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Old-fashioned soetkoekies (traditional South African spice biscuits)

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.

This is not Ouma Babsie’s recipe though. Her biscuits were rustic. These are thin and crispy.

This recipe is from a home-industry baker whose biscuits were so good that Marietjie tracked her down, and she kindly shared the recipe. It was for a large batch, so Marietjie scaled the recipe down to a smaller batch that it can be shared here on Rainbow Cooking.

Ingredients

  • 4 2/3 cups flour
  • ½ cup (115 gram) butter
  • ½ cup (115 gram) pork lard/pork dripping (“varkvet” in Afrikaans). See the notes section.
  • 1 2/3 cups (410 ml) granulated Sugar (brown or white)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ½ teaspoon (7 ml) baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) hot milk
  • 3 tablespoons (45 ml) sweet wine - such as Hanepoot, Muskadel, sweet sherry or Marsala
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon (4 ml) ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon (1 ml) ground nutmeg
  • Very finely grated orange zest, or the zest of a satsuma/mandarin/tangerine/naartjie

Method

  1. Slightly soften the butter and lard, add sugar and cream together.
  2. Add eggs, one by one and beat well.
  3. Slightly warm milk, and dissolve the baking soda in it. Add to mixture.
  4. Add the wine, salt, spices and zest. Mix thoroughly, there should be no lumps and the spices should be well distributed.
  5. Add flour. If the mixture is too soft you can add more flour.
  6. Allow the dough to rest (anything from 2 hours to overnight in a cool place - depending on when it suits you to bake).
  7. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C
  8. Roll the dough out between two sheets of glad wrap or baking paper until it is about 3 mm thick.
  9. Cut out into forms with a cookie cutter or wine glass (a fluted round cookie cutter is a traditional form). Try not to over-handle the dough.
  10. For best results, roll and cut small batches at a time and keep the rest of the dough in a cool place until you need it.
  11. Bake at 180°C for about 15 minutes until light brown.
  12. Carefully move the biscuits to a rack to cool completely.
Notes: 

The recipe calls for lard. You can use butter instead, but the biscuits will not be as good. You can buy lard, but it is easy to make your own: simmer an unsmoked ham hock/pork bone or two in water for a few hours, remove the meat and bone and allow the stock to cool down completely. After a few hours in the fridge you can scoop the concealed pork fat from the top. This leaves you with stock and meat that will make a lovely ham and pea soup, but that is another story.