As a child growing up in southern Africa a weekly treat was a koeksister. Every Saturday my mother would park on the main square right in front of Bamfords Bakery. As we got out of the car the aroma of fresh bread and baked goods would assault the senses – I remember it like it was yesterday.
However there were errands to run and first was always the supermarket. Mother was an avid bargain shopper and with three supermarkets in the main street and list in hand, we would visit all three comparing prices of each item on the list. We then returned to each to secure the items they were featuring at the lowest price. Tedious it may sound but the Dairy Den was located between market two and three and served the most delicious soft serve ice cream in a cone. And on special days there was a chocolate flake added making it a Choc 99 – what a delight!
But I digress. With groceries in hand there was the occasional visit to Holdsworths the Chemist (pharmacy) and perhaps the Hobby Shop (my older brother was an avid airplane modeler) and then on to what had been anticipated all week…..the bakery.
As you walked in the overwhelming aroma of sweetness of the freshly made koeksisters prevailed. They were always fresh, dunked in the most glorious of syrups and ready to explode in your mouth. Of course they were purchased and sat like the bait of temptation in the box until we got home and all sat down to lunch as a family. Finally the moment arrived. There were no microwaves in those days so we ate them at room temperature. I can’t imagine that warming them up would have improved them…they were already perfection.
Some people say a koeksister is the equivalent of a doughnut but trust me..doughnuts don’t hold a candle to these incredible pieces of culinary delight. All too often I see recipes that say ‘easy koeksisters’ or ‘koeksisters in a snap’ but despite the fact that I am fairly handy in the kitchen my attempts, thus far, to recapture this moment in time have ended in abject failure and so I regard the makers of these creations in the highest esteem.
It was, therefore, with great anticipation that after more than thirty years I returned to South Africa and top of my list was securing a koeksister. The first night in the hotel, as a turn down notion, there, sitting on a ceramic tile beside my bed was a miniature koeksister. I thought I was going to weep at how quickly my desire had been fulfilled. I lifted it to my mouth, felt the sticky syrup, and took a bite. Total disappointment. This was not the koeksister of my childhood and I desperately hoped that my colleagues, who had been regaled with tales of my desperate need for a koeksister, were not similarly chomping on this imposter and thinking I was crazy!
The following day, after colluding with our guide, we decided that at some point during the next two days in Cape Town we would stop at a true local bakery and secure koeksisters. As it turned out the next two days were over the top, and more, with some of the most amazing repasts, snacks and delicacies ever to cross my lips and in a state of being continually full, the bakery stop simply never happened.
So just exactly what is this love of my life, this koeksister? The traditional braided version originates from the Afrikaners though there is a Cape Malay version which is spicy and has a sprinkling of coconut on top. While there is much to be treasured in Cape Malay cuisine, the Afrikaner version is, for me, what this is all about! The format is simple – dough deep fried in oil and immediately dipped into cold syrup (the magic moment) resulting in a crisp sticky outside and a melt in your mouth interior. You cannot possibly imagine how good they are until you have had one…..and having the real McCoy requires a trip to South Africa. Yes, you will love Cape Town, be thrilled by the great whites and enchanted by the wildlife – but your first real koeksister bring with it the promise of a life changing experience. Trust me!
2 Cups cake flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. baking powder
4 tbsp. of butter
1/2 cup of water
Oil for frying
Syrup for the Koeksister
1 kg of sugar
1 and 1/2 cups of water
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
2 cinnamon sticks
juice of one lemon