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Baking and Confectionery

Speculaas are thin spice biscuits, known for their caramelised crunchiness, and also for their beautiful relief designs. They are traditionally baked around the 5th of December in the Netherlands and Belgium to celebrate St Nicholas' day, using skilfully carved wooden moulds.

Chocolate brownies are a convenient source of chocolate. With chocolate being the most important of the five food groups, you ought to plan your day carefully so that you do not get caught without it during either morning or afternoon tea.

The problem with chocolate brownies, of course, is that they are at their fudgy best when you take them out of the oven, but we found it works well to eat half of it on the spot, and the rest a bit later.

Here is a classic recipe for coconut ice, but with a modern tweak.

Marietjie's mother got the recipe from Aunt Hetty Gouws. Aunt Hetty used a drop of red food colouring for the pink coconut icing, but because we avoid artificial food colouring when we can, Marietjie experimented with natural freeze-dried raspberry powder, with excellent results.

Crunchies – the well-loved South African biscuits that remind of Anzac biscuits, or even British flapjacks – comes in many variations, but this recipe is for a somewhat thinner, crunchier version.

Peppermint Crisp Balls are truffles, or chocolate balls, made from South African Peppermint Crisp bars. These wicked balls will get you out of trouble when you have to deal with a desperate craving for Peppermint Crisp Tart, but just do not have time (or the inclination) to build the full-blown traditional tart layer by layer. If you don’t like lots of cream, Peppermint Crisp Balls might even be a better option.

The Germans call these Christmas biscuits Zimsterne. They are a bit like macaroons, but rolled out and cut with a cookie press.

While not fancy, two-tone biscuits are not run-of-the-mill either. They are fun to make, because you can get really creative with them if you want to, and are delicious to eat.

“Lemoenstroopkoek” means “orange syrup cake”, but because this cake contains dates, we think it should be called an “Orange and date cake”.

Marietjie’s father – who had a sweet tooth – loved this cake for his birthday. Because his birthday coincided with their annual winter holiday on the farm, baking this cake became part of the routine holiday preparations. These days Marietjie bake it on her father’s birthday to treasure his memory.

Ouma Babsie, Marietjie's grandmother, braved a sweltering hot kitchen to bake large batches of these spicy, wine-flavoured biscuits in her wood-burning oven before the start of the festive season. They lived on a farm in the North-West Cape on the Orange River. The outside temperature soared to 40° Celcius or more during summer, so it was no mean feat on Ouma Babsie’s part. Marietjie has fond childhood memories of helping with the baking, which included hearing many stories of the old days.

The Dutch invented these delectable biscuits, calling it bokkepootjes (“goat feet”) because they resemble the hooves of a tiny goat. Bokkepootjes are gluten free, being made from meringue and almond meal. They are filled with butter cream, or alternatively, with apricot jam, marzepan or melted dark chocolate. The tips are dipped in chocolate. The result is positively divine.

The problem with eating blue cheese is that they are always the wrong size: too large to finish in one sitting, but too small to have something decent for a second round. These blue cheese and thyme biscuits are a sensible way out.

If you like crunchy biscuits, you will most probably love these cereal biscuits as much as we do.

We came across Cookies, a recipe book by Woman’s Weekly, in the local bookstore and bought the book to try out their recipe for Latte Squares. They turned out lovely, with a texture that is almost-crispy and almost-chewy at the same time. This is a biscuit that begs to be made in the shape of a medium-sized bear, so that is what we did.

This is an old fashioned recipe, which Marietjie loves. Her mom used to bake these biscuits, with the help of a cookie press, in large batches, but Marietjie adapted it for a smaller, family-sized batch.

Cinnamon sugar biscuits, also known as Snickerdoodle cookies, have been around for a long time. They are simple but addictive, which means that although they keep well for 10 to 14 days when stored in a tin, they are unlikely to last for more than a day or two in a house of cinnamon lovers.

Old-fashioned cup-cake recipe with currants and nutmeg.

