KoeksistersToday a friend and member of my church is leaving. He’s on his way back to South Africa after spending over 10 years here in New Zealand (he arrived shortly before I did). He’s an Anglican priest and has taken up a position in Cape Town, which is wonderful for him.

Anyway, as a part of his going away bash, we had a pot-luck dinner.

KoeksistersI decided to being a dessert as always. Now I should have done something uniquely New Zealand, but since he’s returning to South Africa, I decided to make a distinctively South African treat: koeksisters.

Now, these delicacies are created by deep-frying batter and then immediately dumping it into chilled sugar syrup. The batter soaks up the sugar and you’re left with little golden brown bits of sweetness. It’s diabetic shock waiting to happen.

Anyway, enough with the descriptions, this is how you make it.

Koeksister Syrup Ingredients

Sugar syrup:

  • 4 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 2 cm ginger root
    (peeled & bruised)
  • 2-3 sticks cinnamon
  • Juice & rind of half a lemon

Note that the last three ingredients are really up to you and should be done to taste. I find that ginger and cinnamon is a must.

Sugar SyrupStart heating the water and add the sugar to it, stirring constantly until the sugar is dissolved.

It’s quite amazing just how much sugar you can dissolve in such a little amount of water.

Bring the whole lot to a boil and dump in the other ingredients. I cut my ginger into chunks and just threw in half the lemon and juice and let it all boil together.

Koeksister Syrup

Put on the lid and boil for one minute on high heat. Then lower the heat and boil with the lid off for a further 5 minutes. You’ll notice that sugar syrup boils differently to ordinary water. The bubbles almost seem to “snap” and there’s no frothing at all.

Remove from heat, allow to cool, then chill in the fridge overnight. Leave the tasty bits in, you can fish them out later.

Koeksister dough ingredients


  • 2 cups flour
  • 100 ml milk
  • 25 ml water
  • 1 Tbls butter
  • 1 Tbls baking powder
    (yes, a whole table spoon)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg

Sift the dry ingredients and rub the butter into them.

Checking ConsistencyMix the remaining wet ingredients and fold them into the flour. Now, knead the dough out, adding more water / flour as necessary to maintain a nice consistency. Consistency of dough is a tough one (sometimes literally). The consistency I achieved was quite tough and fibrous, almost rubbery.This seemed to work out well when it came to shaping the dough, though I am not sure if this is the perfect consistency. Leave this overnight, wrapped in a damp cloth.

Prepairing the DoughYour first challenge the next morning is shaping the dough. Take your dough and roll it out to about 5mm thickness. Resist the temptation to use flour at this point, since it will froth up your oil. Use a little oil if you find the dough sticky. Now cut the dough into slivers a little wider than 5 mm (I use a plastic knife for this since it’s safer). Take these and roll them between your fingers till they become like smooth pieces of rope. Plait three strands of rope together, pinching them at the end.

How big should they be? As big as you like! remember that you’ll be deep frying these so don’t make them too big to fit in your pot. Also consider that the more surface area they have the better chance you have of them cooking thoroughly. Here’s a pile of raw koeksisters prepared earlier.

KoeksistersNow, before you take the next step, it’s time to make some preparations. Strain & pour your sugar syrup into two containers. The containers need to be of the right size and shape that you can easily submerse an entire koeksister into them. Put one container in the fridge.

Why are we doing this? Well, you need the sugar syrup to be as cold as possible so that the dough soaks it up. As you add hot koeksisters to the syrup, it warms up, so you just swap one container for the other, clever huh?

KoeksistersAs for the oil, after much soul searching and asking people in the know, I used Canola oil. Heat up your oil and test it with a bit of dough. It should take 10 seconds for the dough to rise to the surface. Too hot and the dough will go nice and dark brown but soft in the middle. Too cool and it will take a long time for them to get browned and they will end up hard as a rock.  

Now, take your perfect little koeksisters and dump them into boiling oil, two at a time if you’re brave. Hold them under until they are golden brown then quickly pull them out and dump them into the sugar syrup. I found that it helps using two sets of tongs. One for oil and one for sugar syrup.

Dessert for RichardRepeat this process until all the koeksisters are done. Leave them in the syrup till they’ve soaked all they can, then transfer them to a tray where the excess can drip off.

Koeksisters are best served cold (or even from the freezer) they go well with other desserts like ice cream but I prefer to simply eat them as a snack. If you’re feeling really nostalgic, you can eat them with “Melktert” (milk tart) as pictured here.