Tea and a rusk anyone?
Updated: Apr 9, 2020
The first time I ever tried a “rusk” I was about 11 years old. A family of South Africans, the McIntosh’s, moved into the same area as my family in Queensland and I remember dipping this extremely dry, but fabulous snack into a cold glass of milk after school. They introduced me to all types of South African food which I still find some of my favourite “home cooked” meals today.
A “Rusk” is the English term for beskuit which is a traditional Afrikaner breakfast meal or snack. Rusks have been baked in South Africa since the late 1690s as a way of preserving bread, especially when travelling long distances without refrigeration. They were used during The Great Trek and the Boer War and are still popular as ever today. Rusks are typically dunked in coffee or tea before being eaten.
My husband, Mike (who is also a South African immigrant to Australia) had a wonderful friend Lannice Snyman, who is a well known South African food guru.
We adapted Lannice’s Buttermilk recipe from her “Tortoises and Tumbleweeds” book into our own style with about ½ the sugar but then putting in quite a lot of fruit and nuts. We also received inspiration from Mike’s sister-in-law Ans Boyd who is an incredible rusk maker. Her rusks always look perfect and uniform in size, which we are yet to master, but they taste wonderful anyway. Lannice’s daughter, Tamsin, has followed in her footsteps and has moved forward with the same commitment and passion that Lannice had for South African cuisine.
The basic recipe for buttermilk rusks is:
1 kg self raising flour (wholemeal or plain)
5 ml (1 teaspoon salt)
50 g (1/2 cup) raw sugar
250 g butter
500 ml (2 cups) buttermilk
We also then throw in a bunch of optional ingredients to our own liking. So try to make your own combination of flavours:
300 grams nuts – try pistachio, hazel nuts, sunflower, pumpkin, pecan, cashews, peanuts or a combination
300 grams of dried fruit (we usually use 150 grams of two different types) – try cranberries, dates, sultanas, fig, ginger, coconut
Our most common combination is hazelnuts, ginger, cranberries
Grease one large or two small baking trays – we usually use one large one that is 35 cm long x 25 cm wide x 5 cm deep.
Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C in a fan forced oven.
Sift together the flour, salt and sugar into a large bowl (we put this into a large bowl that we eventually add all the ingredients to and knead in the same bowl).
Grate the butter into the mixture and rub in.
Add in all your combination of fruit and nuts to the flour mixture.
Mix together the buttermilk and eggs and then combine with all the ingredients until you have a soft dough. You might need to add a splash of normal milk if the mixture is too dry.
Put the dough into the baking tray and push it into the corners so that there is an even cover over the pan.
Bake for 30 minutes at 160 degrees C then reduce the temperature to 120 degrees C and bake for another 30 minutes.
Remove the half baked dough and then carefully turn out onto a drying rack.
Once cooled cut with a bread knife into as even cubes to the size you would like to have to dip into your cup of tea, coffee, milk or hot chocolate.
Place the pieces on baking trays or straight onto the racks of the oven (remove them when you cool the rusks so you can put them on easily) and reduce the temperature to 60 degree C and bake slowly for another 3-4 hours.
Cool in the oven then store in air-tight containers.
Don't throw out the crumbs from the baking trays - keep them and sprinkle over ice cream for a nice crunch!
This recipe will make around 40-60 rusks depending on the size you cut them.