My big, fat South African potato bake


Sometimes the universe is a funny place.

You spend weeks and weeks in a state of semi-depression at the weather.  Despite it officially being summer here in London, it just stays grey, blustery and a little damp.  Great for the garden, but not so great for South African sun bunnies like me.  You complain with your work colleagues over coffee.  You look wistfully at your sundress before putting it away and pulling out a cardigan.  And you tell your friends and family in South Africa about the depressing English weather and they all cluck in sympathy.

Then one of said friends from South Africa comes to visit you in London for a few days en route to a conference… and the weather is fantastic.  Sweltering, in fact.  And they look at you as if to say “you crazy woman – this weather is perfect!  What on earth are you always moaning about?”.  You then have the choice to:

a)  stick to your guns of misery and explain what the average summer temperature has been this year (well below average) and how much it’s rained (well above average), and that this week is a freak occurrence; or

b)  haul out the Weber braai (BBQ) and make hay while the sun shines!

Clearly, here at Chez Cooksister we chose the latter option!  And because I’d hate all of you, my dear readers, to run short of braai recipes in this rare spell of warm weather, I thought I’d share a modern South African classic.

When Nick announces that we are braaing, I ask the crucial question:  bake or salad?  He knows South African braai etiquette well enough to know that I am referring to the format in which he’d like his potatoes to be served (because obviously you can’t braai without potatoes!).  When I first came to London, I thought everybody made potato bakes, but it seems that they are far more of a South African habit than I knew – my English friends treat them like a rare delicacy.

If Nick chooses a bake, the end result depends on how enthusiastic I’m feeling and what I have available in the cupboard or fridge.  But the one ingredient that no self respecting Saffer would leave out of a potato bake is… brown onion soup.  I’ve written before about our collective love of packets of brown onion soup – it’s one of the things that my store cupboard is seldom without.  Once you are sure you have potatoes, cream, onions and the soup powder, the rest is just bells and whistles.  The bake that’s pictured above was made for frends, so I took a little extra care, adding mushrooms, cheese and breadcrumbs – but a simple bake can but just as addictively yummy.  The secret is in long, slow cooking so that the liquid is reduced and absorbed by the poatoes, so leave yourself plenty of cooking time.  It’s not health food (!) but I can vouch for its cheesy, starchy deliciousness – whatever the weather.

Need more potato deliciousness?  Try:


South African potato & mushroom bake
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
This creamy, cheesy potato mushroom bake is always a favourite at South African braais/barbecues. Easy to make and delicious to eat, it's a real crowd-pleaser!
Recipe type: Vegetable side
Cuisine: South African
Serves: 6-8
  • 4 large potatoes (waxy is preferable)
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 250ml cream (single or double)
  • 1 pkt brown onion soup powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • dried thyme
  • butter
  • 1 cup of sliced mushrooms
  • 1 cup grated cheese (mature cheddar or similar)
  • ½ cup fresh breadcrumbs
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Butter a large, shallow oven-proof dish lightly.
  2. Scrub the potatoes well and slice into thin slices (5mm or less). Crush the garlic and slice the onion into thin rings. In a jug, mix the cream with the onion soup powder.
  3. Lay a single layer of potato slices on the base of the buttered dish. Scatter a little crushed garlic, some onion rings and some sliced mushrooms over the top. Pour about about a quarter of the cream mix evenly over the vegetables, then sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper, a little thyme, and salt (but go easy on the salt as the soup is already salty).
  4. Repeat until the ingredients are used up - you will probably make at least 4 layers. Cover the dish with aluminium foil and place in the pre-heated oven for an hour to 90 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft and most of the liquid has been absorbed.
  5. Turn on the grill, remove the aluminium foil from the dish and spread the grated cheese on top of the final potato later. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the top and return to the oven, under the grill.
  6. Grill until the cheese is melted and the crumbs are beginning to brown, then remove from the oven and serve.

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  1. Lindy says

    As an American living in Manchester, I can SOOOOOO relate to the depressing summers in England! I miss my New England summers and am lucky enough to be spending 5 weeks in the states as I type!
    The potato mushroom bake looks yummy and I’ll have to give it a try soon!

  2. says

    That is one yummy looking potato bake!
    BTW – It’s raining here yet again today (Shropshire UK) this weather is getting me down! One week of sun last week and that’s it!

  3. says

    Good on yo, Jeanne for teaching those Pommies a thing or too…jokes. I think potato salad or bake is a man thing, because I have the same thing here. I think it is just the more flavorful version of Potatoes Dauphinoise….I love the extra little bits you’ve added.

