the sugar syrup warms up, the koeksisters will not become crunchy, but become softer which is more like the Cape Malay variety.


For the dough:

2 cups cake flour

2 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

25 gm butter, chilled and cut into pieces

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup water

1 tsp lemon juice

For the sugar syrup:

2 cups sugar

1 cup water

2 pieces (3/4” each) fresh ginger

a pinch of salt

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 stick cinnamon

Oil for deep frying koeksisters


First make the syrup.
Break the cinnamon stick into 2 and out it into a pan. Crush the ginger pieces and add to the pan. Now add the remaining ingredients for the sugar syrup in a pan. Place it on medium heat, and keep stirring till all the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil, then cover with the lid and let it boil for a minute.

Uncover, turn down the heat and allow to simmer for 5 minutes and take it off the heat. Cool the syrup and chill in the fridge for at least 6 to 8 hours, preferably overnight. The sugar syrup must be ice cold when ready to use. Remove the cinnamon and ginger pieces before using syrup.

Now make the dough.
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together and rub the butter into the mixture, till it resembles breadcrumbs.

Add the milk, water and lemon juice to this and knead till the dough is very soft and elastic but not sticky. You should be able to roll it out easily.
Cover the dough with plastic wrap and allow it to rest for about 2 to 3 hours, or even overnight in the refrigerator.

I would suggest watching this video on making koeksisters before proceeding further.

To make the koeksisters, roll out the dough to about a little less than 1/4” thickness. Cut out strips about 5” long and a little under 1/2” wide. You can decide how long or short you want the strips to be depending on what length you want to make your koeksisters.
Braid 3 strips together pinching both ends together very well, or they will unravel while being fried. Repeat with all the strips of dough.

Heat the oil over medium heat until quite warm but not too hot. If the oil is too hot, the koeksisters will be brown on the outside, but raw on the inside. When the oil is at the correct temperature, it will take 10 seconds for a piece of dough to pop to the surface after it has been dropped into the oil.

Keep the chilled sugar syrup ready. To ensure that the syrup doesn’t get warm, you may place it in a bowl of ice, or take out only half the syrup out of the refrigerator. When this gets warm, use the other half.

Drop the braided dough, about 4 at a time into the oil and fry them till they’re brown on both sides and done. Remove 2 at a time, with a slotted spoon and drop them straight into the sugar syrup keeping them submerged in the syrup. Keep them in the syrup till they’ve soaked through.

Remove them from the syrup and place on a wire rack allowing the excess syrup to drip onto a plate below.

The koeksisters can be stored in the refrigerator is not serving immediately, to retain their crispness.
This recipe makes about 15 to 18 koeksisters.

These crunchy little sweet braids were an absolute hit here. The idea of a deep fried pastry dipped in spiced sugar syrup seems very Middle Eastern in origin to me. This dessert also seems remarkable like the north Indian sweet Balushahi, to me, in texture and the way in which it is made.

Meeta is taking us all to South Africa this May for her monthly mingle. I am being a bit fashionably late for her party and am hoping that being the gracious lady she is, she will let me in, especially when she sees these koeksisters.

P.S. My cookbook giveaway is open till the 20th of this month. Have you entered yet?


Jamie said...

Aparna, these are gorgeous! And without yeast? Wow! I have to try this South African version of what we Americans would call crullers which I love! Brilliant!

Ivy said...

Wow, these look perfect Aparna but unfortunately for me have to stick to my diet.

MeetaK said...

As I told you sweetie, we are grounded due to volcanic ash. But surprise of all surprises we can now take off for SA loaded with all this food. This looks gorgeous and I hope you made plenty to go around! Thanks for joining the MM!

Asha said...

fried bread, who doesn't like it? Looks festive and tasty.

Shabs.. said...

Oh, that looks good.....i dint know they were pronouced as cook sister!....saw this recipe in Mrs kf varugese book and dint know how it even looked...ur pics are so nice, just tempting me enough to make it...thx for teh tips aparna.

Marisa said...

Your koeksusters look absolutely perfect - large and crispy, just the way I like 'em!

Avanika [YumsiliciousBakes] said...

These look interestingly good :) Though I must thank you for giving us the pronunciation, I read it veryy differently :P :P

Priti said...

Looks too gud...crispy and shinny.gr8

Junglefrog said...

That looks beautiful! I always find those names which totally sound Dutch in my ears to incredibly funny. And they look gorgeous too!

Manggy said...

Those look as pretty as any koeksisters I've ever seen. Unfortunately I don't have a recipe I'm sure is authentic - I only have Nick Malgieri's version, and he's obviously not African :) said...

These little donuts look lovely and delicious.Beautiful presensation nicely clicked.

Ann said...

