…and always have.
A distinct hush, the gentle birdsong and that very particular light, brings with it a sense of infinite possibility. And yet, in our café days, we very rarely enjoyed this quiet calm. Doors opened at the outrageous hour of 7am, ruling out any hopes of a leisurely lie-in. In the first few weeks after the handover, we found ourselves no longer dashing to the car but instead to our one and only Bialleti. This shameless scrabble left us both riled and rankled – suffice to say that in a household of two, one coffee pot won’t do. We finally came to our senses and bought another. They sit side by side on our kitchen stove and while one gives consistently thicker crème, we have agreed to alternate (a truce, sworn upon the rising of the sun). Perched on our stoep with coffee mugs in hand, and whatever reading material is lying nearest, we savour our one and only cup.
But what to dip in the two steaming mugs? A rusk. Of course.
We are invariably disappointed by the store-bought varieties: the hopeless ratio of nut to biscuit, their sugary aftertaste and the uninspired add-ins.
So we head straight to our kitchen, determined to do this little baked good justice.
Almond studded, sesame flecked and spiced with star anise, our rusks are worlds apart. Flax supplies essential fatty acids, bran the dietary fibre and wheat germ those important B vitamins. But our favourite ingredient is by far the Hanepoot raisin. We found these on a little farm in Bot Rivier (an hour or so outside Cape Town) and they look as if they were left to shrivel on the vine.
The slow dip-and-nibble eases us into the morning and sets the pace for the rest of the day. There is something very reassuring about a nutritious rusk.
This early morning ceremony wouldn’t be at all the same without these little treats, but we are in total agreement with the poet Dorothea Grossman…it’s the coffee that’s really sacramental.
The raisins we so love are not always on hand and so any sulphur-free dried fruit will do. We always bake a big batch, but then the recipe can always be halved.
yield: 60 rusks
8 cups / 1kg self-raising whole-wheat flour (or self-raising rice flour if you are gluten intolerant)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon ground aniseed
375g / 1 ½ cups butter, diced
1 cup bran
½ cup wheat germ
½ cup flaxseed powder
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup raisins
1 cup pecan nuts
1 cup almonds, roughly chopped
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup pumpkin seeds
¼ cup poppy seeds
¼ cup sesame seeds
400g Greek yoghurt
1 ½ cups organic coconut palm sugar
½ cup olive oil
Preheat the oven to 180˚C / 350 F.
Lightly butter a 35cm x 40cm / 14-in x 16-in baking tray and line its base with parchment paper.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, sieve together the flour, baking powder, salt and aniseed. Add the butter and beat at low speed until the mixture resembles fresh breadcrumbs (this can also be done by hand in a large mixing bowl). Add the rest of the dry ingredients – grains, nuts, seeds – and mix until evenly combined.
In a separate bowl whisk together the yoghurt, eggs, oil and sugar.
Halve both the flour mixture and wet ingredients, and mix the two until a soft dough forms (it is far easier to work with in these quantities). Repeat with the remaining halves and mix both batches to reach a uniform consistency. Transfer the dough to a lined baking tray and level with your palm. Using a large knife, slice horizontally and then vertically to form a grid – make your rusks as chunky or bite-size as you like.
Bake for 50 – 60 minutes, or until golden on top. Remove from the oven and using a sharp serrated knife cut along your grid marks. Gently remove each rusk and lay flat on a baking tray.
Adjust the oven temperature to 80˚C / 33 F. Return to the oven for 5 – 8 hours, or even overnight. The rusks should be dried out completely.
Store in an airtight container.