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)

1.5 tablespoons baking powder

8-10g salt

500g salted butter or margarine

3 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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Cooking with Livia

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I spent the morning with my cooking club today and Livia came with for a change of scenery. There was a constant stream of entertainment as she was passed from one adoring aunty to another and showered with love by her godmother Vicky. She should be a junior Masterchef in the making with all the food loving ladies she spends time with! With the temperatures rising, we decided to focus on a summer theme of salads and ice creams. I cannot think of many better ways to spend a Friday, cooking with friends, eating good food and delicious ice cream!

Heidi and Vicky made some great dishes with cheese and pears – the one was a fresh pear wrapped in home made ricotta, drizzled with honey and served with caramelised onion focaccia, the other was poached pears stuffed with camembert ice cream. Wow, what a treat!

I made brown bread ice cream with a butterscotch sauce, which I saw in an old copy of Vogue Entertaining and Travel from 1999. I’ve been doing a major spring clean at Vastrap which has led me to rediscover many gems that have been gathering dust under counters over the past few years. These magazines are such a treasure trove and I’ve dusted off all the summer ones to use this season. To be honest, brown bread ice cream doesn’t sound like it has much going for it, but the bread crumbs are toasted and caramelised in sugar, which makes it crunchy and delicious. Click HERE for a great recipe and serve it with some butterscotch sauce. Lucky for Quentin, I’ve come home with a whole tub full as there was so much to taste that we hardly made a dent in it. Wishing everyone a very happy weekend!

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Nuts about cards and granola!

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We had a lovely Father’s Day weekend on the farm with a few visitors from Joburg and a special visit from Ashley. We hadn’t seen her since the end of April so it was a real treat to have her in the house again. It was quite cold so we all just snuggled up in front of the fire and played endless games of Uno together. I never grew up in a house of card players, but Quentin’s family are crazy for cards especially his mum. Ashley’s caught the bug from her granny and absolutely loves playing Uno and rummy. For some reason the adults joined in with gusto this weekend spurred on by Quentin and James’ competitive streak. We had such a laugh and needless to say Ashley loved it! Livia was so happy to see her sister again and gave her lots of smiles. She is very chilled at the moment and is observing the world from every angle. I can’t believe how fast the time is passing just two weeks short of her six month birthday!

2014-06-16_0011I did lots of cooking before the weekend to fill the house with some of Quentin’s favourite food for Father’s Day. While he drove to Joburg on Friday to fetch Ashley, I cooked my first ever oxtail, experimented with filleting and smoking a beautiful rainbow trout we got from Lesotho, made his favourite cheese cake with vanilla ice cream and a batch of nutty granola. Everything turned out really well and having pre-prepared it all I could relax over the weekend. The only disaster was that the Beagles jumped on the counter and polished off half of the cheese cake this morning after I forgot to put it back in the fridge last night!! I managed to salvage a last little slither for our afternoon tea, but it was such a waste.

I’ve recently started posting photos to Instagram (http://instagram.com/marisdbruyn/) and have been participating in a photography challenge called #clickaday. It’s been quite fun finding things to photograph each day and it’s obviously much quicker than sitting down to write a whole blog post (something I seem to have less and less time for). After posting a photo of the granola on Friday quite a few people liked the look of it and so I promised to share the recipe. The recipe is from the Woolworths Taste magazine with a few of my own tweaks. What I love is that it’s not full of sugar and the nuts are soaked overnight to make them more easy to digest. It’s great to have a stash in the cupboard for a quick breakfast with yoghurt and fruit and even Quentin loves adding it to Pronutro or Wheatbix. It’s very easy to make so give it a try!

