Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ouma Babsie's Soetkoekies

(From Marietjie Swart, who has kindly lent us this recipe from her wonderful blog - Rainbow Cooking - full of culinary memories from a South African childhood.)

If I think of Ouma Babsie, my grandmother on my mum's side, I picture her in her farm kitchen with the wood-burning stove and the wooden kitchen table which took most of the space.  

The generator power on the farm was mainly used in the evenings for lights or to use the meat cutting machine after a slaughter.  Water for bathing was heated with a "donkey boiler". (The water was a bit muddy as it came directly from the Orange River).  Drinking water had to be pre-boiled and was stored in containers on the floor in the dining room (the coolest room).  

The fridge and freezer ran on parrafin and the stove ran on wood/coal. If my grandfather was away, my grandmother didn't bother with the generator and only used parrafin lamps as lighting.  

Where my grandparents lived on an irrigation farm in the North-West Cape on the Orange River, temperatures soared in summer and you can imagine how hot and sweltering a kitchen would become whilst baking, as the heat from the wood burning stove inside the kitchen as well as the outside temperatures (that were usually in the high 30s - 40C) was quite something.  

But thankfully my grandmother braved the heat and we had lots of biscuits to eat, as she loved sweet treats. 
Helping my grandmother baking was fun - she shared many stories of the old days over the kitchen table. She didn't really need help as she was a very capable women. She worked  with large quantities of meat, making her own butter and baking on large scale on her own as she filled big containers with her baking - but we both enjoyed the company. 

I have fond memories of these Soetkoekie biscuits.  My grandmother rolled the dough, and then rolled over the dough with rolling cookie cutters, cut in different patterns. My two favourites were the heart and diamond cookie cutter forms.

She glazed her biscuits by washing them with egg (possibly egg white) before baking, and it gave it a lovely shine.  I adjusted her recipes to a much smaller batch as I don't want to bake biscuits with 12 cups of flour at a time.  

In later years, I tasted a soetkoekie which was baked by a lady from a home-industry.  (In South Africa many good bakers / jam makers / needlework boffs would sell their products via a "tuisnywerheid" as it is called in Afrikaans. Translated to English it simply means a coop-shop called a home-industry where people would sell the stuff they made - usually at home.  The name of the baker is not written on the product, but all members of the home-industry would be alloted numbers to differentiate between them.)

Back to the biscuits - the soetkoekie biscuits were so tasty that I phoned the home-industry to ask for the name and phone number of the person  who baked them.  They gave it to me and I complimented the lady about the biscuits and asked her if she would mind sharing the recipe and she gave it very kindly to me.  

Lo and behold - her recipe and my grandmother's recipe were very similar! The only difference was that the biscuits I bought were very elegant as they were very rolled out very thinly and cut out in circles, and all looked the same.  My grandmother rolled her biscuits out a bit thicker.  I must admit, I do not get them excactly so thin like the lady from the "tuisnywerheid", but I love them.

In the past, many people decorated the biscuits with red stripes by using  "rooibolus" (I guess a sort of old fashioned red food colouring) - but neither my grandmother and the kind lady from the home industry  used it as far as I can remember and therefore I don't bother.

This is my variation of soetkoekies, a very traditional and well-loved South-African biscuit. It is spice biscuits, flavoured with sweet wine.  The original recipe asks for pork lard and butter - but I just settle for butter as it is not so easy to get pork lard.


  • 2 cups (500 ml) flour
  • ¼ teaspoon (1 ml) ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon (1 ml) ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon (2 ml) ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
  • zest of an orange or mandarin (naartjie)
  • ¾ cup (180 to 200 ml) sugar
  • ½ cup (110 gram) butter
  • 1 egg
  • ¾ teaspoon (4 ml) bicarbonate of soda
  • ¼ cup (50 ml) sherry, port or sweet wine (or replace with 2 tablespoons brandy and 2 tablespoons milk)
  • Egg white for glazing


  1. Dissolve bicarbonate of soda in sweet wine.
  2. Combine the dry ingredients.
  3. Add the butter and cut into the flour mixture.
  4. Add the beaten egg and bicarbonate of soda mixture, and mix dough together until it is a firm dough.
  5. Preheat oven to 180°C.
  6. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to approximately 5 mm thick.
  7. Cut the dough into forms with a cookie cutter.
  8. Arrange them about 3 cm apart on a buttered cookie sheet.
  9. Brush each biscuit gently with the egg white.
  10. Bake for 15 minutes- until golden brown.
  11. Remove to a rack to cool completely.


  1. This is a gorgeous story and I am definitely going to try these! I love a recipe that I haven't tried before but I have most of the ingredients in my cupboard! I know there are several followers of the blog who are Sth African in origin and are going to LOVE reading this!

  2. Thank you for your kind words Emma! It is a privilege to share it with you. There are plenty more recipes from SA origin on www.rainbowcooking.co.nz, but usually the stories are a bit shorter on there.