Friday nights are Vetkoek nights. In South Africa you can buy 1kg bags of ready-made bread dough from any bakery or supermarket especially for this purpose. Delectable little rounds of bread dough deep fried until golden on the outside and fluffy and soft on the inside… Perfect for a rainy Friday evening where you just want to have comfort food and a shiny face!
Vetkoek is South Africa’s answer to Street Food. You can eat it anywhere and any time of day and it is welcome at any occasion no matter how formal or informal. As a family we love to make vetkoek for packed lunch when we go on safari for a day or when we go on a road trip somewhere.
You can literally pile any toppings you want on it and it will still be perfect! I think there are as many variations on a vetkoek as there are households in South Africa – each with their own way of eating and toppings to suit their taste. We even eat soup with vetkoek instead of bread sometimes! Directly translated from Afrikaans to English vetkoek means fat cake and it is exactly as the name suggest: fatty filling and delicious!
Here in the UK we are not so lucky as to have bread dough ready made as they do in South Africa, however, it is probably just as simple to make as it is to drive to the shop and buying the dough.
The process is very similar to baking bread. You make a dough, proof it, knock it back, proof again and fry instead of bake. There are two different ways of frying a vetkoek that will both result in two very different taste experiences.
In a stand mixer (with dough hook attached) I first pop in the strong bread flour before putting the yeast on one side, the salt on the opposite side and the sugar in between. Although yeast does like sugar, it doesn’t like it in vast amounts, so it is best to keep them separated. I then switch the stand mixer to the lowest setting to enable the ingredients to gently combine without causing a puff of flour cloud in the air. Of course you can do this by hand as well. I prefer heaping the flour on a clean work surface before gently combining the ingredients gently by hand.
Yeast doesn’t activate when the water is too cold and if the water is too hot it kills the yeast so it is really important to get the correct temperature. Normally yeast will thrive in lukewarm water that is around 27 degrees Celsius. This can be fairly easily achieved by combining ⅔ boiling water and ⅓ iced water. This will give you the perfect yeast-growing water. I always ensure that I have at least 700ml of water ready for every 1 kg of flour I intend to use even if I don’t use it all, I can always use it somewhere else later!
Whilst the stand mixer is on a low speed slowly add in the water bit by bit. Depending on the humidity, you may want to either increase or decrease the water to ensure you have a fairly stiff dough. Vetkoek shouldn’t be a very soft dough since you are frying it, it shouldn’t contain an excessive amount of water. For this batch I felt that 600ml was just right since it was a rainy day and the humidity was very high. As soon as the dough starts to come together, I pour in two tablespoons of oil. I find that this helps to keep the dough supple and ensures it doesn’t stick to the bowl. Turn the mixer up to a medium speed and knead the dough until it comes away from the sides and the bowl is clean.
If you are doing this by hand, make a well in the middle and gently pour in at least 500 ml of water into the well. Either with a wooden spoon or your hand, work the water into the flour bit by bit. If you need more water then ensure to add it by the tablespoon to ensure you don’t pour too much in. Once a stiff dough has come together, add the oil. Knead by hand for about 10 or so minutes until the dough springs back when you push it in with your finger. It should no longer stick to your hands or the surface.
I used to put my dough in an oiled glass bowl, covered it with a shower cap (yup! You read it correctly…) and then rummage through the house to look for the perfect hot spot to let my dough proof. I no longer need to seek out those nooks and crannies! I simply pop my dough in my Instant Pot, set the yogurt setting to LOW, put the glass lid on and set the timer for 3 hours. I’ve not needed to wait the full three hours as most of the time my dough has doubled in size around 1.5 hours.
You may wonder why on earth would you need to leave your dough to rise so beautifully just to deflate it once it has doubled in size?! With most breads you would like the bread to have an even texture. When you knock back the dough you are bursting the air pockets that have formed. This will ensure that you are not left with huge air bubbles inside your bread ultimately leading to huge holes. With vetkoek. some people prefer the middle to be hollow, however, the dough still needs to be knocked back.
I like to pinch off a piece of dough roughly the size of tennis ball. I then form it into an oval by hand, lightly cover it in flour and leave it on an oiled or floured surface for about twenty or so minutes until it has doubled in size again.
Unfortunately if you are watching your waistline then vetkoek should probably not be your bread of choice, but I can promise you that it will be worth every calorie! Vetkoek is deep fried. It cannot be baked in the oven as this will just result in an ordinary bread roll.
Pour vegetable oil in a deep frying pan or saucepan. To check if the oil is ready put a small bit of dough in. If it immediately starts to bubble then the oil is ready. Once the oil is ready slowly take one dough ball and carefully lay it into the oil taking care to move it away from you so you don’t get any oil splatter on you. Depending on how big your pan is, you can put up to three dough balls into the oil without lowering the temperature too much. Once the vetkoek is golden brown on the bottom, take a pair of tongs and very carefully turn it around. The vetkoek is done as soon as it is golden brown on both sides and it sounds hollow when you tap on it.
Some people prefer hollow vetkoeks as opposed to the more breadier version that you will get with the deep frying method described above. Hollow vetkoeks allow for more delicious filling. Follow the entire recipe exactly the same, however, when it comes to the deep frying, flatten the vetkoek slightly and drop carefully in the hot oil. Take a metal spoon and gently pour some of the hot oil over the top. This will ensure that the vetkoek will puff up making an air pocket inside.
This is the fun part! Literally anything goes… Two of the most traditional ways to eat vetkoek is with curried mince (recipe below), sliced onions, tomatoes and lettuce and then with apricot jam and cheddar cheese. Some of my most favourite combinations include:
Vetkoek is DELICIOUS the next morning as a filling breakfast served with honey or jam. It is ok to leave the vetkoek on the counter overnight, covered with a lid. If you would like to store it longer, then it is best frozen as soon as it is cold. Put in a freezer bag and freeze for up to a month. Defrost thoroughly overnight on the counter before eating and warm it up by placing in a hot oven for a 5-10 minutes.