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Nutty Granola

(Makes 1kg)

250g raw Pecan nuts

250g raw Almonds

500g Rolled Oats

A few handfuls of mixed seeds to taste (pumpkin, sunflower, linseed, flaxseed etc)

3t ground cinnamon

1 cup Agave syrup (can be substituted with honey)

2t vanilla paste

1 cup melted coconut oil (or macadamia oil)

Soak the nuts in water for 8-12 hours (almonds need a bit longer than pecan nuts). Rinse well with cold water and dry spread out on kitchen paper or in the sun. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Roughly chop the nuts and combine with the oats, seeds and cinnamon in a mixing bowl. Mix the melted coconut oil, agave syrup and vanilla paste together and combine with the dry ingredients. Line a large baking tray (or 2) with tinfoil and spread the granola mixture in a thin layer. Bake for 15-20 minutes stirring a few times to make sure it bakes evenly. Don’t leave the room to do something else without setting a timer or the nuts will burn (I speak from experience)!! Cook for longer if need be until the granola has a nice golden colour (if the nuts are still wet it will take longer to cook). Remove from the oven and stir to make sure it doesn’t stick. Leave to cool completely and crisp up. Store in an airtight container.

 

Marinated Artichokes

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I absolutely love marinated artichokes. Not the sloppy bland kind that come in a tin, but proper Italian ones marinated in olive oil, which invariably cost an arm and a leg. I don’t often buy them, but sometimes I indulge in a special treat and serve them up with a platter of antipasto or in a salad. I have a distinct memory from my childhood of a long afternoon in the kitchen with my mother making our own marinated artichokes. It must have been the end of season because she had bought a whole box of small ones for a steal and I helped her go through the laborious process of peeling the hard outer leaves off each one to reveal the sweat and tender heart. I will never forget the pleasure of dipping into our jar of homemade deliciousness and the disappointment when they were finished!

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Needless to say, one of the first things I did in the Vastrap veggie garden was to plant globe artichokes. I bought three established plants and started a few from seed. Having heard that they take quite a long time to produce anything, I didn’t expect much. We harvested a few last year, but only enough to eat there and then. This year it’s a completely different story! I have about seven plants and all of them are producing, including the ones I grew from seed last year. In a quick round of the garden last night I picked about eight beautiful artichokes, which was far too much for the two of us to eat so there was nothing to do but marinade them. It’s the first time I’ve done this since that day in the kitchen with my mom, but it’s really not rocket science. The recipe can easily be tweaked to suit individual taste. Unfortunately the preparation is a bit time consuming, but it’s definitely worth the effort and can be done in stages if you don’t have enough time all at once.

Ingredients:

6-8 globe artichokes

3-4 lemons

3-4 cloves of garlic

Dried chilli flakes

Dried origanum and thyme

Salt & pepper

Good quality extra virgin olive oil (about 500ml)

Method: 

Wash the artichokes thoroughly to remove any bugs that have settled between the leaves (save the ladybugs if you can!) Cut each artichoke in half from top to bottom. I like to keep the stems quite long. Scoop out the hairy choke with a spoon or pairing knife. Squeeze some lemon juice over each one to prevent the flesh going brown. Place in a pot and cover with salted water. Boil for about 20-30 minutes depending on the size of the hearts. Check the centre of the heart to see if a knife goes through easily – there should still be some resistance, but it must be cooked through.

2013-11-11_0001Once cooked drain off the water in a colander. I like to chargrill them a bit on a griddle pan, but it’s not strictly necessary. You can do this while they are still hot or even the next day when you have more time. Place each artichoke heart-side down on a hot grill pan until there are some nice brown stripes. At this point  you can set some of the artichokes aside to eat in the traditional way with olive oil, butter or mayonnaise. Otherwise start with the next process of removing all the hard outer leaves and cutting off the prickly tops. Some people do this before the artichoke is cooked, but I think that’s too difficult. My knives are not nearly sharp enough!

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You should be left with a pot full of artichoke hearts and the tender inner leaves. Add the garlic, chilli flakes, herbs, salt and pepper and olive oil. Bring to the boil for 5-10 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse. Add the juice of one lemon. Place the artichoke hearts in a glass bottle or container and cover with the oil, herb and lemon juice mixture. Store in the fridge and top up with new ones as you go along.
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Viva the Spice Girls!

