Earlier this month when I was challenged to cook for South African rugby players the nerves set in and to be honest I grabbed the phone and called my mother. Living in the UK for nearly 20 years I must admit that traditional South African recipes are not as prominent in my culinary repertoire as one would expect. The challenge was to make a tasty Bobotie (aromatically spiced lamb mince dish topped with egg) almost like a moussaka without the aubergines, Malva pudding (sticky toffee pudding without the dates) and then koeksisters.
I can hear the question already – what is a koeksister? When I started making these the team were enthusiastic and everyone asked what they are, I think they all just wanted a taster. To define something in a different language and also to describe it in comparison to what they would recognise challenged me slightly. The explanation is as follow. It’s a soft dough (including butter, flour, milk and raising agents) almost like a doughnut dough without yeast that is shaped in long spiral fingers, deep-fried till golden brown and crisp and immediately dunked in super ice cold acidulated spice infused sugar syrup. It’s best eaten after a few days and is traditionally served with tea in the afternoon. If you could make them small enough they could effectively make great petit-fours, but mine ended up a tad on the larger side.
I must say following mum’s advice and a recipe from my grandmother’s book with a few additions of my own, I was impressed with my efforts. Mum and I had a giggle whilst translating the recipe. We always get stuck on two ingredients and that is cream of tartar and citric acid, the translation causes us confusion. When she reads the recipes she always mixes the two up and after a panic and a hissyfit we always realise that she has given me the incorrect information. They are two completely different things, and in baking deliver different results. Well after a few disasters we have wised up to the errors we previously made, hence having a laugh this time round.
For this recipe you need both cream of tartar and citric acid. Cream of tartar is acidic however it also provides a creamy texture to the syrup, when the hot crispy fried koeksister is dunked into the cold syrup the cream of tartar will provide the creamy luxurious velvety texture to the syrup. The citric acid on the other hand prevents crystallization of the sugar syrup and provides the required acidity. Citric acid is also used for making elderflower cordial (acting as a preservative and preventing crystallization). If you do not have citric acid to hand use extra lemon juice instead.
Ingredients & Method
For the Syrup
- 1kg caster sugar
- 800ml cold water
- 4 tablespoons golden syrup
- Juice and zest of one lemon
- 30g fresh ginger, peeled and finely sliced
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 5 cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon citric acid
- 1/2 teaspoon tartaric acid
For the Dough
- 600g self-raising flour
- Pinch of salt
- Few gratings of nutmeg
- 2 heaped teaspoons baking powder
- 50g cold unsalted butter
- 375ml buttermilk
For the syrup: Place all the ingredients apart from the lemon juice in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stir to dissolve, once boiling stop stirring and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Simmer the syrup for 15 – 20 minutes, till the syrup has reduced by one third and becomes glossy, slightly thickened and the colour has changed slightly with a golden tinge. Add the lemon juice and cool the syrup over ice, best made one day in advance. Keep chilled. When you are ready to make dunk the koeksisters, pass the syrup through a fine sieve and chill over ice.
For the dough: Weigh the flour, salt, nutmeg, baking powder and cold butter into the bowl of a mixer, attach the paddle and mix to rub the butter into the flour until it represents fine breadcrumbs. Add the buttermilk bits at a time and mix well. Turn the soft dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and work the dough for 4-5 minutes till a smooth ball. Cover with clingfilm and leave to rest for 10 minutes. Divide the dough into 25 even size balls (if you are pedantic like me then weigh them into 40g balls). Roll each ball into a 20cm long, thin, even sausage and then fold the sausage in half and twist the two strands together, pinch the ends to seal them together. ** Do not use too much flour for the rolling as this will make the dough tough, dry and will foam when fried. ** Shape all the dough and place them on a baking tray, covering it lightly with clingfilm or a damp tea towel.
Heat a deep fat fryer filled with sunflower oil to 180 °C (follow manufacturer’s instructions), once the oil is hot then fry three at a time and fry each until golden brown for about 6 – 8 minutes, turn them occasionally for a even golden brown colour. Remember that you do want a deep golden brown colour and not a light colour. It’s got to be crispy and cooked all the way through. Once cooked and golden carefully transfer them to the ice cold syrup, leave them in the syrup for 5 minutes whilst continuing to fry the rest. Transfer the dunked koeksisters from the syrup to a tray. Once all the dough is cooked and dunked pour the remaining syrup over the koeksisters. Its recommended to keep them in a single layer. Keep refrigerated till needed.
Always make the syrup first, even a day in advance, and ensure it’s very cold, refrigerated and keep it over ice while frying the koeksisters.
Divide the syrup in two and alternate keeping it as cold as possible for the entire cooking and dunking time of the koeksisters.
Even though you might feel that the quantity of raising agent is a bit too much for your liking please do not alter the recipe, it is correct and will result into a light koeksister – the dough can easily become tough and heavy.
Leave the dough to rest for 10 minutes before starting to shape them.
Once cooked and dunked let them rest for one day – if you can resist temptation!
The cooked and dunked koeksisters will keep for up to 7 days in the fridge and even freeze well.