Roosterkoek (literally grill cake – say “roor-stir-cook” and try to roll those r’s!) is the traditional bread to accompany a braai or BBQ. The roosterkoek are simply balls of bread dough cooked on a grid over the coals, and are best eaten piping hot and straight off the grill. There are other traditional braai breads (e.g. potbread), but these require a cast iron three-legged pot with a flat base, whereas all you need for roosterkoek is some dough and a fire! My earliest delicious memory of roosterkoek is eating it at a now-defunct restaurant in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa.
The restaurant bore the unlikely name of the Why-Not (and for those of you who may think you recall it, I am not talking about the restaurant that occupied the upper level of the modern complex overlooking the Central Beach parking lot – I am talking about the old white building that preceded it and fell victim to a fire in the early 1980s). The chef patron was French and the unusual name was a direct translation of “Pourquois Pas?” which (I think) was what he started out calling his restaurant. But to us as kids, it was simply “the French restaurant”, and I remember the restaurant primarily for two things: – the bearded French chef had a notoriously volatile temper and could often be heard yelling in the kitchen, long before Gordon Ramsay made this seem commonplace; and – instead of the usual boring basket of bread, they served roosterkoek before the meal. It always came to the table piping hot off the grill, together with a little bowl of anchovy butter and was the most simply delicious thing I had ever eaten.
Because my father was never the most enthusiastic braaier in the world, we never had roosterkoek at home, but as a teenager I was thrilled to discover that friends could make this stuff on demand, and on a braai!! Better still was the realisation that you could cut preparation time down by buying ready-made bread dough from a local bakery. They would sell the melon-size ball of dough, risen and ready to go, in an inflated plastic bag and all you had to do was make breadroll-sized balls and pop them on the grid! But even if you make your dough from scratch, these are not difficult to make and provide a whole lot of delicious for not a lot of effort. It takes a bit of skill to get the rolls to bake through without creating a layer of charcoal around the outside, and even more skill and vigilance to make sure they don’t stick irretrievably to the grid, but once you have the hang of it there’s no looking back!
The recipe below is a slightly adapted version of the one passed along to me via my dear friend Donald, from Tannie Joan (remember – she of the Three Tannies fame?) – thanks Tannie! For those of you who want to perfect your roosterkoek skills, it may also be helpful to bear in mind the following hints and tips:
- make sure the dough is on the stiff side (reduce the liquid if necessary). If it is too runny, the dough is going to drip through the grid before the rolls have a chance to bake!
- get your braai grid as clean as possible if you are going to make roosterkoek – blackened reminders of the Ghosts of Braais Past clinging to your roosterkoek is not pretty or clever.
- to stop the rolls from sticking to the grid, lightly oil your grid. Also make sure the rolls are shaped on a floured board so that they have a little some flour clinging to the outside.
- be very careful with the fire you plan to cook these on. It should be neither too large (i.e flames licking the rolls!), nor too hot (black outside + runny inside = “No thanks, not really hungry today!”). Use the hand-over-the-coals endurance test as described in my earlier post – if you can hold your hand there for 10 seconds or more, you are probably OK. Also make sure that the coals are distributed as evenly as possible before putting the roosterkoek on the grid.
ROOSTERKOEK (makes about 12)
300g plain flour
10ml instant yeast
30ml sunflower oil
180-200ml warm water
Mix the yeast and sugar together in a small cup together with a little of the warm water and stir. The mixture should foam after a minute or two. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour and salt, then add the oil and water while mixing continuously. When the mixture comes together to form a dough, add the yeast and sugar and mix well.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a few minutes. Place the kneaded dough in a lightly greased plastic bag or in a lightly greased bowl covered with a damp tea towel and allow to rise for about an hour, or until it has doubled in volume.
Divide the dough into 12 roughly equal pieces and shape into slightly flattened balls on a floured surface. Place on a baking sheet and cover with clingfilm. Leave to rise for another 15 minutes.
Place the braai grid over evenly distributed direct coals and allow to heat for 5 minutes. Lightly grease the grid and place the rolls directly on it for about 15-20 minutes. Alternatively, place the baking sheet in an oven at about 180C/350F for 15-20 minutes.
When half the cooking time has elapsed, turn the roosterkoek over. The roosterkoek are done when they are lightly browned, crispy on the outside and sound hollow when tapped. Remove from the fire/oven, split open and serve hot with butter.
Other bloggers baking up a storm with yeast include:
- Jamie’s Greek spiral feta rolls
- Asha’s garlic, Parmesan & parsley pull-apart bread
- Margot’s teddy bear yeast buns
I am submitting this recipe as my first (but hopefully not my last!) entry into this month’s Monthly Mingle, the even started by my gorgeous sister-from-another-mother Meeta. The theme she selected is South Africa – so how could I resist making something to show off my country’s cuisine to you? The deadline is 10 May – feel free to check out my South African recipes if you need some inspiration!