Every time I bake rusks I end up destroying a classic Beatles song:

“There’s nothing you can rusk that can’t be rusked,
Nothing you can rusk that can’t be rusked,
Nothing you can rusk but you can learn how to rusk the rusk
It’s rusky!

All you need is rusk (da da dadada!)
All you need is rusk (da da dadada!)
All you need is rusk, rusk
Rusk is all you need.”

But it’s worth it for these wondrous rusks.

rusk header

I’ve done some intense research on rusks (by that I mean I looked up rusks on wikipedia) and have found that many countries have their own ideas of what a rusk is. The UK thinks they’re only useful for teething babies, Japan makes sweet ones out of cake or croissant, and in many places it’s just a word for really, really dry toast.

All these countries are wrong.

In South Africa, rusks were developed as a way to keep bread from going stale back in the days before preservatives were thrown at everything. They evolved over the centuries into the delicious, crunchy, coffee-loving biscuit we (South Africans) know and love today.

This is a marvelously simple recipe, though you probably won’t have all the ingredients to hand, so make a list and go shopping. (Warning: This recipe uses a rather large amount of flour, so check that you have enough.)


  • Rectangular baking pan, minimum of 3 cm deep,
  • Huge mixing bowl (the biggest one you’ve got),
  • Saucepan,
  • Sharp knife and some vegetable oil,
  • Large wire rack (or something to cool them on),
  • An oven, obviously.

Grease your baking pan very well.
Preheat oven to 180° C if it’s fan-assisted (200° C if not).

In the large mixing bowl, sift:

  • 8 cups cake flour (or 4 cups plain, 4 cups nutty wheat for extra yumminess)
  • 1 heaped tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 level teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1 rounded teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt

In your saucepan melt:

  • 375g butter or margarine


  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 500ml buttermilk

Do not boil!


Pour your melted ingredients into the dry and stir together with a wooden spoon or your hands (wooden spoons have been known to break in this mixture), until a thick dough forms.

wet and dry

Spread this evenly into your greased baking pan.
Oil up your sharp knife and cut the dough into small squares (about 2 x 2 cm each). You’ll need to keep dipping your knife in the oil to keep it from sticking to the dough. Also, if your baking pan is non-stick, you should be careful you don’t cut into the pan: just make sure the dough is cleanly cut ’til  at least ¾ deep, and perforate the dough for the rest of the depth.


Bake for 30 minutes.

Carefully shake the pan out onto a wire rack and leave the enormous rusk to cool.
Turn your oven down to about 60° C.

1 rusk

Once cooled, gently break the rows of rusk apart along the cuts and arrange them on a wire rack or tray that can fit your oven. There’ll probably be a few funny-looking rusks, but rejoice! for this is a great excuse to make a cup of tea or coffee and eat them up.

Place the rusks into the oven and let them dry out for about 3 hours, or until completely dry all the way through.

Keep in a biscuit tin and they’ll last months (if no one knows where they are).


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