Grab yourself a cup of coffee or tea, a handful of these rusks, and gather ’round for Liz’s Origin Story time.
I grew up in a forest between two small towns, which basically meant that I saw more deer than neighbors and that the closest anything was at least a fifteen minute drive away. I went to a teeny tiny school, and I’m pretty sure that I was old enough to remember the first time I saw a person of color, so needless to say, words like ESL and refugee assistance and ethnic grocery were not a part of our everyday conversation.
I came to Minneapolis for college and went into communications, figuring I could spend the rest of my career days using my love of words to promote some company’s agenda as well as catch the attention of that cute guy six cubicles down. But one semester in and midway through a TV media class that I loathed, I started rethinking.
That semester, I was part of an intercultural communications course in which we had to work with a refugee family, and I was loving it. My group and I took our Somali family to the zoo, we taught them to play Jenga, how to order pizza – you know, essential life skills. At the same time I had started working as a grammar tutor for the college because my nerdiness knows no bounds, and it was there that a fellow tutor explained that she was an ESL major.
I literally had to ask her what ESL was. I think she blinked like six times before answering.
She explained, and what I heard was that in ESL, I could immerse myself in vocabulary, my beloved grammar, and other cultures. A few weighty phone conversations with my mom later, I changed my major.
I also changed my minor to Intercultural Studies. Let me be honest here. I mostly did this because the Intercultural Studies people got to go on a two-month internship to explore different countries, cultures, and ministries that ended in a time of debriefing in Hawaii, which is where I wanted to live. Super altruistic motives, I know.
I spent the first two months of my junior year in preparation for The Trip along with a team of people I grew to love. And then, on October 16, 2003, I left the country for the first time ever. We landed in Paris, France, and my first astute cultural observation was that the license plates looked different. My world had expanded, and there was no going back.
We spent two weeks in France, then Romania, South Africa, then Mozambique, and we joined in an existing ministry in each place, helping them however we could. It was such an eye opening experience for me, and while I loved our time in Europe, it was South Africa that got me. I loved the color of the dirt, the way the grass sounded in the wind, the accessibility to chickens, the drumbeats and music, and the incredible warmth of hospitality in the midst of poverty I couldn’t even come close to wrapping my head around.
We ended our trip in Mozambique (not Hawaii!) and apart from being stung by a jellyfish, I loved every minute of our time there as well and knew that once I graduated, I wanted to get back to the African continent.
It was while in South Africa and Mozambique that I was first introduced to rusks, which the South Africans I know basically consume like oxygen. It was a South African who told me about the ESL position in South Sudan that I eventually found myself in, and the South Africans I worked with there as well spoke nothing but praise for their beloved rusks.
Rusks are basically a twice-baked biscuit (or biscotti) that is longing to be dunked in your coffee or tea. They’re the perfect little snack to have on hand in winter, when you are always holding a warm drink. They’re subtly sweet and they take on a bit of flavor of whatever you’re drinking. I love them because they are easy - maybe ten minutes of hands-on time and only six ingredients. And let me tell you, properly dried, cooled, and stored, they will last forever. Plus, they double as teething biscuits, which is great because Elsa started teething four months ago and has. not. stopped.
I hope you give them a try some freezing Saturday when you want to have your oven all day because that’s what these require. A rusk dunked in coffee brings me back. To South Africa. Mozambique. Sudan. To that feeling of realization that the world was wide and varied and beautiful, which is a good thing when the world immediately around you is icy and gray and cold.
(recipe by Carpé Season, given to me by an American friend who married a South African man)
(yields app. 30 ball-shaped rusks)
Rusks are twice-baked biscuits that are slowly dried out in a low-heat oven, making them perfect for dunking in coffee or tea. They will keep for months if properly dried out, cooled, and stored!
5 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 egg lightly beaten
1 cup buttermilk*
2 sticks + 2 tablespoons (so 18 tablespoons total) melted butter
Preheat oven to 350*
In a large bowl, sift together the dry ingredients.
Beat the egg, then stir the buttermilk into it. Mix in the melted butter. (Do it in that order to keep the melted butter from being hot enough to slightly cook the egg).
Make a well in the middle of your dry ingredients and pour in the egg/butter/buttermilk mixture. Gently stir with a wooden spoon, then knead briefly in the bowl until the dough is coming together. It should stick together when pressed together, but might not form one cohesive ball.
You have two options for your first bake, depending on the shape you want your rusks to be.
Option 1: For rounded ball-shaped rusks - Form dough into balls that are larger than a golf ball / slightly smaller than a tennis ball. Place balls tightly together into a greased 9x13" baking dish.
Option 2: For oblong shaped rusks - Form dough into 2-inch oblong "logs." Place logs tightly together, standing upright, in a 9x5" bread pan. (You should end up with 2 rows of 5 or 6 rusks each depending on size. ( This is what it will look like after the first bake, for reference. )
Lower oven heat to 170*.
Break rusks at natural breaking points by hand. Place metal wire racks on top of baking sheets. Place rusks on top of wire racks.** Be sure the rusks are not touching one another. Place rusks in oven.
You'll want to leave your oven door open a crack to allow the moisture to escape. Mine kept wanting to shut, so I wedged another rimmed baking sheet in the door to make it stay open.
Bake rusks at this low temperature for 6-8 hours. (I've also put my oven heat at 150* and left them overnight without checking.) You will know they are done when you press hard on the sides and there is no mushiness. You can also cut one open to ensure that they are thoroughly dry and hard throughout.
Cool, Store, and Serve:
Cool completely and then store for MONTHS in an air-tight container.
When ready to eat, dunk in your hot beverage of choice :)
**Note: If you do not have metal wire racks, you can dry these out directly on a baking sheet, but you will need to turn the rusks so that a different side is touching the pan every couple hours.