Saturday, September 02, 2006

South African Rusks -The Recipe

I haven't written about food for so long. My children keep stealing the show, grabbing attention with their doings and sayings. One recipe I've had on my mind to put up here on my blog, is the one for rusks. South African rusks. A hard, crunchy, substantial, sustaining snack to dunk in tea at any time of day or night. Plain or with added texture from nuts and raisins or seeds. These are the backbone of South Africa. The stuff of stalwart settlers. Ouma's rusks are the staple snack here, with the legend of the doughty grandmother's baking saving the morale of a drought-stricken town inscribed on every pack.

My recipe came from a South African cook book, when we were first here on a long visit. I started baking them and was never again allowed to stop. The recipe returned to London with me and I faithfully baked every other week, with toddler son creating castles and moats in the mound of flour. Grabbing the opportunity, while his baby sister slept, we would merrily festoon our small kitchen in flour, the cup measures becoming diggers, the sieve a distribution system. My temper would fray rapidly, when the nap ended sooner than expected and I had to deal with the rusks, hungry infant and flour dusted toddler at the same time. Crumbs nestled in every corner of the sofa, as rusks were morning and afternoon snack material, in the bed from morning tea in bed on the weekend. Friends came, tasted, copied the recipe and sent it winging onward with relations to the far ends of the earth - America, Pakistan, Sweden.

Back in South Africa to live, I carried on baking them, through the third pregnancy, when baking was the last thing I wanted to do - only the rusks managed to sneak through the baking embargo. They used always to have raisins in, until toddler taste alterations resulted in picked out raisins lodging with the crumbs all over the sofa. Self-preservation edited out the raisins and the rusks stayed plain for a couple of years. Recently I have staged a restoration revival and tried the revolutionary tactic of dividing the dough in half and adding pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and raisins to one half, leaving the other half plain, which means effectively that half the rusks have my name written on - hands off, adults only. It also seems to mean however that the kids build up their tolerance levels to be able to swallow raisins in extremis, when the plain ones run out.

Here finally is the recipe that I use. I promised it months ago and have disappointed all those searchers who showed up here with the promise of a rusk recipe, only to find that I never got around to posting the article. A belated apology to all of you, you can come back now, it's here!

South African Buttermilk Rusks -The Recipe
1.240kg / 2lb12oz flour (I use 1kg wholemeal and the rest white)
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
2 teaspoons of salt
250g / 9oz butter
½ cup raisins (optional or add mixed seeds too)
2 eggs
1 ½ cups brown sugar
2 cups buttermilk
1 cup oil
(1 cup=250ml)
Preheat the oven to 190C/380F
Grease three loaf tins of base measurement 20cmx10cm / 8”x 4” approx or any combination of deep baking dish that adds up to about the same.
In a large mixing bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, cream of tartar and salt. Cut the butter into small cubes and rub into the flour. Add the raisins if you are using them. You can experiment with various nuts and seeds as well, though the rusks are equally good plain.
In another bowl mix together the buttermilk, sugar, eggs and oil and beat until well combined. Stir liquid into dry ingredients and mix then knead to a firm dough.
Form the dough into balls about the size of a ping-pong/golf ball and pack them tightly in one layer into the loaf tins. I usually get six rows of three into each of my tins. Bake for 45 minutes.
Turn out onto a rack and leave to cool for 30 minutes before breaking up into individual rusks along the joins of the balls. Dry in a low oven 100C/200F for 4-5 hours until the centre is completely dry. These can be kept for ages in an airtight container.
Warning: crumbs guaranteed on the sofa, in the bed, over the carpet and the car seats!


  1. These sound great. Sometimes the craving for a hearty crunch and crumbs can be overwhelming. I am on a salad kick and these would be excellent to accompany the salads. They look healthy and full of fibre. Thanks for posting!

  2. Do you have a picture of how these look in the baking tin and after?

    I enjoyed your story, and how they have circled the mouth is watering.

  3. Hi Kit,

    Thank you so much for this recipe. I'm married to an Aussie & have been living in Aus for the past 9 years. To find this recipe has been wonderful. A great taste from home. This recipe is just perfect! A frequent now in our home. I have too, as well, keep the supply up.


  4. Thanks - they're in the oven for the first bake - but through you some of the energy of CT was in my heart and my hands and so I'm cautiously optikistic that they'll be splendid...

  5. Thanks: I make them regulary, it"s been a staple since my first hunt to SA and Zim. DJE

  6. Have just made my first batch adding lemon zest and poppy seeds as that was my favourite flavour while visiting South Africa last year. I had been yearning for a cup of Rooibus tea and rusks ever since.... Thank you so very much for sharing. Delicious.

  7. Hello Kit! My husband and I have been looking for a recipe that is close to Ouma's....this is pretty close! Thank you so much for posting it. I have borrowed it and posted it along with some images on my blog at I have also added a link back to you. Thank you again!

  8. Thank you so much for posting this! I'm an American, and studied in Cape Town last semester. I've been back home for about six months now, and I woke up this morning really missing Ouma buttermilk rusks: the wonderful snack I had to eat outside or on a tarp. I'll make a batch tonight to get me through the reminiscing, and through final exams.

  9. hi,
    as per husband's request..i will attempt my first large-scale baking:

    i have a few questions thoguh:

    1) do u have a pic of the rusks?
    2) how many does ur recipe make?
    3) can i use regular sugar instead of brown sugar?
    4) use entire white flour (till i get a hang of it)
    5) in canada - any brand name suggestions for cream of tartar? or better yet what can i substitute it with? (again till i get the hang of it...dont wana buy an entire jar if the product aint gona work)

    thanks a bunch....looking forwad to ur reply and to baking these!!!

  10. Hi Aisha,

    Good luck with baking the rusks!

    1. If you look at the comments above Sara Atkins took some great photos of the rusk she baked from this recipe.
    2. About 60 rusks give or take a few. They will keep for a few weeks in an airtight tin or jar.
    3. You can use white sugar but the flavour becomes less deep.
    4 The same with white flour. There is no difference in technique using wholewheat. White flour will give a lighter finer texture.
    5. I don't know the Canadian brands. Here in SA we can buy cream of tartar in small paper sachets, so you don't have to buy a whole jar. You could try substituting it with baking powder, but I don't know if that will affect the recipe slightly.

    Have fun!

  11. Sawubona udadewethu! thank you, ngiyabonga, dankie for the yummy recipe. i recently returned from a year masters program in Durban and like another one of your readers relied upon Ouma to get me through exams. so, making yours will be perfect while writing my thesis. Peace and take care, george from nashville, tn

  12. Can't wait to try these, I miss Ouma's rusks! Thanks for sharing!

  13. think that baking powder is bicarb of soda mixed with cream of tartar so just add 4 t baking powder instead.

  14. You can make baking power using cream of tartar and bicarp with a ratio of 2 : 1 - the larger being cream of tartar and the smaller bicarb. I always make my own baking powder by mixing these because commercial baking power has aluminium in it.

  15. Hi Kit,

    so happy to find your recipe! We spent nearly 1 month backpacking through South Africa and I really really miss rusks here in Prague. Today I made yours and are just perfect with caffee:) You can check some photos from my culinary trip in South Africa (, it´s pitty you won´t understand:( Looking forward to new recipes!


Thanks for your comments - I appreciate every one!