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Traditional South African treat: Make your own Koeksisters

Who can resist these traditional South African treats? Beautifully braided dough, deep-fried, then soaked in a sweet fragrant syrup.


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The word koeksister is from Dutch origin and means cookie. Koeksisters are made by deep-frying braided dough in oil, then dipping it into an ice-cold sugar syrup. In South Africa, we have two kinds of koeksisters, the Afrikaner and the Cape Malay version. The Cape Malay koe’sister is a ball of fried dough that’s rolled in desiccated coconut.

Koeksisters are a firm favourite in most South African homes. The secret to making koeksisters is that they should be dipped in the ice-cold syrup immediately after frying. With more time on your hands during the lockdown, surprise your family with these syrupy treats and enjoy them with a cup of coffee or indigenous rooibos tea.

Koeksisters Recipe

4 from 9 votes
Recipe by Lichelle Hawthorne Course: DessertCuisine: South African, Cape MalayDifficulty: Medium
Prep time


Cooking time


Total time



Ingredients – syrup

  • 1 kg sugar

  • 1 ½ cups of water

  • 1 cinnamon stick

  • 1 piece ginger peeled and sliced

  • juice and zest of one lemon

  • Dough
  • 2 cups cake flour

  • 2 tablespoons baking powder

  • ½ tsp salt

  • 1 large egg lightly beaten

  • 4 tablespoons butter/margarine

  • ½ cup buttermilk, milk or water

  • oil for frying

Directions – Syrup

  • Over a low heat, dissolve the sugar in the water, stirring frequently.
    Once the sugar is dissolved, bring the mixture to a boil, then add cinnamon, ginger, lemon juice and zest.
    Reduce the temperature and simmer the syrup for 5 minutes.
    Remove from stove and allow to cool before storing in an airtight container.
    Refridgerate, preferably overnight.
  • Dough
  • Sift the flour, salt and baking powder together.
    Rub in the butter to create a mixture that resembles breadcrumbs.
    Mix in the egg, then add the milk a little at a time until the dough comes together. Add more flour if the dough feels too sticky.
    Knead the dough until smooth.
    Rest in a bowl covered with clingfilm at room temperature for 2 hours.
  • For braided koeksisters
  • On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a thickness of 5mm. Cut the dough into rectangles that are 5cm wide and 10cm long.
    Cut 3 equal legs into each rectangle but keep the 5mm at the top uncut.
    Braid the dough by taking the left strand and crossing it over the middle one. Then take the right strand and cross it over the new middle strand. Keep on crossing and alternating, then pinch the ends together at the end and lightly tuck it underneath the braid.
    Pinch and tuck in the top part of the braid as well, to form a neat braid.
    Cover them with a damp cloth while you make the rest.
  • For twisted koeksisters
  • This is a quicker version.
    On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a thickness of 5mm. Cut the dough into 2cm x 10cm strips.
    Cut each strip in half through the length, keeping one end intact. Twist the two strips around each other and then pinch the ends together.
    Keep the dough covered with a damp towel to prevent it from drying out.
  • Fry the koeksisters
  • Heat the oil in a large saucepan and fry until golden brown, turning them halfway.
    Drain the koeksisters on kitchen paper for a few seconds and immediately dunk them into the cold syrup.
    Remove and transfer to a rack to cool and dry for an hour before serving.


  • Granny’s advice: Split the syrup in two containers, that way the other half stays cold in the fridge. Or put the container with syrup in a bowl with ice when you dip the koeksisters. Experiment by adding orange or naartjie zest and juice to the syrup when heating.

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