South African Koeksisters

A few weeks ago, in the comment section of one of my videos, someone was telling me about this South African dessert called koeksister. 

I had never heard of this before, but I googled it AND THEY LOOKED SO GOOD. I needed to try them. I have learnt that they are in fact very good.

They’re crispy on the outside, soft and juicy in the middle and they have such a nice cinnamon and ginger flavour. PLUS they are also easy to make. I’m very grateful for South Africa for creating these.

3 of the koeksisters on a grey plate.

Video Tutorial

What are koeksisters?

For anyone who doesn’t know what koeksisters are, because I also had no idea, let me try to give an explanation.

First of all, as you can tell by the title of this blog post, they are a South African desserts, they’re essentially doughnuts.

But they’re a little different to the doughnuts we’re used to.

These doughnuts are not made with yeast, they are made with baking powder instead.

And then after the doughnuts have been fried, they are soaked in a sugar syrup. From what I’ve seen, this syrup is usually flavoured with cinnamon and ginger.

Also the dough is braided before it is fried, which makes them look more fun.

When it comes to the taste, like I mentioned, they’re soft and juicy, but slightly crispy on the outside. And they’re spicy. But like a warm autumn/fall type of spicy, not a burn your mouth type of spicy.

From looking at pictures and videos of them, I was stressed at first. It seemed like making them would be difficult

But no they’re so easy to make, I was surprised. These don’t take a lot of effort at all.

A close up of 2 of the koeksisters on a grey plate.

The sugar syrup

So koeksisters have two parts to them, the dough and the syrup.

The syrup is the first thing we are going to make, because this needs time to cool down.

Here are the ingredients you will need for it:

  • Granulated sugar – caster sugar works too.
  • Water 
  • Cinnamon – I used a full cinnamon stick for this.
  • Ginger – you can add as much or as little ginger as you want. I added a few small pieces of fresh ginger, but the amount you use is up to you. Make it as gingery as you want.
  • Lemon – you can also add as much or as little lemon as you want. I just added one slice of a lemon. On my first attempt I did add more lemon, but I didn’t love it. For me personally, I liked when the cinnamon and ginger were the most prominent flavours.

To make the syrup, you just need to throw all the ingredients into a pot and let this come to a boil. Then let the mixture simmer for about 10 minutes, so that it can thicken slightly.

The ingredients for the sugar syrup.

Leaving the syrup in the fridge overnight

So I did some research before making this recipe, because I wanted to see how koeksisters are typically made.

Every video I watched said that you need to dip the doughnuts into cold syrup.

No one gave me a reason why though.

So I tested this recipe with room temperature syrup and cold syrup. 

The keoksisters that I made with cold syrup were so much better. They soaked up the syrup better.

I don’t know the reason for this, but I now see why I was being told to use cold syrup.

So once you have made your syrup, you want to place it into your fridge. It is better to just leave it in your fridge overnight, so it is at maximum coldness.

But if you didn’t want to wait, a few hours in the fridge will work too.

The syrup inside of a container, before being left in the fridge.

The dough

Once the syrup has been made and fully chilled, we can make the dough.

To make it, all you need to do is mix all the ingredients together until a dough forms, then knead it for about 5 minutes, or until it is smooth.

Since this dough doesn’t have yeast in it, it is using baking powder instead, we don’t need to leave it to rise. 

Typically for doughnuts we would let the dough rise for an hour or two. And then after the dough has been rolled out and cut into shapes, it needs to be left to rise for another hour.

But for these, we’re only going to leave the dough to rest once, only for 30 minutes, after it has been kneaded. This is so that the dough can relax a little, this will make it easier to roll it out and braid.

The dough after it was rolled out and cut into rectangles.

