Sourdough Buttermilk Rusks

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It’s been about two years since my last post on this site. I can’t believe where the time has gone!! When I first moved to the farm about 8 years ago I blogged actively about our life at Vastrap and the surrounding area. It was a way for me to share the my new life as a farm wife, which many of my city friends were eager to learn about.

After having two babies in quick succession and gradually getting more involved in our farming business I had less and less time for writing. Instagram slowly took over a form a sharing, being much quicker and easier to manage (please follow me @marisdbruyn).

About a year ago any free time I had left was gobbled up by my all consuming new hobby: sourdough baking. I have loved becoming part of the online sourdough community which so generously shares information and tips to learn and improve. It’s hard to describe how empowering it has been to work with sourdough and to be so much more in control of the quality of food we eat on a daily basis. Apart from the wow factor in being able to serve guests a beautiful loaf of bread, the thought and care that goes into baking each loaf and the anticipation of the final result is totally addictive!

Sourdough has also exposed me more generally to the benefits of fermentation for digestion, nutrition and gut health. In this regard, my mind was blown open earlier this year when I spent a week as a student at Vanessa Kimbell’s Sourdough School in Northampton, UK. I came back less interested in the bread, but more interested in experimentation and using sourdough and the principles of fermentation more broadly in my cooking and baking. This brings me back to the subject of this post: Sourdough Rusks.

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Ironically, it was a post on Instagram about sourdough rusks that pulled me into sourdough baking in the first place. At the time I was looking for healthy alternatives for my family who are all mad rusk eaters. A post by @alette.waterboer from Lowerland Organic Farm in Prieska caught my eye. As a new mom she was also experimenting with healthy rusks and posted a quick recipe using sourdough. I was so frustrated that I didn’t have my own starter to try the rusks immediately, but it was the push I needed to enter the unknown! Since then it has been hit and miss on the rusk front, but it went a bit better with the bread.

When I returned from the Sourdough School I went back to the rusks, determined to make something that was nutritious, healthy and delicious. Rusks are a traditional South African delicacy and an integral part of farm life 🇿🇦. They are usually enjoyed first thing in the morning as the sun rises dunked in a steaming hot cup of coffee or tea. My aim was to make every mouth full worth it so that the rusk becomes a crucial and sustaining part of our breakfast routine, rather than a guilty pleasure. I think I have come up with a formula that is relatively fool proof with a lot of scope for experimentation and changes according to taste.

The reason I am sharing this formula on my blog is because I think it is unique and new. In the old days Afrikaans farm wives made sourdough or “suurdeeg plantjie” using a potato plant and this was used in a type of sourdough rusk that one can find in old recipe books. However, I don’t find it comparable the sourdough we are working with here, which is made with flour and water and natural yeast and bacteria from the air. This formula brings together everything I have learnt about rusk making over the past 9 years baking rusks for my very discerning and critical husband! He lets me know immediately when I’ve got it wrong, but also praises generously when I get it right. I still haven’t gotten him to eat the healthy wholewheat rusks, but at least the sourdough version of the plain buttermilk rusks he loves is a bit healthier than what he was eating before.

PLAIN BUTTERMILK RUSKS: BASIC FORMULA & METHOD 

(This recipe can easily be doubled or halved. I usually make a double batch.)

1250g Stoneground Cake Flour

250-300g sugar (adjust to your taste)

4 teaspoons baking powder

8-10g salt

500g salted butter or margarine

2 large eggs

500g buttermilk, maas or kefir

200g mature sourdough starter (mix 100g of flour with 100g of water & 50g starter about 7-10 hours before you want to mix your rusks)*

Grease two baking sheets or one large rusk pan. In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients together (flour, sugar, baking powder & salt). Grate cold butter into the dry ingredients and rub together until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs.

In a separate bowl, whisk the wet ingredients together with the sourdough starter before adding to the dry ingredients. Mix it all together with a spoon and then knead with your hands until the mixture comes together into a sticky mass. It should not have any dry bits. If it feels too dry let it rest a bit and then knead a bit longer adding a touch of milk or buttermilk.

