‘Rusks’ is the anglicized term for Afrikaans ‘beskuit’ (French ‘biscottes’ and Dutch ‘beschuit’). Along with Rooibos tea, rusks was the staple with which my mother and grandmother weaned me off of breast milk.
These double-baked dry clunky biscuits have been part of Afrikaner culture (French and Dutch descendants) since the late 1690s. Baking rusks was an innovative way of preserving bread (similar to preserving meat — biltong — by drying it) especially when travelling long distances at a time when fridges and freezers did not exist during the Great Trek and the Anglo Boer Wars.
Since then, rusk recipes have been passed down within families from generation to generation and they are still eaten today — typically being dunked in coffee or tea to soften them before being eaten.
In our family, the first warm batch of rusks — fresh from the oven — is usually enjoyed with butter, cheese, jam and a steaming pot of ‘moer koffie’ (freshly ground filter coffee)…
The recipe I’m sharing here is one that’s been made (developed and enhanced) for more than three generations by the women of one of my friends’ family.
1½ kilograms self-raising nutty wheat flour
500 grams All Bran Flakes (crushed)
500 grams mixed seeds (pumpkin, sesame, poppy, linseed and sunflower seeds)
400 grams brown sugar (Demerara)
1 x Cup dried coconut (optional)
1 x Cup Raisins
3 x Tablespoons baking powder
1 x Tablespoon salt
750 grams butter
600 millilitres sour cream
1 x Cup full cream milk
100 millilitre white vinegar
3 x Large eggs
(Below is a short video that will show you the exact baking method.)
Preheat your oven at 180° Celsius (356° Fahrenheit or gas mark 4)
Cut the butter into bricks, add together with the sugar and milk in a saucepan and place on the hob over a medium heat. Stir until the sugar is melted. (Alternatively you can melt the sugar, milk and butter mixture in the microwave.)
In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and vinegar together.
Mix all the dry ingredients together in another mixing bowl.
Add the melted butter mixture, sour cream and eggs to the dry ingredients.
Mix well. Knead thoroughly and deep until the dough is dense without any floury bits.
Evenly press the dough in baking trays. You’ll need about 3-4 baking trays.
Lightly cut the dough, marking how large you want each rusk to be (usually 1½ x 3 inches).
Bake for 30-45 minutes.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool down a bit, in the baking trays.
Lower your oven temperature to 80°Celsius (176° Fahrenheit).
Cut your rusks and remove from the baking trays. Lay them out on a cooling rack and allow to cool down completely. You’ll notice that the rusks are still wet on the inside. (At this point we usually select a few warm rusks to enjoy with butter, cheese and jam.)
Once the rusks have completely cooled down, they are ready to be baked for a second time.
Put the rusks back in the oven for 4-5 hours to be baked until they are dried out.
Few things provide a sense of comfort, security and belonging like the nutty smell of freshly baked rusks lingering in the kitchen… and enjoying them together with family over ‘n steaming hot cup of coffee.
Try them, you’ll see what I mean.
Indulge a little bit!
Image: FR Lubbe, Little Red Shoes
Recipe: FR Lubbe, Little Red Shoes
Video: FR Lubbe for Little Red Shoes