Like most food lovers, autumn (and winter) is my favourite time of the year. As the leaves turn and the cold weather rolls in, everything slips into a slow slumber and rich stews and soups simmer away on my stove. While growing up though, there was only one sign that the chilly weather was approaching and that was the gentle sweet smell of my mother's wholewheat buttermilk rusks drying in the oven for what felt like days on end. In our home, rusks are reserved for winter (for whatever reason) and I remember them tasting the best when dunked into milky tea on pitch black, ice cold mornings while sitting in front of the roaring fire my dad lit in the fire place before my sister and I went to school. Every year since leaving home, without fail, a large package of mom's rusks arrives just when the weather starts to turn and I know it's time to unpack my boots, woolly jerseys, scarves and thick blankets.
But what makes these rusks so magical is that I can never make them myself. The recipe is one of a handful in my mother's cookbook that I simply cannot replicate. One would think that with all my chef training and culinary knowledge that would be impossible. And you would be wrong. Measuring with scientific precision and following the instructions exactly just doesn't help - they simply don't taste the same as my mother's. I'm sharing this precious recipe in the hope that it will find a special place in your family cookbook and that one day your children might also complain of not being able to make them 'just like mom or dad'. That surely must be the biggest compliment; to fill a biscuit tin with so much love it is unrivalled.
Photographs by Angie Lazaro
Williams Wholewheat Buttermilk Rusks
4 cups cake flour
3 cups All-bran flakes
3 cups bran
3 cups muesli
50ml baking powder
2t bicarbonate of soda
1½ cups light brown sugar
2 cups melted butter
2 cups buttermilk
1T vanilla extract
1 cup sunflower or pumpkin seeds
Mix the dry ingredients together. combine the melted butter, buttermilk and vanilla and mix into the dry ingredients. add a little milk, if necessary, to form a soft dough. Press into a greased roasting tray and bake at 180°C for 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Slice into fingers when cool and place in a low oven with the door ajar until crisp and dry.
It was my desperate craving for my mom's rusks that led me to developing my own recipe for Buttermilk bran rusks; one that nobody can mess up - not even me. It uses the fantastic Sasko Quick Treats Bran muffin mix as a base with a few simple additions. In fact, you can watch me making them on Tuesday 24 April on Expresso Breakfast Show on SABC3 at 06h45 in the Sasko baking slot.
Buttermilk Bran Rusks
1 x 500g Sasko Quick Treats muffin mix
½ cup bran flakes
½ cup mixed seeds or nuts
½ cup melted butter
1t vanilla extract
Combine the Sasko Quick Treats muffin mix with the bran flakes, seeds or nuts and mix well. Whisk the buttermilk, melted butter, egg and vanilla extract together and add to the dry ingredients. Press into a greased 20 x 20cm baking tin and bake for 30-40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Turn out and allow to cool slightly before cutting into fingers. Arrange on a baking tray and dry at 60°C for 4-6 hours or until crisp. Store in an airtight container.