Divide into two pieces and press into your baking sheets in an even layer. I use a rusk pan which has a separate cutting grid to make evenly sized rusks, but you can just use a knife to make lines in the dough that will act as cutting guides once the rusks are cooked.

Let the dough stand for 6-10 hours in the pans allowing the sourdough fermentation process to take place (less time if it’s very hot). You could even put the pans in the fridge overnight. The dough should rise a bit in the pan. The longer you leave it, the more pronounced the sour taste will be in your final rusks.

Bake at 180ºC for 30 minutes or until golden brown on top. Insert a knife or skewer to check that the dough is cooked through. Allow to cool in the pan before cutting the rusks into evenly sized rectangles.

Place the individual rusks onto another baking tray with spaces in between and dry in the oven at 50-80ºC for 8-10 hours until completely dry.

*This recipe uses sourdough as the main rising agent instead of baking powder. If you don’t have sourdough you can follow the same steps but use self raising flour instead or add more baking powder. 

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FULL OF GOODNESS WHOLEWHEAT SOURDOUGH RUSKS

(This is a variation on the basic buttermilk rusk recipe with lots of scope to play!)

1250g Flour (any combination you like! I have used the mix below, but you can really experiment as you like)

  • 400g stone ground cake flour
  • 550g whole wheat flour (I use freshly milled wholewheat flour)
  • 250g rolled oats blitzed in blender
  • 100g shaved coconut blitzed in blender

250-300g brown sugar or coconut sugar (adjust to your taste)

4 teaspoons baking powder

8-10g salt

500g salted butter or margarine

2-3 large eggs

500g buttermilk, maas or kefir (or a mixture of the buttermilk & kefir)

200g mature sourdough starter (mix 100g of flour with 100g of water & 50g starter about 7-10 hours before you want to mix your rusks)

Additions: 1 cup mixed seeds, 1 cup chopped almonds, 1 cup chopped pecan nuts (here you can also add any of your favourite additions and play with flavour & texture). 

Grease two baking sheets or one large rusk pan. In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients together (flour, sugar, baking powder & salt). Grate cold butter into the dry ingredients and rub together until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add in your dry additions like seeds and chopped nuts.

In a separate bowl, whisk the wet ingredients together with the sourdough starter before adding to the dry ingredients. Mix it all together with a spoon and then knead with your hands until the mixture comes together into a sticky mass. It should not have any dry bits. If it feels too dry let it rest a bit and then knead a bit longer adding a touch of kefir or buttermilk. You are looking for a wettish mixture so that the dried rusks still have a nice crumb and are not too hard to bite into.

Divide into two pieces and press into your baking sheets in an even layer. I use a rusk pan which has a separate cutting grid to make evenly sized rusks, but you can just use a knife to make lines in the dough that will act as cutting guides once the rusks are cooked.

Let the dough stand for 6-10 hours in the pans allowing the sourdough fermentation process to take place (less time if it’s very hot). You could even put the pans in the fridge overnight. The dough should rise a bit in the pan. The longer you leave it, the more pronounced the sour taste will be in your final rusks.

Bake at 180ºC for 30 minutes or until golden brown on top. Insert a knife or skewer to check that the dough is cooked through. Allow to cool in the pan before cutting the rusks into evenly sized rectangles.

Place the individual rusks onto another baking tray with spaces in between and dry in the oven at 50-80ºC for 8-10 hours until completely dry.

*This recipe uses sourdough as the main rising agent instead of baking powder. If you don’t have sourdough you can follow the same steps but use self raising flour instead or add more baking powder. 

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DOWNLOAD PRINT VERSION –> Rusk Recipe

Farming Down Under

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In April we went on a three week trip to Australia to visit Quentin’s sister Deidre and her family. It was an epic trip, which started with a fair amount of drama when Quentin and Ashley didn’t receive their visas in time to travel on our planned date. After stressing for days about what to do, I set off to Sydney alone with Livvi and Myles, while Quent made a last ditch effort to get the visas. After begging and pleading in the pouring rain on the steps of the Australian consulate, they were cleared to fly the next day and thanks to some very helpful airline officials were squeezed onto the last flight before the Easter weekend. Disaster averted, we were all soon reunited at Dee’s house in Sydney and were treated like royalty for the next three weeks.

