RUSKS

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First thing that comes to mind when you hear the word "Rusk!!" I asked Farmer Buckaroo. His eyes glowed and he said: "Lifeline. Comfort food....Yum! Is that what I smell baking?!" Many South Africans can identify with that view of one our national foods. Amusingly enough, if you question other countries about their version of what the Afrikaans Beskuit (Rusk) they will all claim it as their national tea time snack - by their own unique name and baking style. Whoever invented it originally, Rusks, by any other name, are just as delicious and an essential part of a coffee break.

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The idea behind a Rusk is that it is a "twice baked bread" and yet it isn't bread. Rusks are also not cake but a savoury snack. Although most countries have their own version there is no equivalent in that it can be compared to biscotti or melba toast. To understand Rusks you need to eat one. And not merely eat it but savour the full dunking experience. A Rusk is not breakfast. It is also not part of a spread of cakes. A Rusk, with tea or coffee is the experience.

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Butter is an absolute must for Rusks. Many people use margarine as it is cheaper. The fact that margarine is not a real food and quite harmful to the body convinced me decades ago to avoid it like the plague. Another essential ingredient is buttermilk although I prefer goats milk yoghurt because I make it every week. This is the recipe I have finally settled on, and it is rather more extravagant than most rusk recipes, but it's wholesome and my family love them.

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RUSK RECIPE:
4 cups wholewheat stoneground flour
1 cup dessicated coconut
1 cup oats
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup coconut blossom sugar
4 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon allspice and nutmeg
2 eggs
250g melted butter
500ml goats milk yoghurt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup chopped dried peaches
2 lemons rind

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As a concerned health citizen I generally keep sugar out of my house (yes, yes, I know many of you just enjoyed my marmalade making post). Dates and honey are my sweetener of choice. In baked items I like to use coconut blossom sugar.

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I grind my rolled oats in a coffee grinder. At the same time grate the rind off both lemons. And prepare your tray with olive oil, and parchment paper.

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When I don't have dessicated coconut then I grind flaxseed. While I can't soak flax I always soak sunflower and pumpkin seeds overnight. Then rinse and allow to dry. I try to keep prepared seeds and nuts in the freezer for impulsive baking.

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Sieve together the flour, baking powder, salt and spices. Add in the coconut blossom sugar, dessicated coconut and ground oats.

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Our healthy free-roaming chickens eggs give baking a beautiful golden colour. Lightly whisk the eggs. Then add in the yoghurt and lemon rind.

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The goats milk yoghurt really gives Rusks a soft texture. But you can use regular yoghurt, the old fashioned buttermilk or coconut milk.

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After whisking your liquids together, add in the dry ingredients. At this point I toss in the chopped peaches and sunflower seeds then mix well with a wooden spoon.

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The dough will be quite stodgy and sticky. That is perfect! Spread it as best you can across the oiled tray.

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Bake at 180 C for about 45 minutes - or until your nose indicates it is cooked! Remove.

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Allow to cool enough to cut. Rusks are cut into easy-to-dunk sizes. This is where the "twice baked" comes in. The old fashioned route was popping the Rusks in the warming drawer all night. You don't really want them cooking so much as drying out to a hard biscuit.

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My options are the sun oven - which in winter proves a bit of a problem. Or the dehydrator, which runs off the solar panels. I set the dehydrator temperature to 45C and let them run for the night.

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Cultural foods are like language and cultural dress - it really distinguishes a country from another. You won't find many homes in South Africa without coffee and Rusks. Eating Rusks has become more like a national sport. Once you have dunked your first Rusk you will probably never be the same again!

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