In South Africa, there are donuts which are entrenched in the culture of the country. They are called koeksisters!
South African cuisine is the result of a fusion of cultures that has given rise to a very wide variety of recipes and flavors. The Dutch, the Portuguese, the Italians and the French all have ruled the country and the Boers (inhabitants), and they have imagined an international ethnic cuisine rich in spices and flavors.
So, on this land where people of different origins have lived together for centuries and where the cuisine is very much diverse, there are three main culinary influences: the indigenous populations (Bantus, Xhosa, Zulu), Europe (especially, Dutch cuisine brought by the Boers) and finally the typical cuisine of the slaves from Indonesia and India, called Cape Malay cuisine. This melting pot has led to the evolution of Dutch and Indian dishes into something totally new and unique, compared to the ingredients that the original populations already used. There is a reason why the cuisine and culture of the country are officially called “rainbow”!
Anyone who has lived, currently lives or has stopped by South Africa at least once obviously knows what a koeksister is.
A koeksister, koeksuster or koesister is a South African pastry based on donut dough, braided and generously coated with syrup. This delicacy has a firm texture.
There are two kinds of koeksisters: the Afrikaner version and the Cape Malay version.
The term sister or suster is interpreted differently by various etymologists. For many etymologists, sister would be a deformation of sisser and would mean something that “fries” or “sizzles”, but according to the Boshoff (South African etymological dictionary), this part of the word should be interpreted as suster (sister) because this donut is braided in the manner of a doll. Koeksisters are close to Dutch pastries called koekbroers and koekzusters (respectively “brother cakes” and “sister cakes”), which also look like dolls.
The Afrikaner koeksister version, which I chose to prepare today, is much sweeter and crisp than the Cape Malay koeksister which has a texture that is closer to a soft cake, and which is spicier and covered with coconut.
Every year, in Orania, a small town in Northern Cape, takes place the “koeksisters festival”. A statue has even been erected in honor of this South African pastry. But South Africans do not wait for the festival to enjoy koeksisters. There is no South African home where a Sunday doesn’t end without a cup of coffee and a plate of very syrupy koeksisters.
A very important technical recommendation for this koeksister recipe: it is imperative that the hot donut is immediately soaked in the cooled syrup (that may even be iced). Moreover, koeksister is a pastry that is enjoyed cold and crisp unlike the majority of donuts such as churros from Spain, sfenjs from Morocco , or mandazi from Tanzania.
We enjoyed those koeksisters for dessert after a dinner with friends. A dessert rich in sugar and calories for which nobody could mention the word diet! But it was worth it!
- 3 cups water
- 2 lb sugar
- ¼ cup lime juice
- 1 (1-inch piece) fresh ginger
- 1 cinnamon stick
- Sunflower oil
- 4 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons baking powder
- 4 tablespoons butter , soft
- 1 egg , beaten
- 1 cup water (more or less)
Pour the water and sugar in a non-stick saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Once the syrup begins to boil, add the lime juice, ginger and cinnamon stick and simmer over low to medium heat for 15 minutes.
Divide the syrup into two large bowls.
Cool the two syrup bowls at room temperature and then refrigerate for at least 6 hours or even overnight.
Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl and stir in the butter, rubbing with the fingertips.
Separately, mix the egg and water and whisk well.
Make a well in the center of the flour. Pour the mixture of water and egg, then start mixing until reaching a smooth dough. Knead for 5 minutes.
Cover the dough with a cloth and let stand for 2 hours in the refrigerator.
Using an oiled rolling pin, roll the dough over an oiled surface to a thickness of ¼ inch. Cut the dough into several 2x6 in rectangles. Cut each rectangle into 3 strips, leaving the top of the rectangle untrimmed. Braid the 3 strips and firmly press the bottom end of the braid to close it securely.
Heat the oil to 320 F.
Fry in hot oil for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, or until golden.
Take the first bowl of syrup out of the refrigerator.
Drain each braid for just a few seconds and soak them immediately in the cold syrup.
Remove the koeksisters from the syrup using a skimmer and place on a rack. The first syrup bowl will gradually heat up after soaking a few koeksisters, so when you have made about half the koeksisters, take the second bowl of syrup out of the refrigerator and use it for the remaining koeksisters.
Koeksisters are stored in the refrigerator and are usually served chilled.