Roosterkoek, that old South African favourite, is not difficult to make if you know how – but it does take a fair amount of time. I got my roosterkoek pointers from Celia Smit, from the Joubert family farm, Middelplaas, in the Eastern Cape’s Steytlerville district. Celia is the roosterkoek queen on the farm and has been making these simple little breads, traditionally baked on a wood fire, for many years. She learnt the method from her mother, whose family had lived in the area for several generations.
10 cups white bread flour plus a bit extra on the side if needed; 1 tbsp salt; 1 sachet instant dry yeast; about 1 litre of lukewarm water (use 500ml cold mixed with 500ml boiling so the temperature is just right), about 1/2 cup of sunflower oil.
Mix the flour, salt and yeast together in a big enamel dish; gradually add the lukewarm water and mix to a soft dough. Add more water and flour if needed if your dough is too stiff or too soft.
Knead the dough in the dish for 5 to 10 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic. Wrap the dough, in its dish, tightly in a clean cotton cloth and let it rise until about double in size. You can either put it in a warm spot to rise or stick it in one of those ingenious “wonder oven” styrofoam efforts – either way it shouldn’t take more than about two hours.
Knock down the dough while also working the oil into it. Wrap the dough up as before; put it back in the “wonder oven” or in a warm spot. This time it’ll double in size far quicker – anything from half an hour up.
Shape the dough into long sections – use the video demonstration to guide you if you’re not sure how – and flatten down slightly using your hands. Cut into squares of about 9x9cm. You should get about 28 squares out of this amount of dough.
Braai the roosterkoek on a grid over a cool fire – when the coals have a layer of ash over them then your fire is ready. Make sure you use a grid with a fairly fine mesh so the dough doesn’t fall through the holes; also make sure your grid has no fat or meat residue on it or the roosterkoek won’t rise properly – in fact it’s probably better to keep a grid specifically for roosterkoek if you’re going to make it regularly. Bake each roosterkoek on both sides and also turn them on their sides so the edges bake through – for this purpose a grid with raised sides is probabably best so they don’t go flying.
Before serving, wrap the hot roosterkoek in a clean cotton cloth and let them “sweat” a bit so the crusts aren’t as tough – 10 minutes should be ample. Serve with butter and jam.
- Roosterkoek that has been baked on the fire freezes well and is easy to reheat when sliced in half and popped into the toaster.
- The same dough can also be deep-fried to make “vetkoek” – these are pefect for filling with curried mince to make a traditional South African “curry bunny”.