Photo by Charl Cater

Photograph: Charl Cater CC BY 2.0

Nobody likes a dry koeksister! That phrase may sound like a sassy admonishment along the lines of “Yo Mama”, but it is, in fact, a uniquely South African bit of cooking advice.

If you’ve never delighted in biting into the crisp exterior of a koeksister, saliva glands erupting as your mouth fills with a syrup, you’re probably not eligible for a South African passport.

The koeksister – pronouced cook-sister – is a jaw-achingly sweet South African confection with a calorie count so high your hips grow an inch if you just breath in the vicinity of a tray of them. And, for some unfathomable reason, they are made in batches that require a tray.  Even though another piece of sage advice warns you not to eat more than a single koeksister in a sitting, lest you crystallise the blood in your veins or strip the enamel from your teeth.

The origins of these plaited deep-fried syrup-soaked dough cakes are a little murky, with the descendants of the Dutch settlers and the Cape Malay staking a claim. Generous historians give credence to both claims, accrediting an oval fried spicy dumpling to the Cape Malay, and the crisp syrupy plait to the Afrikaner. All South Africans no matter their origin, however, have koeksister memories. Mine was stuffing my gob at my Afrikaans auntie’s laden table at her garden parties until it felt as though my teeth would fall out.

KoeksistersSugary, syrupy, gooey, sweet and very, very sticky, the koeksister is not for health conscious calorie counting Capetonian banting community (banting is a uniquely South African diet a bit like Paleo).  Unless you make Living Spot’s Paleo Cape Malay Koeksisters, in which case you feel free to stuff your face and still keep all your teeth. The rest of us will keep sneaking a koeksister with our moer koffie when no one is looking.

Factoid: When Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first black president, he visited the widow of Apartheid architect HF Verwoed in Oranje, where they shared a plate of koeksisters.