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It was freezing cold this weekend, which put a bit of a dampener on our celebration of Spring Day. The Aga stove was fired up full steam hopefully for the last time this winter. The days are noticeably brighter and lighter and the jasmine outside my kitchen door is in full bloom so things can only get better from here! Fortunately, the cold weather didn’t stop us having a very enjoyable weekend, especially on Saturday when I joined three friends from cooking club to participate in the annual Masterchef competition at the Ladybrand church bazaar. It was a first for all of us, but we had a blast and our team, The Spice Girls, walked home with first prize!

The rules of the competition are simple. You need to bring all your own cooking equipment and be ready to face the elements cooking outside. Each team of four people has three hours to conjure a delicious main course dish using a meat cut provided by the judges and ingredients from the pantry. The judges had to score based on innovation, technique, creative use of ingredients, taste, presentation and team spirit. Heidi, Jenny, Vicky and I came well prepared with two Weber braais (gas and charcoal), a two-plate gas stove and every piece of kitchen equipment we could think of, including our pasta roller and ravioli cut-outs. We were only limited by the fact that there was no electricity so everything had to be done by hand. We had great moral support from our husbands, who sat in the morning sun drinking sherry and whisky happily banned from touching the fire or helping us in any way. My sister and nieces popped past for a visit on their way back from the farm to Johannesburg. City-slicker teenager, Sibella was mortified by the old-school “Boere musiek” blaring from the loudspeakers, but Sophia and Ashley were blissfully happy chomping cinnamon sugar pancakes and enjoying the cute home-made treats on sale at the bazaar.

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The look and feel of the Spice Girl tent was very understated compared to the other teams who went all out with coordinated uniforms and brightly decorated stands. We didn’t allow this to distract us from the task at hand though! At 9am the judges revealed that we had to cook with a rack of pork, which was a bit of a surprise as we were sure it would be lamb or beef. After a few minutes of consultation we rushed to the “pantry” to gather our ingredients. There was a reasonable selection of produce, but we had to make do without butter and olive oil and luxuries like parmesan and sage. We decided to risk it anyway and stuck to our plan of making ravioli to showcase some of the skills we’ve learnt over the past year in our cooking club. We made our own ricotta and two types of ravioli to complement the pork, one with roasted butternut, sweet potato and ricotta and the other with spinach and ricotta. We slow-roasted some tomatoes for a sauce. The pork was poached in a fragrant broth of apple, clove and thyme and then marinated in a sweet honey, ginger and mustard sauce before being seared on the gas. Instead of chops, we cut the pork into medallions for more elegant presentation. The crackling was salted and cooked on the braai until crisp and then cut finely and crumbled over the final dish to add texture and flavour.

We had lots of people stopping by to watch the pasta-making and the pork turned out deliciously succulent and full of flavour. The only down-side was the time it took for the judges to make their way to our table, which left the food ice cold! Fortunately, that didn’t matter too much and the Spice Girls went home victorious. All in all, it was a great way to spend a Saturday morning and we really enjoyed ourselves. My preggie belly especially enjoyed the steaming hot cinnamon pancakes our support team fed us through the morning and of course I could not leave without devouring a bowl of bazaar trifle for pudding! The things we do for entertainment in a small town….

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Big news and strawberry popcorn!

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I only have time for a very short post this week. We are taking a short break at the end of the month for our annual fix of the bushveld with Ashley. I cannot wait! But of course there is a lot to do before we leave and not enough time! I am also doing my very last trip up to Pretoria for work… yes, after 6 years with the Treasury (2.5 working remotely from the farm) I have resigned and finish on Friday! It is quite daunting to leave my life as an economist behind, but I know that lots of exciting new things await. The time has come to embrace this new life of mine and carve out my niche properly, without dropping everything and running back to the city every second week. You will have to watch this space to see what develops!

My former life... with the Budget team in 2011.

My former life… with the Budget team in 2011.

On a totally different and unrelated note, I have been meaning to share these photos of my experiment with strawberry popcorn. I was intrigued last year when I ordered a packet of heirloom seeds for “strawberry pink popcorn that grows about 1 meter tall and produces small strawberry shaped and coloured cobs on each plant” from Living Seeds. I planted them and nurtured them and when the time came I harvested the cobs. They have been hanging in my kitchen since March drying out.

