What's the difference between a koeksister & a koesister?

Chef Naseer Abdullah tells us, and shares an amazing recipe for the latter

22 September 2019 - 00:00
By Hilary Biller
Chef Naseer Abdullah sports an apron that reads 'koesisters are vetkoeke that believed in miracles'.
Image: Aaron Polikoff Chef Naseer Abdullah sports an apron that reads 'koesisters are vetkoeke that believed in miracles'.

"A week can't go by without me eating about 10 koesisters," says Naseer Abdullah, head chef of Radisson RED Hotel in Cape Town, which recently hosted a koesister "Koek Off".

"Koesisters are an integral part of my life because of the legacy — my grandmother used to make them," he adds.

"Whether you make them for others or enjoy them for yourself, it is a dish that will carry on for generations."

He tells us more about these traditional Cape Malay treats: 

What's the difference between the koesister and a koeksister?

The Afrikaans original, koeksister, is a golden, twisted plait, crisp on the outside with a sweet syrupy centre. Koesisters are a Cape Malay delicacy, oval dough balls with a doughnut-like texture, flavoured with spices and naartjie peel and much darker in colour.

When are koesisters traditionally served?

Koesisters is predominantly a Sunday tradition; however, on occasions such as a Gadat or prayer evenings - which are part of Muslim culture - koesisters definitely bring a sweetness to these happy occasions.

How did you learn to make koesisters?

I used to watch my grandmother, Gabeba Van Oordt, knead the dough and I'd constantly ask her a million questions and she finally answered all.

Your top tip for making them?

As funny as this may sound, making a good koesister dough should be treated like a baby. It requires a lot of attention and your time, so be patient and let the ingredients speak for themselves.


Makes: about 80


1.5l (6 x 250ml) cups of cake flour

120g(1 cup) self-raising flour

15ml (1 tbsp) dried lemon peel

15ml (1 tbsp) ground cinnamon

10ml (2 tsp) ground ginger

10ml (2 tsp) ground cardamom

20ml (4 tsp) whole aniseed

125ml (½ cup) of sugar

1 x 10g sachet instant yeast

2.5ml (½ tsp) salt

60g butter

375ml (1 ½ cups) boiling water

750ml (3 cups) warm milk

2 eggs, lightly beaten

To fry:

1 litre vegetable oil

Sugar syrup:

500ml (2 cups) sugar

500ml (2 cups) water

1 small stick cinnamon

1 cardamom pod, crushed

Coconut coating:

2-3 cinnamon sticks

20g pistachio nuts, roughly chopped

250ml (1 cup) desiccated coconut

Mix the flours with peel, spices, sugar, yeast and salt.

Koesisters are traditionally enjoyed mainly on Sundays.
Image: Aaron Polikoff Koesisters are traditionally enjoyed mainly on Sundays.


  1. To make the dough, mix the flours with the peel, spices, sugar, yeast and salt.
  2. Melt butter in boiling water and combine with milk.
  3. Add to the milk mixture to the dry ingredients with the eggs and mix thoroughly to form a soft, smooth dough. If the texture of the dough is too stiff, add some lukewarm water or milk.
  4. Cover with a tea towel or plastic wrap and leave to rise for 1-2 hours in a warm place.
  5. Once risen, moisten your hands with a little oil and roll the dough into small balls in the palm of your hand. Set aside for 15 minutes to rise again.
  6. Preheat the oil in a medium-sized shallow pan or wok.
  7. Deep-fry the balls in hot oil for about three minutes on each side. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel.
  8. Place all the ingredients for the syrup in a large saucepan and bring to a slow boil, stirring to ensure the sugar does not burn. Stir until the syrup reduces and becomes slightly sticky.
  9. Add the koesisters to the syrup and boil for 1-2 minutes then remove with a slotted spoon.
  10. Combine the coconut ingredients in a bowl. Sprinkle over the koesisters and serve warm.