Tempting Buttermilk Rusks

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I’ve started the month of June with a mission to shake some of the post-baby fat that’s settling all too comfortably on places it wasn’t before. Winter has never been a dieting season in my books, but I decided to reconsider when I learnt about the new high fat, low carb eating craze that’s taking South Africa by storm. How difficult can it be if you are encouraged to cook generously with real butter and bacon fat, eat as many eggs as you want and when it’s compulsory to eat the fat left on a lamb chop? That sounds just up my alley! But then comes the sting in the tail… no more rusks with morning coffee; no more rustling up a quick pasta on nights when I don’t know what to cook; no more shared bowls of ice cream in front of the TV with my love. A big sacrifice I think, which is why it’s taken me a while to get my head around it. Most people I’ve seen who’ve tried it are very impressed with the results so it’s worth a go. I’ve made peace with the fact that I’ll be in this alone. How could I possibly ask Quentin to give up sugar in his tea and coffee, bread, ice cream, cheese cake and more? Most of all, it would be sacrilege to deprive a farm boy of his rusks!

And so I faced the ultimate challenge this weekend of baking a batch of buttermilk rusks knowing that none of them will pass my lips (except the tiniest crumb to check the result!) I’ve been experimenting with recipes to improve on the Amasi rusks that Malefah usually bakes (see Malefah’s rusks) after I noticed a large number of referrals to this blog are via searches for buttermilk rusks recipes. This recipe is from a book I was given recently after we spent a very special family weekend at a place called Halfaampieskraal in the Overberg. The food at Halfaampies is legendary – generous, delicious and made with love. As with most boerekos (traditional Afrikaans food) very little about it suits a diet. The cookbook, Halfaampieskraal Celebrates, is full of their signature dishes most of which are off limits to me now. Still, I can extract an immense amount of joy paging through the recipes and remembering how good a few of them tasted during the long, lazy and luscious meals we enjoyed on the stoep and in their ornate dining room.

This recipe for buttermilk rusks has far more butter than other recipes I’ve used. It makes them beautifully rich and quite crumbly. The trick is to cream the butter and sugar together very well before mixing with the dry ingredients. If I do them again I might try to add a bit more buttermilk, because my mixture didn’t look as wet as in the pictures. They are quite perfect as is though. As rusks go, this one definitely suits the high fat part of my diet with the 1kg of butter used, but alas, the rest of the ingredients are a no go. My love is enjoying them though, which is the most important thing!

Halfaampieskraal Buttermilk Rusks (beskuit)

1kg butter, softened

3 cups sugar

4 eggs

250ml buttermilk

1.5kg self-raising flour

1.5 teaspoons baking powder

1.5 teaspoons salt

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Whisk the softened butter and sugar together with an electric beater until pale and light. Add the eggs, beat until blended and then slowly add the buttermilk. Sift the dry ingredients and mix them well into the buttermilk mixture using a wooden spoon. The dough must be sticky and dense. Line a large, deep baking tin with baking paper. Spoon in the mixture with a greased dessertspoon so that the balls of dough touch each other (feel free to use your hands!)

Bake for an hour until golden brown (my oven always burns the top if I don’t watch carefully!). Leave the tin to cool on a rack. When completely cool, break the rusks apart along the markings that are still visible on them. Then use a fork to break them in half across the width (I struggle to break them into equal bits!) Place the rusks on a baking tray, crust side down, and leave in the oven overnight on the coolest setting (50-100 degrees) with the door slightly ajar.

Store in an airtight container and enjoy dunked in morning tea or coffee!

Recipe from Halfaampieskraal Celebrates – a visual feast of food, friendship and festivities on a South African farm (Maia du Plessis & Simon Scarboro).

 

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Malefah’s Rusks

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While Quentin’s cousin was visiting us last week, I was in the middle of preparing for the real V.I.P. visitors from the Cape we were expecting for the weekend. Every single bed in the house would be occupied for the occasion of my half-sister Beatrice’s 21st birthday celebration – 12 adults, 2 kids and my Dad’s dog Chloe. We were so thrilled when Beatrice asked us if she could have a gathering at Vastrap and didn’t hesitate for a second to agree. You see, people who are lucky enough to live in the Cape need a very good reason to leave their beautiful surroundings to visit other parts of the country. Moreover, the Eastern Free State is not exactly around the corner being 1150km away! So, this would be the perfect excuse for a gathering. A way to get the whole family together in new and different surroundings to mark a very special event.

My sister Hannia and her family also joined us from Johannesburg and were kind enough to bring Quentin’s daughter Ashley with them. She had not been to the farm since January so we were very excited to have her “home” albeit only for the weekend. I organised a special surprise for her by redecorating her room with a an old four poster “princess” bed that Hannia and Beatrice both used when they were little girls. I love the idea that this special piece of furniture is being passed down from generation to generation.

Antique four poster bed with cushions from Living Life.

Antique bed with Living Life cushions and light.

There was a flurry of activity as we got everything ready for the big event: planning menus, baking rusks and biscuits, making lemon syrup, stocking up on biltong and slaughtering sheep to exchange for a cooler full of fish promised by my brother Johnny, the spear fisherman. Food is an essential part of our family bonding so I wanted everything to be just right with all the warm and fuzzy “home-made” trimmings that are associated with being on a farm.

There are few things more evocative of South African farm life than coffee with home-made rusks. Quentin and I cannot start the day without our morning ritual of rusks dunked in a mug of steaming hot coffee. We always have a fresh supply in the house and even carry them with us when we travel.

Rusks are basically like dried out biscuits. They come in all different shapes, sizes and flavours. At the moment my favourite kind is packed full of nuts, seeds, raisins and cranberries, like a wholesome breakfast in one bite. Quentin still loves his mother’s recipe for buttermilk rusks the most, but I’m not good at making them so I leave it in the capable hands of our housekeeper Malefah who used to work for my mother-in-law. The funny thing about these rusks is that they aren’t made with buttermilk at all, but rather Amasi or maas (fermented milk widely available in South Africa). I don’t know if it makes a huge difference to the taste, but Malefah likes to stick with tradition. The recipe is not written down anywhere so I just watched her and documented the steps so you can see how easy it is. The aroma and anticipation of fresh rusks baking in the oven is simply heavenly! (see also Tempting Buttermilk Rusks).

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Malefah’s Amasi Rusks:

2kg self-raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

500g softened butter

3 cups castor sugar

4 eggs

2,5 cups Amasi (substitute with buttermilk or plain yoghurt)

Mix the sugar, eggs and Amasi together. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking power and salt together. Rub the softened butter into the flour mixture until fully combined. Add the sugar, egg and Amasi mixture to the butter and flour mixture. Work together with your hands until combined.

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Grease a large deep baking pan with some leftover butter. Press the mixture into the pan and smooth over the top.

Bake in 180 degree oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour until golden brown on top. Allow to cool in the pan then tip out and cut into rusk size rectangles (if you are lucky, you have a fancy pan with dividers that cuts the rusks automatically!) Place on baking trays and dry out in 80 degree oven for 6-8 hours or overnight. Enjoy dunked in hot coffee!

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