One of my favorite things about the holiday season is all the yummy food and treats that you get to enjoy. When we were young my Dad’s parents always sent us petit fours from Figi’s. I also tried to steal the little strawberry candies from gift baskets at my grandparents before anyone could get them. So every year instead of buying gifts, I try to send out homemade treats to family and friends. Generally I will do a few different types of treats, but we are facing an increasingly mobile infant (see here), so things are a little trickier this year. Because of that I am sticking to one treat: rusks!
You may be asking yourself what the heck are rusks? I myself had no clue what these things were until I was visiting my husband (then boyfriend) 7 years ago in South Africa. They are a bread that gets baked twice, similar to biscotti, but not as sweet. The way to eat them is dunking them in coffee or tea for breakfast or a snack. My husband loves them. Many of his South African coworkers love them. But alas, they were not to be found on the shelves of American supermarkets.
I had tried to search for recipes online, but never really came up with something good. One day I happened to be looking through a copy of House Beautiful and there was a recipe for muesli rusks! I gave it a shot and they came out AMAZING. My husband probably would have married me then and there, if we weren’t already. They are a huge hit at his office, if I can get him to share, and my side of the family loves them so much they get upset if they aren’t sent enough of them.
It starts with making muesli, or granola. I use a different recipe for this than the author. I never liked that I was adding sugar and honey to the muesli, and then adding additional sugar to the basic rusk dough. Last year I bought the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, and I found the best granola recipe EVER. If you have her book, it’s called the ‘big cluster maple granola.’ I tweaked it a little bit, because I like sunflower seeds in mine, and I use raisins (instead of dried cherries) which I add before they go in the oven. When you bake the granola with the raisins already mixed in you get this amazing smoky flavor that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy. Which is the point of granola, is it not? So here is the recipe I use which has been adapted from Smitten Kitchen:
Maple Muesli/ Granola:
3 cups oats
1 cup unsweetened coconut
1 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup bran
1/2 cup seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cup raisins
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 egg white (whipped until frothy)
Combine all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add wet ingredients and mix well. Bake at 300 degrees for 45-55 minutes until evenly browned and dry to the touch.
See? So easy. Now something to note, because I have a little more stuff in my recipe than in the Smitten Kitchen one, it doesn’t stay in big chunks after cooking it. It ends up being smaller crunchy bits of granola. I actually prefer this, but if you are making this just for the granola and like big, chewy clusters, this is not the granola recipe for you.
After you’ve made your muesli, it’s time for the rusk dough. Butter and sugar are melted together before stirring in the buttermilk and egg mixture. After you’ve sifted your dry ingredients you add the muesli, then pour in the wet ingredients and mix well. I will say, this step takes a lot of elbow grease. This is a very dry dough, so the wet ingredients get absorbed quickly and you really have to mix it together and scrape allllll the way to the bottom. I always find bits of unmixed flour hiding there.
Once mixed, it’s into greased loaf tins and into the oven at 375 for 30 minutes, then you lower it to 325 for 40 more minutes. When these are cool, they will not be soft like most bread loaves we know. They are much harder and prone to lots of big crumbles. Fear not! You have done nothing wrong, and in fact those big broken off chunks happen to be my husbands favorite parts. They make for easier dunking and eating in your coffee cup later!
To make these loaves into rusks you slice them into 1 1/2 inch slices, then cut each slice into finger sized widths, (I usually get 3 rusks from each slice). This is the point when they will sort of break apart on you, particularly the top of the loaf. Pile all your rusks, and larger broken bits, onto a big sheet pan, put them back in the oven at the lowest setting it will go, and leave them over night.
Another word to the wise about the original recipe: it instructs you to leave your oven door slightly ajar to dry out over night. If you have a gas oven, like we do, your carbon monoxide alarm shall awaken you in the middle of the night because it doesn’t want you to kill yourself over some baked goods. So, I would advise leaving your oven door closed. It’s safer too if you have small pets and/or children running around.
In the morning your house will smell like heaven. If you’ve ever wondered what heaven smells like, make these. You’ll know. They are labor intensive, but so worth the effort. These also make a ton if you do the full recipe. I always halve it because I do not have 4 loaf tins, nor a mixing bowl large enough to accommodate the full size recipe.
Once you’re done, just put them in pretty baggies and send them off to your family and friends! They will love you forever. Then ask you for more. Then ask you for the recipe. So here it is in its entirety:
Mama Anna’s Muesli Rusks (found in House Beautiful magazine several years ago, author unknown)
3 cups dry grain flakes (oats, rye, barley)
2 cups coarsely chopped nuts
1/2 cup light brown sugar (more or less, depending on how sweet you want it to be)
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1 cup bran
1 cup seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, or a mix)
1 cup dried berries (raisins, blueberries, or other), optional
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup olive oil or canola oil
Mix all dry muesli ingredients together. Add the oil and honey and mix very well. Spread on a baking tray and bake for 15 to 20 minutes in a 325 degree oven. Stir occasionally until golden brown.
Basic Rusk Dough:
3 cups butter, oil, or margarine
1-2 cups sweetener (sugar, honey, or maple syrup)
3 cups buttermilk or yogurt
3 1/3 pounds whole-wheat flour
3 tablespoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1. Heat butter and sweetener ingredient until melted. Remove from heat. Stir in beaten buttermilk and egg mixture. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt and add the muesli and mix well. Now combine all wet and dry ingredients and mix well.
2. Spoon dough into greased loaf tins. Bake loaves for about 30 minutes in 375 degree oven. Lower heat to 325 degrees and bake for another 40 minutes till golden brown and done. Leave loaves to cool in tins for a few minutes and then turn out to cool completely.
3. Cut each loaf into rusk-size portions. Start by slicing each loaf into 1 1/2 inch-thick slices and then cut each slice into two or three portions. Each rusk should be about three to four inches long.
4. Pile rusks on a baking tray or rack and put them into an oven set on warm, with door slightly ajar, to dry out overnight. When completely dry, store in container. Dip rusks into your morning coffee or tea. Serve as a healthy quick breakfast or snack. Enjoy!