We love sharing milk tart with our friends, but because it’s a bit unpractical to take a milk tart to a finger-food pot luck meal, Marietjie started filling small home-made tartlet cases with her standard milk tart filling. The plate is always empty when it’s time to go home.

Ystervarkies are small cubes of cake that are dipped in chocolate sauce and then rolled in coconut, to resemble hedgehogs. (“Yservarkie” is Afrikaans for “hedgehog”.) South African lamingtons are much smaller than the Australian and New Zealand versions, usually measuring only 3 or 4 cm square.

These delectable muffins are also known as cappuccino chocolate chip muffins, but we think of them as “mochacchino muffins”, in honour of the caffè mocha, that king of drinks made from espresso, steamed milk and chocolate. Make sure that you enjoy it with the very best coffee you can lay your hands on.

This is said to be the chocolate oat biscuit recipe used by famous brands in both South Africa and the United States. It is also claimed that they are healthy because they use oatmeal (which is low in GI and contains antioxidants) and dark chocolate (everyone knows dark chocolate is good for you). We couldn’t care less if any of these wild claims are true or not; all we know is that these chocolate oat biscuits are crisp and additively delicious.

We made these easy apple tartlets with a simple apple filling and tasty squares dough, using a silicon tartelette container. It was a bit of an experiment, but they came out beautifully, exactly like the apple tartlets we grew up with as children.

Tasty squares, an old-fashioned South-African slice, might have its roots in Holland.

This is more or less the recipe that Marietjie’s mum baked, but we prefer to go light on the cloves and almond essence.

A pudding that’s allowed only once every four years? Yes, that’s right. In honour of leap year, we made South African leap year pudding.

Condensed milk biscuits are well-known in South-Africa. They are similar to New Zealand condensed milk biscuits, but contain egg.

The dough is soft and very pliable, which means you can shape your biscuits with a cookie press, or even a meat grinder with a cookie attachment, if you are so lucky to own one.

If you are a fan of Milo, you will most probably love Milo biscuits. They are crunchy on the outside, soft and Milo-ish inside, and goes very well with a glass of cold milk.

Ouma Corrie, Marietjie’s grandmother, taught her to make Swiss roll when she was a little girl – a skill that is appreciated by Jaco and Mia, who loves eating Swiss roll.

The main difference between South African and Kiwi recipes seem to be the filling: raspberry jam in New Zealand, and apricot jam in South Africa. We use Craig’s Apricot Lite Fruit spread, available in New Zealand supermarkets.

You can fill it with anything of you like, of course: caramel condensed milk became a popular filling in South-Africa, and lemon curd is worth trying too.

Custard slices (Afrikaans “vlaskywe”), a very traditional treat in South Africa, are made by sandwiching thick custard between two layers of crispy crust, and adding a thin layer of icing to glaze the top. They are related to Kiwi custard slices/squares, but not quite the same.

This recipe is based on the traditional South African custard slice, but we used rose water to flavour the icing, and puff pastry to make the crust. You can of course use either lemon juice or vanilla in the glaze icing, which is more traditional than the some-what Bohemian flavour of rose water.

This Kiwi favourite – called yo-yo biscuits because they look like the toy – are egg-free and made from custard powder. When made with real butter, they are guaranteed to melt in the mouth. A number of cafés in New Zealand sell enormous yo-yo biscuits, but we prefer them smaller.

These biscuits do not require cooling down after baking; they are pure bliss hot from the oven. In fact, they are a bit like a cup of thickly brewed Mexican hot chocolate: creamy, chocolaty, and lightly spiced with cinnamon and a dash of chilli.

“Shall I bake a cheesecake?” Marietjie asked, and proceeded to spread her recipe books on the table. She could not quite find what she wanted and started to devise a new recipe on the spot. Jaco had his doubts, but can now report that he worried too much. His wife’s new recipe turned out to be just right in his view – and he’s been looking for the perfect New York style cheesecake for a very long time.