The best South African desserts by the local food heroes


South African desserts are all about warm and fuzzy, hearty and homely flavours meant to satisfy the palette and comfort the soul. Gratify your sweet tooth in true South African style with this stellar line-up of local desserts from the Great South African Cookbook – from sweet syrupy koesisters to indulgent fluffy Dutch pancakes.

In this book South Africa’s finest cooks, chefs, gardeners, bakers, farmers, foragers and local food heroes let us into their homes – and their hearts – as they share the recipes they make for the people they love. Who better to learn the best of the nation’s favourite desserts than from those food heroes who’s hard work put great food on the table.

Hilary Biller – Food Editor

Word has it that Sunday Times Food Weekly editor, TV cook and cookbook author Hilary Biller has had a few close shaves in her years as a food editor. Think setting her hair on fire at a food presentation, discovering that an entire TV interview didn’t record and being given the Hells Kitchen treatment from everyone’s favourite angry chef Gordon Ramsay during an interview.

‘My maternal grandmother was an excellent cook of traditional Afrikaans food, and I have wonderful memories of meals at my grandparents’ home in Pretoria’

Buttermilk desserts with naartjie and Van der Ham syrup

serves 2 – 4

For buttermilk desserts

  • 15 ml (1 tbsp) gelatine powder
  • 80ml (1/3 cup) water
  • 500ml (2 cups) fresh cream
  • seeds of 1 vanilla pod
  • 180 ml (2/3 cup) caster sugar
  • 500ml (2 cups) buttermilk

For the syrup

  • 100 g (1/2 cup) sugar
  • 2 naartjies, sliced thinly into rounds with skin on
  • 375 ml (1 1/2 cups) water juice of 2 naartjies
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 stick cinnamom
  • grating of fresh nutmeg or pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 45 – 60 ml (3-4 tbsp) Van der Hum liqueur, warmed

Start making the buttermilk dessert the day before. Sprinkle the gelatine over the water and set aside to sponge. In a pot, combine the cream, vanilla seeds and sugar. Stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Don’t allow it to boil. Add the gelatine mixture and stir to dissolve. Remove from the heat and cool. Once cool, add the buttermilk and whisk till smooth. Spray 8 individual pudding moulds with cooking spray and divide the mixture between the moulds. Cover and cool in the refrigerator overnight. Remove from the fridge at least 30 minutes before serving and bring back to room temperature.

Just before serving, make the syrup. Place the sugar and water in a small pan and cook over medium heat until sugar has dissolved. Add the naartjie juice, naartjie slices and spices and cook over medium heat till syrup has thickened and naartjie slices have softened but not fallen apart. Pour over the warmed Van der Hum liqueur and ignite with a match. Once flames have subsided remove from the heat and cool.

Unmould buttermilk dessert onto serving plates and spoon over naartjie syrup. Finish off with naartjie slice or two.

Xolani and Yoliswa Gumede – Cappeny Estates

Making the leap from being a consultant in property development and the building industry to being a first generation farmer on Cappeny Estate has been quite the journey for Xolani and his wife Yoliswa. They farm intensively with strawberries and say that the lessons as first generation farmers have been plenty and insightful. The Oyster Box Hotel awarded Cappeny Estate as one of KZN’s Food Heroes so they must be doing something right, for sure.

‘Our family absolutely loves strawberries – ‘nature’s candy’ as they are often called. We believe they are the undisputed super fruit.’

Strawberry Cobbler

serves 2 – 4

For Strawberry Cobbler

  • 15 g melted butter
  • 2 cups (500 g) strawberries, hulled
  • 60 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 110 g sugar
  • 150 g cake flour
  • 125 ml milk
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 65 g sugar
  • 125 ml warm water
  • whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, to serve

Pre-Heat the oven to 180°C. With a pastry brush, coat the bottom of a 13 cm x 9 cm rectangular or large oval ovenproof dish with 15 g melted butter. Spread strawberries evenly on the bottom of the dish. Place dish on a lined 110 g sugar, cake flour, milk, baking powder and vanilla extract together with a wooden spoon. Spoon batter over the fruit in the dish and spread evenly.

Mix 65 g sugar and warm water together. Pour evenly over the top of the batter. (This gives the cobbler a golden brown crust and makes the strawberries more soft and sweet.)

