It’s not everyday that one gets to experiment with a recipe that’s over 200 years old. Last Saturday was such an occasion. Early morning saw me nursing my first cup of coffee on the front stoep. My neighbourhood’s resident guinea fowl came calling; territorial squirrels chased each other along the telephone line running from the street to my house; and the cat sat at my feet trying to work out how to kill something. It was shaping up to be a fine day, so I decided to bake.
Paging through one of gran’s many dog-eared recipe books, I came across a newspaper clipping honey-gold with age. It dates back to the 1950s and contains a recipe for ‘soetkoekies’ passed on by then 78-year-old Judith Engelbrecht of Pretoria. She’s long gone of course, but she was a descendant of Voortrekker leader, Andries Pretorius, after whom the city Pretoria was named. According to the clipping, these were Andries Pretorius’ soetkoekies. I doubt Andries baked, but I bet he was happy every time Mrs Pretorius served these. It’s an incredibly easy soetkoekie recipe and just the way I think soetkoekies should be, laden with spice.
All you need is…
6 cups cake flour
5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp fine cloves
1 tsp powdered cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
2 cups white sugar
3 cups cold salted butter
4 jumbo free range eggs
1 egg, whisked with 2 tbs water or milk
Sieve together the dry ingredients. Rub in the butter until it disappears in the flour. (You could blitz it in your food processor if preferred. I bet Mrs Pretorius would have if she could have!) Whisk the four eggs and add to the flour. Knead until it comes together. It will initially look too dry but it all works out, so don’t be tempted to add liquid!
If it’s a very hot day and it looks like the dough will be difficult to work with, wrap it in cling film and pop it in the fridge for half an hour to firm up. If it’s cold out and the dough looks good to go, you can roll it out right away. Dust your working surface with a bit of flour, roll the dough out to about 4mm and use a cookie press to shape the biscuits. Place them on a baking tray prepared with some non-stick baking spray and paint them lightly with the egg wash. Bake in a preheated 200 degree Celsius oven for 10-15 minutes until light gold. These biscuits will of course be soft when they come out of the oven but will become hard as they cool down. Keep in an airtight container. This recipe makes 140 biscuits. I guess they had big families back then. You can very successfully halve the recipe if preferred.