Koeksisters are as unique to South Africans as glazed doughnuts are to Americans. This deep-fried pastry drenched in a sweet and sticky syrup is braided by hand and comes in various shapes and sizes. Our grannies and their grannies have been making this treat for decades and now koeksisters have become trendy once again. Hooray!
Traditional koeksisters are made with buttermilk but to give it some extra South African flair; we’ve replaced the buttermilk with Amasi instead. Both versions work well so feel free to use the one you prefer best.
Making these beautifully curvy pastries is an absolute labour of love but worth every minute spent patiently plaiting each strip of dough. The trick is to cool the sticky syrup ahead of time and have it waiting in the wings; ice cold and ready for the big fry-up. That, all Oumas say, is the secret to creating crisp koeksisters that have a tender centre oozing with syrup, as you bite through the crunchy shell.
Combine 800g white sugar, 500ml warm water, 5 tsp glycerine, ¼ tsp cream of tartar, ¼ tsp tartaric acid and 1 cinnamon stick in a pot over medium heat. Stir until the sugar has melted and bring it up to a simmer. Cook the syrup for 10 minutes, then transfer to a glass bowl, allow to cool and then place in the fridge. Make and cool the syrup at least 6 hours in advance or the night before.
Sift 310g self raising flour, a pinch of salt and a pinch of ground nutmeg together. Using your hands, rub in 30g soft butter into the flour mixture until it resembles the texture of coarse breadcrumbs.
Using a wooden spoon, stir in 250ml Amasi. Once the dough starts to come together, turn it out onto a clean surface and bring the dough together with your hands.
Knead the dough until smooth, 8-10 minutes. Place the dough in a large clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rise, 1 hour.
Divide the dough into 3 parts. Roll out the first piece of dough to a thickness of 5mm thick. Keep the rest of the dough under a clean moist kitchen towel. Cut the dough into rectangles that are 5cm wide and 10cm long. Cut 3 equal legs into each rectangle but keep the 5mm at the top uncut so that the pastry doesn’t fall apart once you start braiding it.
Braid each piece of dough by taking the left section and crossing it over the middle one. Then take the right strand and cross it over the new middle strand. Keep crossing and alternating all the way down. Press the ends together and lightly tuck it in under the braid. Give the top part of each braid a twist and tuck it in gently underneath to form a neat braid. Cover them with a clean damp cloth while you continue with the rest.
Heat a deep pot of sunflower oil for deep-frying to 180°C. Fry the koeksisters off in batches until golden and crisp, 2-3 minutes.
Drain the koeksisters on kitchen paper for a few seconds and immediately dunk them, while they are still hot, into the ice cold syrup. Use one half of the syrup for the first half of the fried koeksisters and swap it out with the remaining syrup in the fridge once the syrup being used becomes too warm. Keep the koeksisters submerged until they sink and no longer float, 10-15 minutes. This is where an extra pair of hands comes in really handy.
Remove the koeksisters with a slotted spoon and allow most of the syrup to run off before transferring the koeksisters to a cooling rack. Set aside, 1 hour.
Koeksisters are best served cold with a strong cup of coffee or some milky rooibos tea. They are best stored, covered, in the freezer. Simply remove them 15 minutes before serving.
Hungry for more? Check out our South African recipe section filled with loads of lip-smacking recipes!