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Rusks

Rusks

Gervase Markham wrote of rusks made of ground rice flour as being, “pleasanter, sweeter, and much longer lasting than those of wheat”, in 1668.  – A Way to Get Wealth.

In 1699, William Dampier wrote of rusk sent by the governor, “fine rusk, or bread of wheat flower, baked like Biscuit, but not so hard”.  – A Voyage Around the World.

Nathan Bailey defined bread in his 18th century dictionary as, “hard bread for stores”.  The same brief definition was published in several dictionaries during the 18th century.  John Marchant (1764) expanded upon that a little saying it was, “a sort of hard light bread used with chocolate”. 

Because it was hard and dry it kept well, therefore, is spoken of in many instances of ships voyages.

Benjamin Franklin was among those who declared rusks better than ship’s biscuit, “for being made of good fermented bread, sliced and baked a second time, the pieces imbibe the water easily, soften immediately, digest more kindly, and are, therefore, more wholesome than the unfermented biscuit.  By the way, rusk is the true original biscuit, prepared to keep for the sea, biscuit in French signifying twice baked”.  – The Works of Benjamin Franklin.  1840. 

Eliza Leslie’s recipe from 1832 called for a quarter of a pound of powdered sugar, a quarter of a pound of fresh butter, one pound of flour sifted, one egg, three wine-glasses of milk, a wine-glass and a half of best yeast, a tablespoonful of rose-water, and a teaspoonful of powdered cinnamon.

The flour and spices were sifted into a pan, then the butter cut into the milk, and the milk warmed enough to melt the butter.  The egg was beaten and added to the flour with the milk and butter, rose-water, spice, and lastly the yeast.  The ingredients were stirred well together, then the dough kneaded well on a floured surface.  The dough was then divided into small pieces of equal size and each piece kneaded again into a thick round cake.  The cakes were laid into a buttered iron pan and set in a warm place to rise.  The tops were pricked with a fork and then the cakes were baked in a moderate oven.  – Seventy Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats.

Receipts varied little for a period of several years.  Marion Harland’s 1874 version made use of  a pint of warm milk, 1/2 cup of butter, 1 cup of sugar, 2 eggs, a teaspoon of salt, and 2 tablespoons of yeast. 

A sponge was made of the milk, yeast, and enough flour for a thin batter, and left to rise overnight.  Next morning, the butter, eggs, and sugar, previously beaten together, were added together with the salt, and flour enough to make a soft dough.  The cakes were still molded with the hands of uniform size and put close together in a pan to rise until very light.  After baking the tops were brushed with a soft cloth dipped into molasses and water.  – Common Sense in the Household.

The preceding receipts make no mention of baking twice, as one would biscotti, according to some of the early definitions, however, others did instruct the cook to split the baked rusks open and put the halves back into the oven to dry them.

Elizabeth Lea gave two receipts – one which was twice baked and which was said to last months without spoiling.  The latter was made similar to the versions given already, but after baking the rusks were split open, and the halves put back in pans and put back into the oven to slowly dry for an hour or more.  They were recommended by weak persons with whom rich cakes might not agree, or for taking on a journey.  Nutmeg and mace could be added to the taste, and for richer versions two eggs could be used instead of one.  – Domestic Cookery, 1859.

Numerous receipts were published through the 19th century for making puddings from rusks.  In some receipts, the rusks were placed in a dish and a custard mixture, and sometimes almonds, were put over them and baked, similar to the way a bread pudding is made.  In others, the rusks were pounded up, stirred well into the custard mixture, then the pudding baked. 

Blissful Meals, Yall, The Historic Foodie

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