I got lucky at a garage sale a few years ago and scored a wonderful table top fryer from the sixties. It’s built like a tank, still has the original cloth cord and had never been used. I had never really done any deep-frying so I was a little nervous. But it turns out that with a bit of practice it’s very easy and super fun. The kids love it when I make frites or chocolate donut holes but I haven’t experimented with it too much. Then I saw a delicious looking, teensy little braided donut from South Africa called a koeksister. Finally, a treat worthy of a Deep-Fried Experimentation Project. New band name, I called it!
First I must confess that everything I know about koeksisters I learned on wikipedia and by googling some recipes. I am not an expert in South African street food. But really, the charm of these little guys has got to be universal. The dough is a soft pliable dough that is a joy to work with. The neat and tidy little plaits are a delight. And watching them bob up out of the oil in the fryer, all puffed and golden is its own sort of alchemy.
I tried these little babies two ways: The first was a more traditional method. You fry them and then immediately dunk them in a very cold syrup. I chose to make my syrup with a combination of rooibos tea (a south african tea), peppermint, juniper, ginger and lemon. I also threw in a vanilla bean, just for kicks. The result was a delicious, herbal, shiny donut that tasted even better the second day. My kids weren’t that into the tea flavor though so the next morning I made a batch that I simply tossed in cinnamon sugar right after they cam out of the fryer. Those were a BIG hit. And I think I slightly preferred that version too. Maybe just because it’s more familiar. But the syrup is definitely something to try if you enjoy tasting new things and, like me, are obsessed with putting tea in everything.
A few tips:
- The dough needs time to rest, at least two hours. It is not a yeasted dough but it does rise a bit so make sure the airtight container you store it in has plenty of room. The first batch I made I let rest overnight, the second batch I let rest just two hours. There wasn’t much a difference between the two.
- If you are doing the syrup method, make that the day before. The syrup needs to be super cold for this so you’ll need to give it plenty of time in the fridge to cool down. I even put mine back in the fridge between batches to keep it as cold as possible. I’m not sure why it has to be so cold, but the internet is unanimous on that point so I wouldn’t risk it.
- When you braid your little koeksisters, make sure to pinch the ends firmly. If they are not completely pinched together they will come unraveled in the fryer. They still taste good but are harder to work with.
- The internet is also unanimous that the syrup version tastes best the day after it was made. I’m torn on that point. The day one version was shiny, and had a bright flavor with a fresh doughy center. The down side was that they were so sticky that it was a bit messy to eat them. The day two version was much drier to the touch and the flavor had penetrated the dough. At the same time, they looked rather dull and just the tiniest bit sodden. I vote you do what I did and eat half the first day and half the second. Then you’ll be an expert.
- This is a fun project to try with kids. My kids, ages 7 and 11, enjoyed making the little braids, helping keep an eye on the fryer and dipping and coating the donuts. They’re really so tiny and charming. The donuts, that is.