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until topping is golden brown and fruit is bubbling. Enjoy warm as is, or with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Abigail Donnelly – Food Editor

During the years Abigail has placed her delicious stamp on South African food from being food editor at Fair Lady, to her current position as food editor at Taste Magazine and Foods Marketing Creative Manager at Woolworths. Every day she lives, loves and dreams food.

‘It is super exciting to be a part of the culinary industry in South Africa tight now. It’s booming and chefs and producers have never been so good’

Gooey pavlova with poached peaches

serves 2 – 4

For the pavlova

  • 12 free-range eggs, separated
  • 660 g caster sugar
  • full-cream yoghurt, to serve

For the peaches

  • 12 ripe peaches
  • 400 g caster sugar
  • 3 cups (750 ml) verjuice
  • 1 vanilla pod, cut in half lengthwise
  • 4 bay leaves
  • rose-water (optional)

Pre-heat the oven to 120°C. Place the egg whites in a very clean bowl. Beat until frothy, then add the sugar in stages. Beat until the meringue is thick, white and a glorious mass. Dollop onto a large baking tray lined with a silicone baking mat (I use a Silpat) or greased baking paper. Spread out into a circle and make peaks up the sides. Bake for 3 hours.

To make the peaches, cut a cross in the bottom of each peach. Place them, with all the rest of the ingredients except the rose-water, in a deep pan. Cover with a piece of greaseproof paper and tuck it in around the peaches. Simmer for 20 minutes or until they’re soft but still whole. Remove the peaches and reduce the liquid by simmering it until reduced. Slip the skins off the peaches and put them back into the liquid. If you like, add a dash of rose-water. Set aside to cool slightly. Serve the meringue topped with the peaches and dolloped with yoghurt.


When making the meringue, warm the sugar in the oven for a few minutes: this helps it to dissolve into the egg whites more easily and also makes them whip up into a greater volume of meringue.

Kubra Mohamed – Community Baker

Every Saturday for the past 18 years Kubra has been cooking koesisters for the people of the Bo-Kaap community in Cape Town. Her first customers arrive at about 4 a.m., after mosque, so she has everything prepared and ready. They line up in the street and then in her passageway, bringing along their plates and weekend chatter.

‘Feeding my community on the weekend is incredibly important to me, and I’ll carry on as long as I can.’


serves 2 – 4

For the koesisters

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 125 g soft butter
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tbsp fine cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp elachi (cardamom)
  • 1 tbsp fine dried ginger
  • 1 tbsp mixed spice
  • 1 tbsp fine aniseed
  • 2 tsp ground naartjie peel (see tip)
  • 20 g instant yeast
  • 1 egg
  • 1 kg flour
  • vegetable oil for deep-frying
  • 2 cups desiccated coconut, for sprinkling

For the syrup

  • 4 cups water
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 strips dried naartjie peel (see tip)

Place the sugar and butter in a bowl, add rapidly boiling water and milk, and mix well. Add in the spices, yeast and egg, and mix well again. Add the flour to form a dough, then knead it until it’s smooth and allow it to rest for an hour.

Make the syrup by combining the ingredients in a pot and bringing the mixture to a slow simmer.

Roll the dough into ‘sausages’, then cut them into 5 cm pieces and make the ends rounded. Leave the koesisters to rise for 15minutes.

Deep-fry the koesisters on a medium heat until dark brown on the outside. Prick the koesisters and place in the syrup in the pot. Simmer for 5 minutes on each side, remove and sprinkle with coconut.


To make dried naartjie powder, sun-dry 10 naartjie peels for 2 days until very dry. Store the dried peel in an airtight container until needed (it must stay totally dry to avoid mould). Grind to a fine powder in a coffee grinder just before using.


My recipe is simple and has taken many years to perfect. Naartjies are so prolific towards the end of winter, so that’s the best time to buy in bulk. We dry the skins in the hot African sun. Once the skins are totally dried out, I blend them in a coffee grinder to a fine powder. This produces a naartjie flavor that is incredibly sweet and citrusy, and I think this is what I would call my secret ingredient! It adds another depth of flavor to basic bread dough, and lends itself to the other spices we use in the koesisters.

Liesl van der Walt – Head gardener, Babylonstoren

As head gardener of the massive edible gardens at the beautiful Babylonstoren Farm Liesl lives out her knowledge and passion for gardening on a grand scale. She loves starring fresh and seasonal produce in simple but utterly delicious recipes.

