Rusks are a big South African favourite, as much a cornerstone of our food culture as evening braais and malva pudding. At least in Western Cape towns like my hometown, Oudtshoorn!
Most of us enjoy them with a morning cup of coffee or tea, but they’re also popular at tea time, or as a snack when you’re running empty between meals.
The most popular South African rusk is simple buttermilk rusks. But these can be a little plain, and they’re not the healthiest. So our muesli rusks are the perfect alternative. They also use buttermilk, but it’s accompanied by honey, oats, seeds and nuts, making for a healthy, flavourful little coffee-dipper!
How to make rusks
Most people just buy rusks from the shops – but these are almost always made with oil rather than butter, and often mass-produced. If you do want to buy rusk, I’d highly recommend buying them from a farm stall or local goods store, as these will be homemade – and much better.
If you’re making them yourself, the only thing you need to know beforehand is the double-baking. First, you bake your rusks like any other cake or loaf. Then, when it’s cooled down, you cut it into fingers, spread it out on a bigger tray, and bake it again! This time for four to eight hours.
Everything else about baking rusks is easy – I don’t even use a measuring cup, just a normal mug! I also change it up every time, and it’s hard to fail.
Quick history of rusks in South Africa
South African rusks are originally Afrikaans, and come from our country’s colonial Dutch heritage. The Afrikaans word for rusks is beskuit, adopted from French biscuit which means twice baked! Rusks have been helpful for generations as a hardy, long-lasting food, often made with little more than flour and water. They came in very handy for long sailing expeditions and wagon trails.
Healthy muesli rusks recipe
- 4 cups flour I use half white cake flour and half whole wheat or nutty wheat
- 4 tsp baking powder You can also use self-raising flour instead, but then you need to add baking powder for every cup of wheat flour you use
- 1 ½ cups oats
- 1 cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup honey If you want a more honeyed flavour you can replace some of the sugar
- 1 cup cranberries I don’t like raisins and I find cranberries add a sharper, nicer flavour, but raisins are also a good option here!
- 1 cup seeds and nuts I usually add sunflower seeds, almonds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds, but these are really up to what you love
- 125 ml coconut Also optional but it’s a lovely addition
- 250 ml buttermilk My mom often replaces this with half yoghurt half milk; this will produce a slightly different flavour, but it works great
- 125 gr butter melted
- 2 large free-range eggs
- ⅓ cup sunflower oil
- Preheat the oven to 180C/350F
- Line a baking dish of approximately 25cm x 30cm with baking paper
- Stir all your dry ingredients until well combined.
- Add cranberries, nuts and coconut and stir again.
- Melt your butter, then add the honey to the pan (or microwave bowl) and stir until combined.
- In a separate bowl, mix the melted butter and honey with buttermilk, eggs and sunflower oil.
- Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir till just combined.
- Pour this thick, stodgy batter into your lined baking tray and use the spoon to even it out nicely. Bake for 45 minutes or until the top is nice and golden and a knife poked in the center comes out clean. You may need to put foil on the top if your oven is temperamental, but I’ve never found it necessary.
- Allow to cool. Then lift it out and slice it into strips, and then slice in the other direction to make fingers - you can make them short and chunky or long and slender, whatever rusk style you prefer. Place these on a larger baking tray (or the one you used, plus another one) with space between them.
- Bake for 6 hours on 100C/210F, turning them over after about 3 hours. My mum often only bakes them for 3 hours and then considers them finished and perfect, so it’s worth popping one out when you’re turning them and testing. With the baking smells that have been floating around your house for the past 3 hours, you probably won’t be able to help yourself anyway.
- Allow to cool and dish into an airtight container and onto your plate!
There you have it, a quick (at least in prep time!) rusk recipe that will provide you with a week or two of easy and healthy breakfasts and snacks. These rusks also make for the perfect thing to bring on a Cederberg camping trip, or a little gift for a coffee-loving friend.
My favourite thing about these, aside from their taste, is just how easy they are to change up and make with what you have in your kitchen. You just need to keep ratios right!
I would love to know if this muesli rusk recipe worked well for you, and what you like to add to your rusks!