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When my beautiful niece Sibella came to visit at the end of May we decided it was time to try them. She diligently picked the dried kernels from a bunch of cobs and then we popped them in a pan. It was quite a delight to see and taste the result! The kernels are much smaller than normal popcorn so one has to be careful not to burn them. I think we were probably too sparing on the oil and could have used more to get the kernels to pop more quickly. We had a big debate about whether the kernels should be placed in cool oil first and allowed to heat up or straight into hot oil. I’m still not sure if it makes a difference! As a kid we had one of those air blown popcorn machines which worked like a charm and I’m really wishing I had one now!

Anyway, I can highly recommend trying this for a treat. They are easy to grow and look pretty hanging above the island in my kitchen. One small bunch yielded a whole bowl of kernels and popcorn for the masses. I was rather hoping that the final popped corn would be pink too, but alas, it’s not!

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Cooking in a Castle

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I had the most wonderful weekend of cooking with good friends from Ladybrand, Maseru and Bloemfontein. The cooking club I belong to, which is called “Happy Cooking”, organised a two day course with a well-known Johannesburg-based teacher, Alexis Kriel, who specialises in vegetarian Indian cooking. Unfortunately I have missed all our cooking club meetings this year, which have included a Spanish day and a master class in meat cutting (for examples of what we did last year see our blog Happy Cooking Club). I wasn’t going to miss out on this weekend though as I knew it would be special. Our friend Adri organised for us to stay at a wonderful guest house called Union House near Fouriesburg and we spent the whole of Saturday cooking in the kitchen of Destiny Castle, which is perched on a cliff with 360 degree views of the Maluti mountains. It was simply spectacular. In Alexis’ words: like being on top of the beanstalk! 

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And the cooking was spectacular too. Alexis has a very particular food philosophy or consciousness, which stems from her years living in a hindu temple in Chastworth. In essence, it is thought that the person who cooks the food and the way in which they interact with it makes a huge difference to how the food is experienced on a physical, emotional and spiritual level. Before we started she explained all the different spices we would use. There were some that we had never heard of like asafoetida (hing), which is often used in place of onion or garlic. Then she requested us to use all of our senses whilst cooking so that rather than constantly tasting everything we should touch, smell, listen and observe the food to assess when it is ready. We should also not tamper with or stir the food too much. This was quite a difficult thing for many of us, but it really worked to maintain the integrity and beauty of the final dishes.

DSC_4163We chose to cook her Bollywood menu, which includes deep and pungent Indian flavours based on dishes we know well from restaurants. Although everything was vegetarian, most of the dishes could be easily done with meat too. The first day included: Paneer Tikka Masala (including home made paneer); Mushroom Rogan Josh; Apricot Chutney; Biryani; and a sweet dessert called Dhapa Dhoi.

DSC_4209On the second day we combined all the dishes that she would normally teach in two classes: Cashew Nut Curry; Soy Beef Vindaloo; Pear Chutney with Star Anise; Dried Fruit Pulao; Paneer Makhani; Coconut and Cashew Nut Rice with Mustard Seed and Curry Leaf Tempering; Pistachio Korma with Cauliflower; Green Chutney; and dessert of  Choclat Burfie and Black Tea Cinnamon Truffles. We also begged Alexis to share her secret for perfect rotis, which she graciously did and they were a big hit!

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We cooked in the amazing kitchen in the castle with a roaring log fire in the dining room. Destiny Castle used to run as a guest house, but the owners recently tithed it to the Church and plan to use it as the location for a very high level faith-based leadership academy. It certainly is the right place for quiet thought and contemplation of the complex leadership issues facing our continent.

Needless to say, it all ended in a feast of flavours! The pictures speak for themselves. We drove down the treacherous hill back home sated and satisfied. Everyone agreed that we had experienced something truly unique in a quiet little corner of the Free State.

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