I became acquainted with this delicious pastry when I visited South Africa for the first time in June of 2004. Afrikaners are the descendants of South Africa’s Dutch settlers and preserve many of their original culinary traditions. Koeksisters are widely available in the Cape Town area, and I tasted them at several different pastry shops. These are a bit of a production to prepare, and are best done by a two-person team. One can do the frying while the other attends to immersing the hot koeksisters in the cold syrup. They must be soaked with the syrup immediately after they are fried, so that they will absorb it well and won’t be dry. Your reward for all this work is the intriguing taste and texture of these exotic pastries.
Remember to make both the dough and the syrup the day before. Each needs to chill overnight before you form, fry, and dip the koeksisters.
Makes about 48 koeksisters, each about 4 inches long
4 cups all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, cut into 8 pieces
1 1/2 cups milk
1 large egg
4 cups water
8 cups sugar
1/4 cup honey or Lyle’s Golden Syrup
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 quarts vegetable oil for frying
Two jellyroll pans lined with parchment paper for holding the pastries before frying, and two more jellyroll pans with cooling racks set on them for draining the syrup-dipped pastries
- For the dough, in a large bowl stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut the butter into small pieces and evenly rub it into the flour, rubbing the mixture back and forth between the palms of your hands. Whisk the milk and egg together and use a large rubber spatula to stir the liquid into the flour. Continue stirring until the dough is evenly moistened. Scrape the dough onto a floured work surface and knead it until it is smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate it overnight.
- To make the syrup, combine all ingredients except the lemon juice in a large Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Boil the syrup for 8 minutes to allow it to concentrate and thicken. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice. Pour the syrup into a large bowl and cool it to room temperature. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the syrup overnight.
- To form the koeksisters, remove the dough from the refrigerator and use a bench scraper or knife to divide it into 3 pieces. Roll one piece of dough to a 4 x 12-inch rectangle. Use a pizza wheel to cut across the 4-inch side of the dough into 1/4-inch strips, making 48 strips, each 1/4 x 4 inches. To form one pastry, group 3 strands and pinch them together at the top. Loosely braid the 3 strands together. Pinch the strands together at the other end and arrange the braided pastry on one of the parchment-covered pans. Repeat with the remaining strands and then the remaining pieces of dough to make 48 individual braids.
- In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil to 350 degrees. Pour half the syrup into a large bowl and set over another larger bowl of ice water. Place the bowls on the stove near the pan in which you will fry the pastries. Leave the rest of the syrup in the refrigerator. Place 4 or 5 of the braids on your skimmer and lower them into the hot oil, cooking them on both sides until they are a deep golden color. Skim them out of the oil and let the excess oil drip back into the pan. Immediately add the hot pastries to the bowl of iced syrup. Allow them to remain in the syrup for about 3 minutes, to soak up as much as possible. Use tongs to lift them from the syrup to drain on one of the racks. As you fry more braids, add some of the refrigerated syrup to the iced syrup to keep its temperature low.