South African Sweets and Pastries

South African Sweets and Pastries

A melting pot of the Dutch, British and African traditions, the culture of South Africa embraces flavorful cuisine in which traditional desserts play an important role. South Africans love it sweet – be it a veggie dish or a barbecue sauce on meat, let alone purpose-made pastries that they are willing to consume on a daily basis. The fusion of recipes and abundance of exotic fruits largely determine South Africa's confectionery variety. Presented here are some of the country’s most iconic sweets.
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Image Courtesy of: Craigfraser

1. Milk Tart /Melktert

Milk Tart /Melktert
Image Courtesy of: DimiTalen Meraj Chhaya
Melk tert is the Afrikaans for “milk tart.” This treat is so popular in South Africa that they even have a National Milk Tart Day (February 27) established in its honor! The tart recipe varies vastly between families and regions, but is invariably based on three key ingredients – milk, flour and eggs – on top of which comes lots of cinnamon and orange peel.
Originally Dutch, this tart has a South African twist to it in terms of stronger milk flavor that makes it more like a custard pie with a delightful vanilla buttery scent. Simple and delicious, melk tert is a great teatime treat, regardless of whether the custard has been baked or simply set in the fridge.
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2. Malva Pudding

Malva pudding is yet another of South Africa's favorite desserts that no celebration goes without. Deeply rooted in the Afrikaans culture, this rich cake of Cape Dutch origin is a sweet decadent delight which reminds sticky toffee pudding but without sticky toffee dressing. It is made with apricot jam and a little brown vinegar that give it a caramelized exterior, while its spongy interior is soaked in tasty warm butter, syrup and, sometimes, brandy or sherry. Traditionally, Malva is served with some kind of creamy sauce or custard, and ice-cream.
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3. Koeksisters

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An iconic pastry of South Africa, koeksister [cook sister] takes its origin, as a term, from the Dutch word koekje, which means “cake” or “cookie”, and represents strips of fried dough braided together and dunked in either honey or syrup. The “sister” part of the word is said to be associated with the oral tradition of two sisters plaiting their doughnuts, but may as well refer to the sizzling “sis” sound made by dough dipped into hot oil.
Some people erroneously believe that "sister" refers to a sibling, whereas the Afrikaans spelling for sister is "suster"; hence the often misspelled word koeksister as "koeksuster".
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4. Koesisters

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Unlike its plaited, syrup-coated koeKsister counterpart, koesister is a little oval dumpling with the texture similar to a cake, deep fried and placed in hot syrup, and then rolled and finished off with a sprinkle of dried coconut. This confectionery is, in fact, more spicy than sweet – the dough contains yeast and is spiced with powdered aniseed, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and naartjie peel.

5. Peppermint Crisps Tart

Peppermint Crisps Tart
Image Courtesy of: Evan-Amos
Much popular in South Africa, a Peppermint Crisp Tart is incredibly rich, sweet and refreshing. Albeit not so good for those on a strict diet, it is nonetheless well-loved by generations of South Africans, having among its key ingredients – very hard to find outside South Africa – Peppermint crisp chocolate bar. The latter represents a multitude of thin, mint-flavored hollow tubes cocooned in chocolate (using which, back in the day, children loved to drink their milk at school). Along with the crispy (usually Tennis) biscuits, this chocolate bar, crumbled up, forms base of the peppermint crisp tart. On top of that come piles of whipped cream and tins of caramel.
Peppermint Crisp Tart is a perfect way to finish off a nice meal, on a hot summer day, with a pleasant feeling of freshness on the palate.

6. (Ouma) Rusks (or Beskuit in Afrikaans)

(Ouma) Rusks (or Beskuit in Afrikaans)
Image Courtesy of: Discott Anrie
South Africa's staple teatime treat, the rusks are double-baked snacks which come in a variety of shapes and flavors: buttermilk, mosbolletjies (sweet brioche), all-bran or orange juice. Sometimes, they even come with seeds and nuts baked in, as well as cranberry, almond or aniseed. The most popular version, however, is the so-called “Ouma Rusks” named after certain Ouma Greyvensteyn who created them back in the 1930s. Usually pretty sweet and crumbly, you will definitely love these biscuits with tea or coffee, especially having them dunked in to soften the crunchy texture. Just make sure to master your perfect timing for the dunking: too short and you may end up crunching your way through; too long and you may lose half of your rusk in the coffee or rooibos tea, depending what you drink, having to fish it out of there with your fingers.

7. Boeber / Melkkos

Boeber / Melkkos
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Boeber is a traditional Cape Malay sweet, milk drink, made with vermicelli, sago and sugar, and flavored with cardamom, stick cinnamon and rose water. It can be bought ready-made in selected supermarkets, corner cafes or spice shops across South Africa and is quite similar to the Afrikaans dish known as melkkos, which literally translates as “milk food.” This is one of South Africa's truly heritage dishes. Both, boeber and melkkos are quite easy to make, cheap and rather comforting, no matter whether they are served for breakfast, supper or dessert.

8. Hertzoggies

Image Courtesy of: Discott
Hertzoggie is a light, puffy tartlet served on a cup-shaped pastry base with a delectable apricot jam meringue filling and coconut topping. Deeply rooted in South African history, this jam and coconut tart was once the favorite teatime dessert of General Hertzog, the Boer War hero and South Africa’s Prime Minister throughout 1924-1939; hence the name “ Hertzoggie.” In keeping with tradition, Hertzoggies are served with English tea.
Remarkably enough, Hertzog's direct opponent – General Jan Smuts – also gave name to the tart created by his supporters and called, a Smutsie.

9. Soetkoekies

Image Courtesy of: Brian Schwenk
Originally Dutch, Soetkoekies have been a firm favorite of South Africa's sweet lovers for years, if not centuries, alongside rusks and other traditional cookies. Its recipe is probably one of the oldest still in use, dating back as far as 1652.
A close cousin to Dutch speculaas, over time, soetkoekies have lost their white pepper and cardamon, and had red wine added to the formula. Also, unlike the Dutch relative (made in shaped molds, crisp and crumbly in texture), soetkoekies are drop cookies and deliciously chewy. Traditionally, they are decorated with red stripes using "rooi bolus" (a food coloring mixture).

10. Pumpkin Fritters/ Pampoenkoekies

Pumpkin Fritters/ Pampoenkoekies
Traditional Pampoenkoekies, the Afrikaans name for pumpkin fritters, are light, fluffy and literally melting in your mouth. Depending on how they are prepared, pampoenkoekies can be served either for breakfast, as a snack dessert, or as a side dish. A little bit savory, a little bit sweet, they may as well qualify as a pudding. The preparation process involves pureed pumpkin mixed into a spiced batter and fried, upon which it is rolled in cinnamon sugar. What you put on top it – a drizzle of caramel sauce, some whipped cream, or perhaps even meat – largely depends upon your estimation of this delicious treat. Any such combination will be good.

11. Lemon Meringue Pie

Lemon Meringue Pie
Image Courtesy of: Kenny Louie
Reportedly of Swiss or English origin, from as far back as the 1800s, Lemon Meringue Pie may well not be unique to South Africa, but is so much loved here that practically every coffee shop across the nation serves it. Widely made and hugely enjoyed, this puffy and fluffy meringue has a slightly crunchy top, sweet and tart curd filling, and buttery biscuit base, or pasty, to hold it all together.
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