South African Desserts for the Sweet Tooth

|South African Desserts for the Sweet Tooth



As much as most South Africans will pledge complete loyalty to any dish featuring red meat or braaivleis, we do have a weakness for sugar. A big one. In fact, if you find yourself eating a local meal, and a plate of little pumpkin fritters covered in sugar and cinnamon appear, don’t be confused – they’re a firm favourite, ‘savoury’ dish. It seems strange at first but if you have a sweet tooth, it’s a great way to work a bit of pre-dessert sweetness into the meal.

Many modern desserts are going in the direction of combining savoury with sweet elements. We’re seeing lots of rosemary, liquorice, salt etc., in the bid to reach that mysterious ‘umami’ taste. It’s safe to say that South African desserts have gone down their own path, steering clear of any herbs, seeds or spices. In essence, a traditional South African dessert is just a variation of the classic caramel, syrup or custard (often served with additional caramel, syrup or custard). Here are the ultimate South African desserts for any sugar-lover:


Speak to any South African and they’ll tell you “nobody likes a dry koeksister”. This South African doughnut sets icing (frosting) aside for sweet, sticky syrup. Koeksisters are a much-loved treat. Healthy eating takes a back seat with these little snacks – they are made from dough which is plaited, deep fried and then soaked in sugary syrup. There are two versions of the Koeksister – the Cape Malay and the Afrikaner version. Both are likely to induce a sugar-coma.

Melktert / Milk Tart

Milk Tart originates from the Dutch settlers who arrived in Cape Town in the 1600s. It’s the go-to for tea or birthday parties, and even just normal dessert. No bakery section of any South African supermarket will be caught without a selection of freshly-baked milk tarts. It is similar to an American pie – made with a pastry base, filled with a creamy custard and topped with cinnamon (the only spice deemed worthy for a South African dessert). 

Malva Pudding

Keeping to South Africa’s tradition of soaking desserts in syrup, malva pudding tops the list for our favourite dessert. It is a baked dessert with a spongy texture soaked in an almost-caramel like syrup. It is served hot with cream, custard or ice-cream. Even we confess to being baffled by the ingredient list – the staple ingredients include apricot jam, vinegar and nasturtium flowers. But trust us, combined with the amount of sugar that goes into it, the ingredients come together to create a mouthwatering and truly South African dessert.

Peppermint Crisp Tart

This is arguably the most South African dessert based on ingredients alone. A quick look at the recipe would baffle most foreigners: Tennis biscuits, Caramel Treat, Peppermint Crisp Chocolate. Let’s take a quick look at these foods:

  • Tennis Biscuits – South Africa’s favourite biscuit, made from butter, syrup (how surprising) and coconut.
  • Caramel Treat – the South African version of dulce de leche.
  • Peppermint Crisp – a milk chocolate bar with small, crunchy, mint-flavoured pieces.

If you have a sweet tooth, you might meet your match,  as every layer of this tart is sweeter than the next (but absolutely delicious nonetheless).

Why not take a look at the main course?

Read our traditional South African food blog here.
Quick Enquiry?

Quick Enquiry