South African Soetkoekies for IMBB #10



And so another month has come and gone, and another IMBB is upon us!  I can't believe this is already the tenth edition and the seventh one I have participated in – time really does fly when you're having fun! "Is My Blog Burning", a worldwide web cooking event and the brainchild of Alberto of Il Forno, continues to go from strength to strength.  The host this time round was Jennifer from The Domestic Goddess and as a theme she chose cookies. 

Now, as I have mentioned before, I am not a baker by nature.  For one thing, the required preciseness scares me off, and for another, I have practically no baking equipment!  But, undeterred, I ploughed ahead and did a bit of cookie-based research to find something suitable to bake.  I must have had the knack for baking at some stage in my youth because I do remember baking cookies when I was little. My mom (who must have been quite the domestic goddess in her time!) had all the right stuff for cookie baking – huge stainless steel baking sheets, a cookie press with every attachment known to mankind, cookie cutters, scales, an old-fashioned ceramic mixing bowl and a box full of chocolate sprinkles, silver balls, birthday cake candles and other baking paraphernalia.  I remember helping her make elaborate cookies with the cookie press or making little heart shaped cookies that I was allowed to press out and put on the baking sheets.  My early cooking attempts also included Krispy Crackolets from My Learn to Cook Book (and incidentally, I discovered when I went home in June that I kept my book!!  I'll have to bring it back with me next time I go!) which certainly count as cookies.  But somehow, somewhere along the way, I stopped baking.  Part of it may have to do with not having much of a sweet tooth – I would sooner learn a good pasta sauce than a good cookie – but part of it is also a lack of equipment.  I mean, for other cooking you need a basic set of stuff – pots and pans, spoons, a measuring jug, ovenproof dishes and a colander will get you very, very far in life.  But (as I discovered) they won't get you awfully far in baking!

I have been doing a lot of South African food lately.  Last week we had a fab lunch at our place – an informal reunion of the people we hung out with at the Oktoberfest this year – and I had promised them a meal of South African dishes.  Now as I have said before, making South African food in London can be tricky as it is often ingredient specific.  A roast isn't a particularly South African dish – but a springbok roast is, and I challenge you to find a springbok leg in Tesco!! So when it comes to making a South African meal, you have to be quite inventive over here.  Last week's meal took a bit of head-scratching and waiting for inspiration to strike, but in the end I came up with a menu:

Pre-lunch drink – Brandy and Coca-Cola

Starter – Avocado and biltong soup

Main – Bobotie with yellow rice and cinnamon butternut

Dessert – Old Cape brandy pudding

With coffee – Soetkoekies (spicy wine cookies)

OK, so I may have been a bit ambitious thinking I could whip all this up for seven people, so by the time I got to three courses, I decided to postpone the soetkoekies, but I wanted you to see where they would logically have slotted into my South African extravaganza menu.  (I will do a separate post tomorrow on the meal last week and the recipes – for now let's focus on the cookies!)

Soetkoekies are of Dutch origin and have been a favourite South African biscuit-tin filler for many years, together with such standbys as crunchies and rusks. The Dutch colonised Cape Town in 1652 and rapidly established their cooking traditions at the Cape, so this is probably one of the older recipes still in use in South Africa.  Unsurprisingly, given their Dutch roots, there is a definite correlation between the ingredients and flavours of these cookies and Dutch speculaas – the only spices left out of the soetkoekies are white pepper and cardamom, otherwise they are the same.  However, in appearance and texture they are quite different: while speculaas is made in shaped moulds, soetkoekies are drop cookies; and whereas speculaas is quite crisp and crumbly, soetkoekies are deliciously chewy. Originally, they used to be decorated with red stripes using "rooi bolus" (a ferri-oxide mixture used as food colouring – probably has an official E-number these days!) as a colouring, which would make sense in light of the decorated speculaas which was traditionally made, but this did not sound like an awfully good idea to me…  So I went for the uncoloured version, tradition be damned!

In the process of baking I discovered just how ill-equipped I am for this baking lark.  I don't have a food scale, so quantities are guestimated using the principle that 100g of water and 100ml of water are the same (clearly this does not hold true for flour, sugar, etc, but hey, let's not get technical).  I also don't have a hand mixer or a food processor, so "cream the butter and sugar" involves heavy arm exercise with the manual egg beater.  I am also feeling a distinct lack of measuring spoons – a teaspoon you can still just about manage to guess, but a quarter teaspoon??  Oh, and as I finished mixing the dough I remembered that I don't own baking sheets in this country (I hate it when that happens… you know you own something but you forget that you are not in the country where that object is currently residing!).  Hmmm.  Lets grease the roasting pan then.  All things considered, it would be a miracle if anything edible came of my attempt, really!

But to my eternal and pleasant surprise, what I took out of the oven after 15 minutes of baking were these rather yummy looking cookies:


(The pale peaks on top are beaten egg-white that the recipe requires to be daubed on top of the cookies before baking, but I won't bother doing this again.)  Not having made these before I didn't really know what to expect, but the smell coming from the oven was really, really promising.  Once they had cooled I tried one – delicious!  They are very moist, chewy cookies, as opposed to crumbly cookies, and had a lovely robust spicy flavour – definitely a Christmas's taste.  I think next time I might substitute sherry for the red wine to bring out the boozy flavour a bit more, but the red wine worked perfectly well.  I also liked the chunky almond bits studded throughout the cookies.  So without further ado, here is the recipe for those who want a taste of South African culinary heritage.  This version is from The Cookie Tin but you will find almost identical recipes in most South African cookbooks.

SOETKOEKIES (spice wine cookies)


2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces
2 eggs
1/4 cup red wine
1 egg white, beaten


Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C) and lightly grease the baking sheets.

