Buttermilk rusks are a traditional South African treat and they can be enjoyed at any time of the day, whether it’s with a cup of coffee or a cup of tea – just go ahead and dunk! South Africans living abroad all need a traditional buttermilk rusk recipe as rusks are uniquely South African. Alternatively, you can find them at your local South African shop.
The origin of the rusk
The term rusk is the English term for ‘beskuit’. Rusks are double-baked bread dough and are traditional Afrikaner breakfast treats or snacks. They have been favourite food items since the 1690s and were a staple food source during the Great Trek and Boer Wars as they could travel long distances without perishing or the need for refrigeration. Because of their hard nature, rusks are usually dunked in a cup of tea or coffee before being enjoyed.
Today one of the most famous brands of rusks that you can buy in South African supermarkets and in South African stores abroad are Ouma Rusks. You can also find many deli versions which include non-traditional ingredients including condensed milk, lemon, poppyseed and even cranberries.
To bake your own at home, try this traditional Buttermilk Rusk recipe:
- 1 kg cake flour
- ¾ tsp salt
- 3 level tbls baking powder (not baking soda)
- 500 ml buttermilk OR
- 500 ml full fat milk mixed with 3 tbles vinegar or lemon juice (buttermilk)
- 1 large egg beaten
- 1½ cups sugar (white or light brown)
- 1 tbls caramel essence or vanilla essence
- 250gr cold butter, cut into small blocks
- Turn oven onto very low heat about 150°F (65 C).
- Spray 2 loaf tins with non-stick baking spray or grease with butter. You need 2 ungreased cookie sheets for drying out the rusks at the end.
- If you are not using buttermilk, add the vinegar or lemon juice to the full cream milk, stir and let it stand for about 5 minutes.
- Sift flour, salt & baking powder together.
- Rub the butter into the flour until it looks like bread crumbs. (you can use a food processor on pulse mode for this step).
- Transfer breadcrumb mixture to a large bowl.
- Beat the egg, add buttermilk and essence to egg mixture, add sugar and stir.
- Add to dry ingredients and mix in with a knife.
- Knead well by hand until the dough reaches the elastic stage. If the dough is too sticky on your hands, just sprinkle a little flour in until dough is no longer sticky.
- Roll mixture into sausage shapes (about the length of your thumb and a bit thicker) and loosely pack into tins, OR halve dough and shape into 2 loaves in tins then cut to size when cooked, whichever you prefer. (I do the loaves)
- Put tins with the mixture into the oven for ± 45 minutes at 150°F (65 C) to rise.
- Remove from oven.
- Set oven to 350°F (180 C) when oven reaches this temperature, bake for 40 – 45 minutes.
- Set oven to lowest heat again, about 150°F (65 C).
- Turn out loaves to cool.
- When cool gently break balls apart, or slice loaves into slices about ¾ inch thick then slice these slices into ¾ inch fingers – if possible use an electric knife.
- Place in a single layer on cookie sheets with a little space between each rusk, place in the oven at 150 F (65 C) to dry for about 8 hours, turn rusks one turn about every 2 hours.
- Allow to cool, put into air-tight tins or air-tight plastic bags.
Note: Test dryness, if rusks are not dry enough after 8 hours, turn the heat up about 200°F (100 C) and leave for another hour.
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