OMG! what a fantastic recipe, looks like crullers to me. Love the presentation.

Jessica said...

These look so delicious! Thanks for the tip about keeping the syrup cooled...I wouldn't have known that.

jayasri said...

wow, they look beautiful, they look so tempting.., I do want to try this out!! good click too..I thought the monthly mingle was closed on 10th may!!, I too wanted to participate..

Jeanne @ CookSister! said...

Yaaaay, somebody made koeksisters! Yours look absolutely perfect, Aparna - drooling at the thought of their crispy, syrupy goodness :)

Veggie Belly said...

Youve braided these perfectly! Just gorgeous!

aquadaze said...

Gosh these look lovely!

Deeba PAB said...

Awesome braids and beautiful post Aparna. Love that you are fashionably late for Meeta's party! I missed it coz the PC ate up all my pictures! I love your pictures; they are lovely, like the perfect braids! Another recipe bookmarked; it's very charming!

ButterYum said...

wow, your braids are perfection! i'll be bookmarking this one!


M D said...

Hi Aparna,

I came here to ur site a few days ago, but had to leave since I was winding up for the day. I am back today, having spent hours over your blog, reading almost every post, with admiration to ur pics, recipes, desserts and write ups. They are beautiful! What I best love is that your blog is very similar to my tastes. With recipes that use familiar ingredients and alternatives to suit our Indian markets, I would love to be a regular at ur site.

These African braids look great. Loved the perfect braids and glazed look on them.

pigpigscorner said...

They look so beautifully glazed!

M. said...

these are beautifully looking treat...I bet they taste as good as they look :)

Joudie's Mood Food said...

Wow these look incredible. I cant wait to try this. I love dough, frying doug, syrup, everything about this sounds like its right up my street. Will let you know how it goes.... Thanks for the post..

Curry Leaf said...

I too made deep fried yeasty bread pieces -vetkoek- similar to this but savoury. These are next on my list.Love the gorgeous clicks Aparna

Zara said...

Hi Aparna, your koeksisters look so tempting, I bet they are super yummi - the same as they look! btw - ... lovely crocheted serviette! :)

zlamushka said...

Hi Aparna, so happy to be hear - its been a while. Love your header and the pickies of this lovely pastry bread :-)

Tenina said...

THese look stunning...thought they would have yeast in them, but so interesting...on my list!

Dominique said...

I grew up on the Cape Flats, where early on a Sun morning my mother sent us down the road with a plastic container to the old Islamic Lady Suraya. She made fantastic Koeksisters,the best! People would line up containers in hand and if you were'nt there by 7 youd leave empty handed. Suraya would be delegating in Kitchen Dutch while deep frying . I dont recognise or see how you could call that koeksisters. The original koeksiester are oblong, glazed with syrup (orange peel added to it) and are coated with coconut. Dissappointing to see how the orginal recipe has changed.

Rajani said...

this looks soooo perfect!!!! i have never seen such perfect looking braids :) i'd love to take a bite right away!

Casey Angelova said...

What fantastic koeksisters. If I have learned anything during this mingle, it is that these fried pastries are the national sweet treat of S. Africa. When I visit S. Africa, I will be sure to sample as many as possible.
My blog celebrated Africa Day with a collection of recipes from across the continent. I would love your thoughts.

Aparna said...

Thank everyone, for all your lovely comments here.

Have to check out crullers too, Jamie.

True Ivy. As delicious as these are, they're not the thing if you're on a diet. :(

Thank you, Meeta.

Didn't know Mrs. Varughese's book had these, Shabs.

Thanks Marisa.

I think I know, Avanika. LOL

Yes Simone and some of the funniest sounding foods have been the best, I've found.

No he isn't, Mark! :)

Thank you Jeanne. Its comforting that you think I got it right, since you would know. :)

That's awful, Deeba. Hope your PC recovers from its "hungry" ohase soon. :D

Thank you very much, M D.

Haven't met someone who didn't like fried dough either. Yes, do let me know how it goes.

Haven't heard of vetkoek, Sweatha. Must check that out.

Dominique, I'm not sure what the original koeksisters are like since I do not know too much about South African cuisine.
I made these from a recipe, which like many others I saw, say that one type of koeksisters are made this way.
A lot of South Africans also tell me that these are koeksisters.
Perhaps yours is the Cape Malay version?
I understand that they are oblong, flavoured with orange rind and coated with coconut.

Have fun in South Africa, Casey.

Wanda said...

Fantastic koeksisters. They look perfect.

Gineya Adams said...

Hey,thank you sooooo much for sharing this recipe. The end product looks absolutely scrumptious and beautiful (but that's no surprise since it's you that made them). I am so happy you posted this. I have a ridiculous sweet tooth and can't wait to try them. Thank you thank you thank you!