Combine the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, ground cloves, brown sugar, and almonds.  Cut in the butter.  Stir in the eggs and red wine.

Roll the dough into walnut-sized balls and place on cookie sheets about 2 inches apart. Take heed of this measurement – they spread!

Dab tops with beaten egg white (optional) and bake for 12-15 minutes or until brown around the edges.

Transfer to wire racks to cool.

If you enjoyed reading this, please consider sharing it using the social media buttons below the post. I'd also love to hear what you thought about this post so please do leave a comment below. Hope to see you again soon!

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. says

    Jeanne, these cookies sound really scrumptious! I can’t wait to read more on this entire menu…as a matter of fact.
    Thanks so much for joining in on the cookie swap!

  2. says

    Jeanne – these sound sooo good! Sounds like getting them put together required a bit of ingenuity on your part. I’m seriously considering including them among my Christmas cookies this year. Thanks so much for the recipe!

  3. says

    Thanks again for hosting and for getting me to bake for a change! I think I may even be inspired to do a bit more, now that I’m encouraged by this success! And there will definitely be a post soon about the SA meal we had last week!
    You won’t regret adding them to your Christmas cookie menu – they are lovely! But I think a little shopping trip may be in order before I do any more baking, so that next time I will be fully kitted out. Less amusing for the readers but better for my sanity 😉

  4. says

    These really sound great; they have that edge of interest that a Christmas biscuit needs; all those spices and the red wine. They’re a talking point as well as a biscuit!
    I really love Dutch foods, so something inspired by that cuisine will certainly be something I’ll make this year!

  5. says

    Mmmm… these sound super! I love the idea of red wine in biscuits… something I’ve never tried, but which I plan to make right soon!
    and I loved your story about how you put them together… kudos for persevering — the biscuits sound like they were worth it : )

  6. says

    Thanks to both of you for your lovely compliments!
    They certainly turned out to taste more like Christmas than I could ever have hoped for – and as you say, it’s not every day that you get such an array of ingredients & flavours in one cookie! You certainly won’t regret trying them!
    As I’ve said before, I’m all for alcohol in food – and it’s unusual to find booze in a cookie. But it certainly adds to the Christmas “spirit”! The story of making them was really comical – a classic case of fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Yes, let’s leap into baking with absolutely NO equipment! But the experience has inspired me to grab a couple of my mom’s old baking sheets when I go home for Christmas…

  7. says

    oh! i have to try those! not only because spekuloos are one of my firm favourites for christmas and i have never made them myself, and second so i can serve my friend lyn a taste of her (south african) home when she’s with us this christmas! thanks for this great recipe!

  8. says

    Hi Johanna!
    Glad you like the recipe – and glad to hear you will have some southern hemisphere types staying over at Christmas! She should enjoy these – I know my father went into raptures of delight when I told them I’d made them… Hope your finger is feeling a little better after your valiant attempt at home amputation 😉

  9. says

    Hi Carolyn,
    Glad to surprise you with these! They are in fact listed under 18th Century recipes on some sites, so should be right up your street… And it’s also interesting to find a recipe that hints so strongly at South Africa’s Dutch culinary heritage.

  10. Stefani says

    I am doing an imformational report on South Africa. I am planning on baking this recipe for my class. I would like to know how to pronounce this word.. (Soetkoekies) I would also like to know any other information on them if that is not a problem for you.. Thank you!

  11. yoman says

    hey i found this recipe 4 soetkoekies If u wanna compare
    South African Traditional Soetkoekies (Sweet Cookies)
    Recipe #187261
    1 rating
    This is an ancient and very beloved cookie recipe, which my grandmother made in large quantities before the December beach holidays. Remember, it’s summer then, down here! There are slight variations on this recipe, as is usual with traditional recipes. There is again a Cape Malay influence evident with the spices used. DO try and get or make the rendered fat — it’s worth it. I made a note about it in the Directions below.
    42 min 30 min prep
    5 cups cake flour
    2 cups brown sugar
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1 teaspoon ground cloves
    1 teaspoon allspice
    2 teaspoons ground ginger
    3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
    1 teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)
    2 1/2 teaspoons salt
    1/4 lb soft butter
    1/4 lb rendered pork fat or 1/4 mutton fat
    1/2 cup sweet wine, but may need up to 3/4 cup (use a muscatel or sweet sherry)
    2 jumbo eggs, whisked well
    1. Preheat oven to 375 deg F/190 deg Celsius.
    2. Grease cookie tins.
    3. ** The fat: often one can buy raw pork or mutton fat from a butcher or supermarket butchery dept. Cut this fat into small blocks, put (in batches) in a heavy-bottomed pot, and leave over low heat for the fat to “melt out”. Pour off the fat at frequent intervals into a container, to prevent the fat browning in the pot. Do this before you start baking, and save the fat in the fridge in a closed container. Pork fat should be white or pale cream in colour. If darker, the heat you used was too high.
    4. In a large container mix the flour, brown sugar, all the spices and the salt.
    5. Rub in the butter and fat with your fingers and palms until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
    6. Whisk the eggs, add just 1/2 cup sweet wine to the eggs, then stir into the dry mixture.
    7. Add more of the sweet wine to form a fairly stiff dough. (The alcohol will bake out!).
    8. Knead, then roll out thinly on a floured surface.
    9. Press out large round cookies, carefully place on the greased tins, and bake in batches in the preheated oven.
    10. Check cookies after 10 minutes; don’t let them burn.
    11. Remove with an egg-lifter, and let them cool and harden on wire racks. Store in airtight tins.
    12. Can be made weeks before using.
    13. Although I give an approximately number of cookies, it will depend on your cookie cutter
    i no eww pig fat but i thought switch it with crisco way better yea (shake it off)