Koeksisters with a Twist

There’s nothing more decadent than a syrupy South African koeksister, deep fried to golden perfection. Some people love their koeksisters a little dry and doughy, but I love mine crunchy and really drenched in a fragrant syrup. The key is to drop the freshly fried dough into ice cold syrup – this way they absorb more syrup. It is therefore better to make the syrup one day ahead. I’ve added some extra aromatics like cardamom, star anise and rose water for a delicate yet exotic spin on the original flavour.

Koeksisters last very well in the freezer, so save them in smaller batches in plastic bags for a special occasion.

Ingredients & Method 

For the syrup:

  • 6 cups (1500 ml / 1,2 kg) sugar
  • 3 cups (750 ml) water
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • a medium size knob of ginger, peeled
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 6 cardamom pods
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 1 long piece of naartjie peel
  • rind of half a lemon, peeled not grated
  • 10 ml rose water

Combine all the ingredients for the syrup in a large heavy-based saucepan and place over high heat. Stir often until sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and leave to cool. Refrigerate, preferably overnight – the syrup should be icy cold when you drop in the fried koeksisters.

For the dough: 

(recipe by Heilie Pienaar, from The Ultimate Snowflake Collection)

(Makes about 45)

  • 2 ½ cups (350 g) cake flour
  • 15 ml baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 60 g butter
  • 1 XL egg
  • 125 ml water
  • 15 ml fresh lemon juice
  • about 1 liter Canola oil for deep frying

Sift flour, baking powder and salt together. Rub in butter with fingertips until mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add sugar. Whisk eggs and water together. Add to dry ingredients, cut in with a knife and knead lightly to form a soft dough. Add more water, if necessary. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for a few minutes, until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to rest in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. Roll out dough onto a lightly floured surface, to a thickness of 5 mm. Cut strips of 3 cm wide and 8 cm long. Cut into 3 strips, keeping one end in tact, then plait and pinch the ends to join. Gently drop koeksisters into the hot oil. Turn constantly and deep-fry until done and golden brown. Remove from oil and dip immediately into ice-cold syrup, making sure that the koeksisters are soaked through. NB: Don’t touch the syrup with your oil spoon, and take care not to get any sugar syrup into the hot oil. Remove soaked koeksisters with another slotted spoon and turn out onto a wire rack. If syrup becomes warm, return to refrigerator. Store koeksisters in the refrigerator.


Syrup: 30 minutes plus cooling

Dough: 15 minutes plus 1 hour resting

Plaiting: 20 minutes

Frying and soaking: 30-45 minutes