  4. says

    I really like this sort of dish. It’s hearty and comforting, and easy to make. It’s something to have around when you’re feeling not as motivated to cook, or unable to cook for a few days because it’s low maintenance and yields leftovers.

  5. says

    OMG, that looks so deliciously rich! What a great way to use the potatoes that keep showing up at the market!
    We have to opposite weather problem this year… our tomato season is over two months early because it’s been so flipping HOT. I don’t know which kind of summer sounds less appealing…

  6. says

    We’ve only used the Weber once this summer, but it was a glorious day when we did. :) I’m not familiar with the BBQ-potato one-two punch, but I like the idea and your bake looks scrummy.

  7. says

    sounds delicious – I sympathise with the british summer – living in Edinburgh for a few years I loved the cold winters but the summers just never seemed to happen – but the one good thing is that at least it is not so horrendously hot to put the oven on for 90 minutes :-)

  8. says

    I often make a potato bake, but have never thought of adding mushrooms (doh!), I’m definitely going to add them next time. I really feel for you in that miserable Summer weather….

  9. says

    Australians cook potato bake too – so I know exactly your dilemma between bake and salad! But I never saw a recipe I wanted to try as much as this one!

  10. says

    Lindy – I hear ya. It’s not the cold that gets to me, it’s the relentless GREY! I could do cold and bright… And yes, do try the bake – you’ll fall in love!
    Peter – LOL! Potato, mushroom and testosterone bake, anyone?! But I know what you mean – it’s a very manly & not at all chi-chi dish.
    Dragon – I’d ship some to you if I thought it woudl survive the trip… 😉
    EatingClub – Oh no! You poor thing. I can’t really complain at the moment as we’ve had a week of FAB weather. I promise my potato bake will cheer you up though!
    Jan – it’s divine, just try it. And I agree – I fear that last week WAS our allocation of summer for the year…
    Nina – never get betweena man and his carbs… :o) And yes, this would be jazzy potato dauphinoise if it weren’t served with beer and boerewors on paper plates 😉
    Cookinpanda – entirely correct! You can make 2 dishes of this and freeze one with no problems. Also, if you add bacon, tuna or chicken, you have yourself a one-pot meal.
    Poonam – it is 😉
    Boots – now that’s a dilemma… but I still think I’d trade my summer for yours in an instant!! THis dish is wonderful – just try it next time you BBQ.
    Annemarie – oh, here we use the Weber if there is the slightest hint of sunshine. In fact, a couple of weeks ago the minute we had the fire lit, the rain came, so Nick just carried the Weber to the little porch outside the front door and braaied under shelter there!
    Susan – oh, tasting it will make you feel even better! It it’s a combination that’s guaranteed to make the ultimate comfort food.
    Nicisme – the mushrooms are actually a lovely addition, as is bacon for the cholesterol full blow-out 😉
    Kevin – it’s a marriage made in heaven – just give it a try!
    Johanna – LOL – so true! I made stock last night from a duck carcass and the house felt like a sauna!
    Gill – the mushrooms make for a nice change. You can also try adding bacon bits if you are feeling particularly decadent :)
    Kazari – I love both bake and salad so much, I often find it hard to choose… Will have to post my super-duper new potato salad recipe soon, for the benefit of those who don’t go the bake route…

  11. says

    Hi Jeanne,
    I love your recipe for the potato bake, scrummy! Who can argue with mushrooms, cheese and potato all in one dish?
    The one problem I seem to have is that I can’t find the packets of brown onion soup in my local superstore. Do you have any recommendations of where I could find some? Do I need to make a trip to my South African foodie store?
    Thanks :)

  12. says

    This does sound divine, Jeanne. But I can’t imagine making this to go with a summer barbecue (unless the weather really was quite chilly). The idea of having the oven going for an hour to an hour and a half when the outside temperature is around 30C is just too much.
    But our summer is rivalling yours (yesterday the high was around 18C) with rain galore so we may well be trying this wonderful dish sooner than I think.
    And as for potatoes being de rigeur for a barbecue, that’s very interesting. We rarely have potatoes with our barbecues (unless we’re doing sausages and vegetables in the barbecue wok, or we’ve made potato salad). For us, bread is what is absolutely required. Pita bread or naan baked directly on the grill. Or slices of French-style bread grilled and drizzled with olive oil and placed under medallions of barbecued pork shoulder….
    Noticing on the weather radar a window of rain-free opportunity, we made the most brilliant naan last night to go with our indoor made Rogan Josh and Aloo Gobi (Ha! You’re right! There are the potatoes!) Did I take photos? Ha. Of course not. That would just increase the folder size of unpublished posts.