We didn’t want for anything, except sleep and some peace and quiet. Yes, you guessed it, the kids were a handful!! The combination of jet lag, unfamiliar beds, hectic molar teething and snotty noses did not go down well. They were out of their comfort zones and they made damn sure we knew it! Thankfully Dee is a GP so she made sure that they were appropriately medicated, but the whole thing was pretty intense. Still, it was a fantastic trip and we really got to see the best that New South Wales has to offer. We met many of Dee and Mike’s fabulous friends and we became part of their day to day routine in Bronte. We experienced incredible beaches, enjoyed delicious food and wines, got up close with a koala bear at Taronga zoo, and spotted kangaroos in the wild. We really could not have asked for anything more, but the friendly immigration official could see it in our tired eyes as we checked out of the country…. we would not be back for at least another 7 years before our kids are older and more manageable on the road!

Towards the end of the trip we decided to get out of the city for a few days and to take the kids to a more familiar environment, a farm in Cootamundra owned by Mike’s cousin. Needless to say, they were in their element, especially Myles whose eyes lit up when he saw the tractors heading to the fields to plant canola! Ashley zoomed around on a motorbike and was treated like royalty by our hosts, Charlie and Bec, who said she reminded them of their daughter who is at boarding school. We feasted on a lamb roast, ate steak rolls cooked on an open fire during a paddock picnic and spotted lots of kangaroo on our Sunday morning drive around the farm. Quent spent a morning farming with Charlie and learnt about canola planting and farming sheep on a very large-scale. It was really very interesting comparing their set-up to ours. There are so many differences (such as far less staff, no security issues, dealing with kangaroos, different price dynamic due to small local market and much higher exports), but at the heart of it their love of the land and passing on the baton from generation to generation is exactly the same as ours.

We came home happy and content with where we are, but very conscious of the big challenges that lie ahead for South Africa. For three weeks we lived in a bubble, out of the relentless bad news cycle. But news did get through that our house was ransacked in a robbery the night after we left. They didn’t take much, but they tipped over everything looking for money. Thank God we were not there. Others were not so lucky; there were three bad farm attacks in our area while we were away, two of them fatal. The stats are not comforting. Our families worry constantly about our safety. Nothing about the current situation in our country is comfortable or easy especially for a farmer (“boer”), but still, we remain committed. This is our home. This is where we need to be. We want to be part of the change that gets us to a better place. We just need to figure out how.

Where has the time gone?!

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It’s been five months since I last posted anything on my blog. A whole summer has passed and within a blink of an eye winter has arrived on the farm. It’s been a wonderful few months for us, but our little toddlers suck up all the spare time I used to have for taking photos and writing. These days my lens is mostly focused on my little loves, Livia and Myles as they go about their daily activities on the farm. They are so different, but it warms my heart to see their little friendship grow. Livia is petite and small with a strong character and penetrating gaze, while Myles is big and tough with a gentle touch, loving heart and an absolute passion for anything mechanical, especially tractors and combines! I know this crazy busy phase will pass too quickly, replaced with a different routine involving more time in the car driving them to and from school and around the province for sport and other activities. Through all the busyness, I cherish this time with them and love nothing more than capturing their joy as they experience all the wonderful things around them on the farm.

This summer, it was such a blessing and relief to have relatively normal rainfall after the terrible drought of the past few years. There were still a couple of dry spells, but good rain in February made all the difference to our crops and livestock. Our cattle are strong and healthy and most of them have come out of the breeding season pregnant, which is all any farmer could wish for! The maize and sunflower crops will be reaped soon and then it will be time to plant winter wheat and to prepare for the Vastrap Boran auction in August. The cycle goes on, every year the same, but completely different.

December Reaping

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This is what we are up to at Vastrap in December while everyone else is at the beach on holiday…. hard at work harvesting wheat and praying that it’ll rain soon so we can plant our sunflower crop. Ashley and my niece Sophia visited us for a few days last week, but they are now also at the beach! It’s just us and dogs left here for a very quiet Christmas. It’s Livia’s third birthday on 29 December so we still have a lot to look forward to before the new year.

