• For the dough:

  • 3 C (750 ml) milk
  • 60 g Kerrygold Pure Irish Unsalted Butter
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ C (125 ml) sugar
  • 6 C (6 x 250 ml) cake flour
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) baking powder
  • ½ tsp (2.5 ml) salt
  • 1 packet (10 g) instant yeast
  • 1 Tbsp (15 ml) dried ground naartjie (clementine) peel
  • 1 Tbsp (15 ml) ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp (10 ml) ground ginger
  • 2 tsp (10 ml) ground cardamom
  • 4 tsp (20 ml) whole aniseed (seeds)
  • 1 C (250 ml) self-raising flour
  • For frying:

  • 2 C (500 ml) canola or vegetable oil
  • medium-size pot or a wok
  • 1 chopstick to flip the koesiesters
  • Traditional sweet coconut filling:

  • 1¼ C (310 ml) water
  • 1 C (250 ml) sugar
  • 2–3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 green cardamom pod, slightly bruised
  • 1 C (250 ml) desiccated coconut
  • For the sugar syrup:

  • 2 C (500 ml) sugar
  • 2 C (500 ml) water


Recipe by Cariema Issacs. Photography by Turhaan Samodien. Recipe can be found in My Cape Malay Kitchen published by Struik Lifestyle, an imprint of Penguin Random House South Africa (Pty) Ltd.

"Koesiester making and eating is a time-honored tradition in my community, so deep rooted that no matter where you find yourself in the world on a Sunday morning, you will either end up craving this aromatic sweet or you’ll end up talking about it! A vital and customary part in the preparation process is the drying of naartjie (clementine) peels. This tradition passed on by our great-grandmothers, grandmothers, aunts and moms who saved the naartjie peels and left them out to dry on the kitchen windowsill. Once dried, they’d use a pestle and mortar to pound them into a fine powder, which is then added to the koesiester batter.

There are variations of the koesiester depending on what part of Cape Town or South Africa you are from. However, the most important ingredients which are never compromised are ground cinnamon, cardamom, aniseed and, for the outright purists, the dried and ground naartjie peel. Very few (if any) Cape Malay cooks and bakers have a recipe that will yield less than 20 of these little gems – this is mainly because larger quantities are made with intention of freezing whatever is not being served on that day.

One of my fondest memories of a Sunday morning was getting up early to go and buy koeksisters in Schotcheskloof, Bo-Kaap. There I was along with so many other boys and girls, walking with our empty bowls which would soon be filled with the most deliciously, warm and fragrant koeksisters. The Aunties who made the koeksisters, made it with love! You could just taste it in every bite. These days, my mom-in-law has become our resident koeksister maker and has dutifully taught me how to make my own koeksisters. The aromas that linger in the kitchen when these little doughy wonders are frying will transport anyone back to a time where our Sunday mornings began with love and comfort, in the form of a warm, coconut covered koeksister and a refreshing cup of tea."
  1. To make the dough, warm the milk and butter in a saucepan on medium heat and then set aside. The milk should not be boiling hot, just warmed through and the butter melted.
  2. In a mixer, beat eggs and sugar together on a high setting until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is light and frothy.
  3. Sift the cake flour, baking powder and salt into a large mixing bowl.
  4. Add the yeast, naartjie peel and spices (both powdered and seeds). Use a wooden spoon to mix the ingredients together until it’s all cohesively incorporated.
  5. Add the milk mixture and egg mixture and mix well with wooden spoon or a spatula.
  6. Transfer the dough into a large bowl greased with oil or butter. Cover this with a kitchen towel and place in a warm area in your kitchen or home.
  7. Allow the dough to rise and double in size.
  8. Once risen, moisten your hands with oil and ensure that the self-raising flour is used to coat the working surface and to add to the sticky dough.
  9. Shape the dough with your hands, into a long cylindrically shaped piece of about 5 cm high.
  10. Using a sharp knife cut 3-cm-wide portions of the dough – this is essentially your koesiester (unshaped) at this stage of the process.
  11. Keep your hands moist and shape the cut pieces of dough into oval-shaped koesiesters.
  12. Stretch the dough gently to secure the oval shape so that it is 5–6 cm long by 3 cm wide and place on a well-floured surface. These little puffy pillows should rest for about 30 minutes where they will puff up again before frying.

Preparing the filling

  1. Bring the water, sugar, cinnamon sticks and cardamom to a boil for about 5 minutes. Stir in the coconut and allow the sauce to thicken and for the coconut to become sticky.

Frying the koesiesters

  1. Avoid overcrowding when frying the koesiesters because they need the space between pieces to accommodate for further rising/expansion when it comes into contact with the hot oil.
  2. Gently lift the koesiesters one by one and deep-fry in warm oil for about 3 minutes on the one side and a further 3 minutes on the other side.
  3. Once fried, remove the koesiesters with a slotted spoon and allow to rest on a paper towel.

Finishing the koesiesters

  1. Prepare the sugar syrup by simply placing the ingredients in a medium-size saucepan and cook on high heat until the sugar starts dissolving.
  2. Turn the heat down to a medium setting and stir until the sugar syrup becomes slightly sticky. You can add more water if the syrup starts to thicken too much.
  3. Place the koesiesters in the syrup for 1–2 minutes, ensuring that they are well coated on all sides. Remove with a fork.
  4. Once slightly cooled, make a small incision in the koesiester – about 2 cm – and fill it with a spoonful the warm coconut filling or simply sprinkle with desiccated coconut and enjoy with a warm cup of tea.

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