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

Harvest Time!

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We’ve had a very busy week on the farm with a house full of visitors since last Thursday. Over the weekend a few of Quentin’s best friends from university visited us with their kids and Ashley was here too for her half term. Needless to say, the house was bustling with activity. While the adults engaged in a happy cycle of eating, drinking, talking and sleeping, the kids had a ball playing endless games of Uno, rollerblading, cycling, laughing and best of all, going out farming with Quentin. It’s quite a busy time on the farm with our Boran cattle being prepared for our annual auction in August and lots happening on the crop side too with planting of wheat and harvesting of maize. For a change there were some little boys in the mix, two of them all the way from Atlanta. Dylan, Anthony and Nicolas seemed to worship farmer Quentin, or at least his equipment. There’s nothing like the promise of a ride on a combine harvester to get them up early in the morning! I mostly stayed home taking care of Livia and organising things in the kitchen, but judging from the photos a great time was had by all. My niece and nephew, Emma and Alexander, also visited earlier this week and Quentin had another little admirer to accompany him on his rounds. It’s just too sweet how much little boys love the farm. The girls do too, but they don’t quite get the same dreamy look in their eyes when they see Quentin or muster up as much enthusiasm about driving out in the bakkie to do a morning’s work. Maybe it will be different for Livia. We’ll just have to wait and see if she’s inherited her father’s farming genes or her mother’s city spirit!

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Celebrating Spring!

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I’ve been very out of touch with the seasons this year. The onset of Spring hasn’t been quite the event it was last year perhaps because we had such a warm winter. But in general, my attention hasn’t been focused out of doors. I spent most of winter worrying about my pregnancy and feeling a little fragile, then there was pregnant Coco to fuss over and after that the puppies. In between, all our energies were focused on our auction which left very little time to think about the garden or go on our usual long walks with the dogs on the farm. I’m still a little ambivalent about the garden, but getting more and more excited for summer and the changes in store for us over the next few months.

The good news is that my pregnancy is progressing well and I’m now more than half way there. My bump is starting to show and I’m feeling her movement more clearly. Packing away our heavy winter clothes and unpacking summer stuff this morning, I was left with only a small pile of things that I’ll be able to fit into by the end of the month when I transition into my third trimester. By the time we meet her in early January, it will be the best time of year in the garden with the Dahlias and roses in full bloom. My biggest conundrum is what to plant in the veggie garden this summer given that I’ll hardly be in a fit state to do daily harvests. But that didn’t stop me from ordering a load of seeds from Living Seeds this week – I just couldn’t resist their amazing selection of heirloom beans and tomatoes, but steered well clear of the zucchini!

On the farm it is extremely dry and conditions will only get worse as temperatures rise. The veld and our wheat crop are thirsty for rain. The willow trees have sprouted green leaves, but the poplars and oaks are still bare. More than anything I love the change in light at this time of year, which brings a special glow to the early mornings and evenings when I’m generally out on the lawn playing with the puppies. Another winter has passed. Welcome back summer!

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Bright Spots

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Winter has well and truly arrived at Vastrap in the past week wrecking havoc in the garden. My beautiful pink daisies, geraniums, nasturtiums, hydrangeas and many more have all frosted over. Although I know it always happens, the devastation caused by the first frost always comes as a shock. There are a few last roses blooming in more protected spots, but they won’t last long. Things that do really well in Free State gardens in the winter are aloes and red hot pokers. They provide a gorgeous burst of colour in an otherwise dreary landscape and the birds go mad for them! I went to the nursery to buy some fresh pansys and violas for some cheer. The courtyard is much more protected so the geraniums there should make it through winter unscathed. The primulas we planted in the courtyard last year have spread everywhere even where the soil is just gravel. I just love the vibrant patches of colour that are appearing on their own. What a treat!

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