Seeking Sweetness in South Africa: A Basic Primer

koeksister photo from flickr user Chameleongreen

One of the most interesting aspects of discovering a culture is discovering how--and what--they eat. What flavors are commonly used? What are their native ingredients? What are the regional specialties? And most importantly, what's for dessert?


On a recent batch of emails with South African CakeSpy reader Sophie, she not only gave a tip on a shops to pick up cute cupcake pincushions (Delagoa African Arts and Crafts), but also paused to discuss what kind of sweets they like to eat there. Cupcakes, it turns out, haven't hit in the same way they have in the US (yet), but sounds like they've got plenty of other delicious sweets to keep them busy--thanks again to Sophie, who gave the 411 on the dessert scene in South Africa:

With our 11 official languages (and those are just for indigenous languages) and a myriad of other cultures (Chinese, Portuguese, Bulgarian, German and other African nationalities) it is difficult to pin-point what desserts South African as a whole enjoys. So I’m sure you’ll understand if I can only tell you what my own South African culture (Afrikaans) enjoys!

The Afrikaans culture has its roots in the Netherlands and France, as most of our ancestors came from there during the late 1600’s early 1700’s. So many of our desserts show (I think!) similarities to those countries.

But firm favourites are:


· Melktert (loosely translated to Milk tart) is especially nice and creamy and it’s a firm favourite on Sundays or at parties; here is a recipe. I have a recipe from my great-grandmother that I’m dying to try still and most Afrikaans families will have recipes for this that go back many generations.

· Malva pudding is a unique South African dessert (it’s to die for!) and it almost tastes like a brandy pudding, but just much, much better. Here is a recipe.

· Koeksisters are a very, very sweet but extremely popular syrupy-coated doughnut in a braided shape and I usually can’t have more than 2 (or 3, or definitely no more than 4!). Read more about them here--also, check out the "Koeksister Monument" here!

· Melkkos (which loosely translates to Milk Food and does not sound all that appetizing) is lovely as a dessert or as a meal, especially on a cold winters’ night. It’s quick and easy and you only need 4 ingredients: milk, flour, butter and cinnamon.

What about cakes, you ask? Well, reports Sophie:

On the cake side I’m actually not to sure what would be “typical Afrikaner” cakes ... I know we love Black forest cake, carrot cake and chocolate cakes but I’ve actually never really thought about what would be the uniquely South African cakes. Now I’ll never rest until I know!