Wishing everyone a very blessed and happy festive season! 🎄☀️🌻🌽🌾💦☔️

It’s been too long!

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I’ve neglected my blog so badly over the past few months. I don’t know where the time goes, but there doesn’t seem to be time for any fun projects in the few moments I do manage to steal at my desk. Life seems to be a constant juggling act with an almost 3 year old and 15 month old in the house! I’ve become very adept at doing most things with one hand and child on hip, but photography and blogging aren’t amongst them! Instagram is a much easier option for quick updates and a rolling commentary on the kids who are a constant source of delight. Myles is a real farm boy – his eyes light up at the sight or sound of anything to do with wheels, water or balls. His favourite word at the moment is “tractor”, and he is always in the driving seat of the bakkie when Quentin takes him farming. Livvi is more passionate about people and animals and also loves farming with her daddy, but insists on sitting on the back of the bakkie like a real farm girl!

Sometimes Instagram just can’t give the whole picture, so I really wanted to share these photos taken by our friends Ryan and Caro who visited us with their son, Oscar this past weekend. Ryan was a friend of mine in high school, but he has been living overseas for the past 25 years. His wife, Caroline is French. They have been very active followers of the Vastrap Farm blog since it started five years ago. It was a huge pleasure to host them, especially since they are in the process of relocating to South Africa and we will hopefully see them more often in future. On their last evening we piled them in the back of the bakkie with the dogs (our boerboel, Duma now weighs almost 70kg so he is a real beast!) and took them up the mountain for sundowners. It was a beautifully still and clear evening with a gorgeous Free State sunset. I always love seeing the farm from above with all the contrasting colours of the contoured lands – dry wheat, newly planted maize and lands prepped for sunflower planting. We had really good early summer rain so the farm is looking green and beautiful, but it’s been very hot and dry in December so far. Full credits for the photos must go to Ryan and Caro – thank you for capturing our sundowner fun so perfectly and good luck for your new South African adventure. We are very glad to have you back!!

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Sunday morning rounds

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We’ve been flat out hectic here at Vastrap for the past month. In the two weeks leading up to our auction last Friday, we all got very bad flu so it was really just a case of digging deep and pushing through assisted by lots of medication! Fortunately the kids are all better now, but Quentin and I still have lingering coughs and stuffy noses, which was probably not helped by the cold wet weather on auction day! We literally collapsed on the couch this weekend after our last visitors left with every ounce of physical and emotional energy drained from us. We felt a little bit better by Sunday so all of us went with Quentin to check whether any new calves had been born overnight. One of the little ones also needed to be treated for a bad eye so we watched while Quentin patiently coaxed the mother into letting him get near the calf so that it could be injected. She was not very happy, but he eventually got it done. On the way home we noticed that all the willow trees have turned green, a sure sign that spring is near! The forecast is for a big cold snap this week, but after that it should start to warm up nicely. With all the lovely rain we’ve had this month the grass will hopefully start to grow as soon, which we really need for grazing. Next week we are off on holiday so by the time we get home it will be well into spring and only a few weeks until Myles’s first birthday. What a lovely prospect!

Anyone interested in reading more about the Vastrap Auction and seeing all the photos can click HERE for the post on our website.

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Winter Blessing

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Last week we had a huge blessing of over 100mm of rain in 24 hours. After the massive drought we had in summer, it was simply incredible to see and hear so much water flowing!! Quentin can’t ever remember us getting this much rain in winter. It’s such a relief to see our dams full and to know that the ground water has been replenished. We’ll be able to graze cattle on areas of the farm that haven’t had a source of water for more than a year and we won’t have to worry about carting water to thirsty animals in the usually dry spring. In a month’s time when things start to warm up, the veld will erupt in a riot of colour and gratitude. Not to mention our wheat crop, which will hopefully do well after the rain! We are one of the very few farms in the area that still bother to plant wheat and our persistence will hopefully pay off this year. It has been freezing cold with lots of snow on the Maluti mountains, but we are definitely not complaining – only 17 days to go until the Vastrap Boran Auction and we are rearing to go!

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