‘Babylonstoren is, and continues to be a great journey for the team and me. We are incredibly proud to be part of a truly unique and special food garden in the heart of the Winelands’

Watermelon & lime sorbet with elderflower cordial

serves 2 – 4

For the sorbet

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 cups cubed watermelon, pips removed
  • 5 tbsp lime juice, or to taste
  • fresh mint leaves, to serve
  • extra watermelon, to serve

For elderflower cordial

  • 1 1/2 liters water
  • 1 kg sugar
  • 4 lemons
  • 10 big elderflower heads with buds that have opened fully (it’s best to cut these in the early morning)

Prepare 1-2 days ahead. To make the sorbet, put the water and sugar in a saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring until all the sugar crystals have dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Blend watermelon roughly in a blender, then mix watermelon, sugar syrup and about 5 tablespoons of lime juice to taste. Place in the freezer until almost frozen solid, take out and liquidise again. Place in the freezer again and freeze overnight. Remove from freezer a short while before serving to allow sorbet to soften a bit. Enjoy with mint leaves and fresh watermelon, and a drizzle of elderflower cordial.

To make the cordial, boil the water and then remove from heat. Add the sugar while water is still hot and stir until dissolved. Allow to cool. Slice the lemons. Cut the elderflower from their stems and add, with the lemons, to the sugar water. Cover and allow to stand for 48 hours. Remove the lemon slices and elderflowers. Pour the cordial into a sterilised bottle with a lid and keep in the fridge. Enjoy diluted with sparkling water in a ratio of 1:3, or drizzled over sorbet.

Errieda du Toit – Huiskok

As an avid cook and food writer Errieda’s name pop up in many a household in South Africa. Her expressive writing captures local recipes on her blog platform Huiskok, as well as the cookbooks of the popular reality tv series Kokkedoor and the Masterchef SA-The Cookbook.

‘A lifetime is not enough to discover the diversity, the flavours and the history of food in South Africa’

Dutch baby with grilled peaches and almond paste

serves 2 – 4

For pancake

  • 125 ml cake flour
  • 125 ml milk
  • 3 large eggs, lightly whisked
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 60 ml butter
  • lemon juice
  • icing sugar for dusting
  • crème fraîche or double cream yoghurt, to serve


  • peaches (you can use any stone fruit available)

For the almond paste

  • 1 cup almond flour (ground almonds)
  • 125 ml caster sugar
  • 1 egg white
  • zest of 1 lemon, finely grated

Pre-heat the oven to 220°C with the oven rack placed low. Place a large ovenproof heavy-bottomed pan (preferably cast iron) in the oven till very hot, around 8 minutes.

Whisk cake flour, milk, eggs, salt and nutmeg together in a medium-sized bowl until foamy, or use a blender or food processor. Do not overmix. Careful now! Add the butter to the hot pan, tilt the bottom to coat, then add the batter. Bake until the puffed sides are well browned and the centre is golden brown, around 20 minutes. Do not even think of opening the oven door while it bakes.

To make the filling, stone peaches and slice. Dip the fruit slices in brown sugar and caramelise on a hot griddle pan. To make the almond paste, place all ingredients in a blender and blend until it binds together. Form into a sausage and roll in plastic wrap or greaseproof paper til ready to use.

Take the pudding out of the oven, squeeze over some lemon juice, add the fruit filling and blobs of almond paste and dust with icing sugar. Serve in the pan and cut into wedges at the table.

Vary the fillings according to what’s in the cupboard: a simple filling of cinnamon sugar, lemon juice and honey is delicious.


The Great South African Cookbook

This incredibly beautiful proudly South African cookbook features the food locals love from 67 of South Africa’s finest cooks, chefs, bakers, farmers, foragers and local food heroes. This beautiful cookbook tells a feel-good story about the amazing food culture of the Southern tip of Africa, and it is unique in how it celebrates food heroes from every province. Proceeds from sales of this book go to the Nelson Mandela Foundation and put toward the upliftment of disadvantaged communities through food sustainability and empowerment.
Publisher: Quivertree in association with PQ Blackwell
Photography: Toby Murphy


NOTE: Do you have a fool-proof dessert making the most of local flavours? Tell us about it in the comments.

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