Ingredients for the dough

Here are the ingredients you will need to make the koeksister dough:

  • Plain flour – also known as all purpose flour.
  • Corn flour – also known as cornstarch. This adds some extra softness to the doughnuts.
  • Salt – to enhance the flavours.
  • Baking powder – this will make the doughnuts puff up as they are being fried.
  • Milk powder – this is not normally added to koeksisters. But I love adding milk powder to all my bread doughs, it just adds extra flavour and some more softness. You can leave it out if you want though. 
  • Granulated sugar – caster sugar works too.
  • Ground cinnamon and ginger – this is also not normally added to koeksister dough, I added it for extra flavour. This is optional too.
  • An egg
  • Milk – whole milk is always best to use.
  • Unsalted butter
1 of the rectangles of dough, cut into 3 strands.
1 koeksister after being braided.

Frying the koeksister

You want to fry your koeksister in oil that is around 180c. I used vegetable oil, but any flavourless oil does work.

To fry them, I find it easier to only fry 2 at a time. You just need to fry them until they’re a nice golden brown colour on both sides.

If you don’t have a thermometer, that’s ok.

Instead just add a small piece of dough into the oil. If this dough rises and starts gently bubbling, the oil is ready.

If it doesn’t bubble, the oil is not ready, heat it up for longer. If the dough starts aggressively bubbling, the oil is too hot. Turn the heat off and let it cool down for a bit.

You want your koeksisters to be gently bubbling throughout the whole frying process.

1 koeksister being fried.

Soaking the koeksisters in the syrup

The last step is to soak them in the syrup.

You want to do this whiles they’re hot. Like I said, I only fry 2 at a time. So I take these 2 out of the oil, let them drain on some paper towels just for a few seconds, then add them into the syrup.

You only want to soak them for about 30 seconds, then take them out and leave them on a wire rack.

Now fry the rest, soak them and then they’re done!

Here are a few other recipes I posted recently, I think you should take a look at these too:

South African Koeksisters

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Makes: 5-6

  • For the syrup:
  • 400g granulated sugar

  • 300ml water

  • 1 cinnamon stick

  • Some chopped ginger (use as much or as little as you want)

  • A slice of a lemon

  • For the dough:
  • 260g plain flour

  • 80g corn flour

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 2 tablespoons milk powder

  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar

  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1 egg

  • 150ml whole milk

  • 40g unsalted butter, melted


  • Making the syrup:
  • In a pot, add all the ingredients for the syrup. Give this a stir, then place this pot onto medium heat and let it come to a boil.
  • Once the mixture comes to a boil, lower the heat and let the mixture simmer for 10 minutes. You want it to thicken slightly.
  • After 10 minutes, take it off the heat and pour this all into a bowl or a container.
  • Leave this in your fridge to cool. We want to use this when it is cold, it's best to just leave it in the fridge overnight, but a few hours works too.
  • Making the dough:
  • The next day, or a few hours later once the syrup is cold, you can make the dough.
  • Add all the ingredients for the dough into a large bowl. Mix all this together until a dough forms, then knead until you get a smooth dough ball. This can take around 5 minutes.
  • Once you get a smooth dough, place it into a lightly greased bowl, cover and leave this to rest for 30 minutes.
  • Forming the shapes:
  • Once your dough has rested, you can start forming the koeksister shapes.
  • On a lightly floured surface, roll your dough out into a large rectangle, that is about 2-2.5 cm thick.
  • Cut this into 5-6 smaller rectangles.
  • Get one of the rectangles and cut this into 3 strands, making sure they're still connected from the top. Brush the top of the strands with some water, now just braid it.
  • Place this onto a tray and repeat with the rest of your dough.
  • Frying the koeksister:
  • You want to fry these in oil that is around 180c. Just fry them until golden brown on both sides. I find it easier to only fry 2 at a time.
  • Take them out of the oil and let the excess oil drain off on some paper towel for a few seconds. Then place them into your cold syrup. Let these soak for about 30 seconds, then leave them on a wire rack.
  • Keep repeating until you've fried and soaked all of your koeksisters.
  • After this, they're done. Enjoy!