• Start off your Sunday mornings the traditional way of the Cape with a few hot, syrupy koesisters, each bite overflowing with love and comfort. 

    Cape Malay koeksisters, fondly known as koesisters, are an integral part of Cape Town’s food culture. For many, they’re intensely nostalgic, transporting you to early Sunday mornings waking up to the aroma of freshly fried dough and spices. Others fondly remember buying koesisters from local Aunties who made them for the pure love of it. Best enjoyed with a steaming cup of tea or coffee, a Sunday morning in Cape Town is truly not the same without the comfort of hot, syrupy koesisters surrounded by family and friends.

    Koeksister vs koesister

    There are a few varieties of koeksisters in South Africa. The most widely-known is the twisted kind that originates from the Dutch-Afrikaans community. The dough is plaited, fried and shocked in an ice-cold ginger syrup, resulting in a sticky, crunchy finish with a soft interior.

    Malay koesisters, on the other hand, have a fluffy, cake-like texture. The dough is flavoured with warming Malay spices like cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and aniseed. Once fried and slightly cooled, the koesisters are boiled in hot cinnamon-spiced syrup and then tossed in heaps of shredded coconut until coated. There are a few different recipes for koesisters that have emerged from different regions and families. More traditional ones use mashed potato in the dough, while others are made plain with little to no spice.

    How to make Cape Malay Koesisters

    MAKES about 50 / TOTAL TIME , plus proofing


    • DOUGH
    • Cake flour 5 ½ cups 
    • Instant yeast 1x10g sachet 
    • Baking powder 1 ½ tsp 
    • Whole aniseed 1 ½ tbsp 
    • Cinnamon 1 ½ tbsp 
    • Ground ginger 2 tsp 
    • Ground cardamom 2 tsp 
    • Mixed spice 2 tsp 
    • Naartjie, zested
    • Sugar ⅓ cup
    • Salt 1 tsp
    • Water 1 ⅓ cup
    • Milk 1 cup 
    • Butter 60g 
    • Egg, lightly beaten 1



    • Water 2 ½ cups 
    • Sugar 3 cups
    • Naartjie peel 3 strips
    • Cardamom pods, bashed
    • Cinnamon stick


    WHISK flour, yeast, baking powder, spices, zest, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl.

    PLACE water, milk and butter in a large heatproof jug. Microwave in 10-second increments until lukewarm and the butter has mostly melted. Whisk in the egg.

    ADD the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients in two batches, mixing with a large spoon to form a very soft, sticky dough.

    USING oiled hands, transfer the dough to an oiled bowl. Cover and leave to proof until doubled in size, about 1-2 hours.

    USING oiled hands, stretch the dough into rough logs and cut off golf ball-sized pieces of dough, about 40g. Stretch each portion into a thick 3cm-wide, 6cm-long oval.

    PLACE shaped koesisters on an oiled tray; leave to rise for 30 minutes or until puffed.

    MEANWHILE, heat a large pot filled one-third of the way with oil.

    ONCE the oil is hot, fry koesisters in batches until dark golden brown. Don’t overcrowd the pot as the koesisters will need space to expand during cooking. Remove using a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.


    PLACE all the ingredients in a wide pot and cook until sugar is dissolved and mixture is boiling. Turn the heat down to medium.

    BOIL the koesisters in the syrup for 2 minutes in batches, ensuring they are well coated. Remove using a slotted spoon and immediately roll in coconut.

    ENJOY warm with a cup of tea or coffee.

    Tips for success

    • Make sure your wet ingredient mixture isn’t too hot as this will kill the yeast, resulting in dense koesisters. The mixture should be a comfortable temperature for a bath.
    • Koesister dough is inherently sticky so keep a small bowl of oil nearby to help you work with and shape the dough. Make sure to pinch any seams closed when shaping the koesisters, otherwise they will unfold when fried.
    • To test if your oil is hot enough for frying, drop in a small piece of dough; it should be surrounded by vigorous bubbles and float almost immediately.
    • Make sure to give your oil time to get back to temperature between each batch of frying to make sure every koesister is cooked perfectly.
    • If your syrup is getting too thick, add 2-3 tbsp water in between batches to loosen it.

    Tying up loose ends

    • Allow your oil to cool completely in the pot once you’re done, then decant it into a large container. You can use it for a few more rounds of frying in the future.
    • Any leftover sugar syrup can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for your next batch of koesisters. 
    • Fried and cooled koesisters can be frozen before coating in sugar syrup and coconut. Store in an airtight container or ziplock bag for up to 3 months. Defrost at room temperature and proceed with the recipe.

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    ALSO SEE: Spiced Cake with Marshmallow Frosting



    Sjaan is a food stylist and recipe developer for Food & Home. She aims to create mouth-watering images and exciting How To videos on our Instagram, hoping to inspire people to try new recipes and have fun in the kitchen.