I like to think of rusks as a sort of South African biscotti. At least that's how I describe them to my friends who've never tried them before. Rusks are a hard, twice-baked bread that are just lovely in the morning dipped into your coffee or tea.
I first came to know rusks when I was living in Malawi, southern Africa, during my time in the Peace Corps. Food in the village was fairly plain, and I was often looking for simple ways to add variety and flavor to my simple diet when I came across a South African package of Ouma Rusks. I was instantly a fan, since my day always started with a cup of hot coffee. Decent Malawian coffee and Ouma Rusks became the start of every day for me.
Of course, here in the U.S., rusks are unheard of. You can always find biscotti of varying quality at Starbucks or some other chain coffee store, but rusks have a certain rustic quality that I enjoy. There are a number of recipes on the internet, but I came across a simple one here and thought I'd give it a try this past weekend.
The instructions are fairly straightforward. Sift together the dry ingredients, mix the wet, and combine to form a doughy batter.
The batter is then rolled into small balls, and placed into a baking pan (or several bread tins), so that they're all snug and tight in rows.
Now they need to be baked for about 45 minutes, during which time they rise up and form thick pieces about 3 or 4 inches tall.
Now, this is where I think I may have gone wrong. It might have been an issue of the oven being too hot, or perhaps I had packed the dough balls into the pan too tightly. The outside was nice and crusty and brown on most of the loaf, but it was just beginning to go from golden brown to burnt. A few more minutes would have brought them to that point.
The inside, however, may not have been cooked enough. The dough was mostly cooked, but it was still very moist--too moist, if you ask me, for this next step. Once this first baking is done, the loaf needs to be set on a rack and cooled, and once that's done, the pieces need to be separated. If this first baking has gone the way it should, the loaf should separate into nice pieces. Mine did not, at least not for the whole thing. A section in the middle sort of split in two at the midsection.
Most of them turned out just fine, though. It was just these few in the middle. Once the pieces are all separated, they're set on backing pans and placed back into a cool oven for about 5 hours to dry.
This part worked out fine. When they were all finished, they tasted just like I had hoped. The rusks were hard, but not so hard they were difficult to eat, and they were dense and hearty. This was a simple recipe, so the flavor was uncomplicated, but I like this. Later I may experiment with dried fruit or other spices, but for now these buttermilk whole wheat rusks have been a hit.
Delicious! And perfect with my morning coffee. Watch out for the crumbs, though.