Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Rusks: From From Army/Navy Rations to Baby Food


Rusks are made with a low-water content bread-like dough that has been baked into a loaf, sliced up, and then the slices are dried in an oven at low heat. When most Americans think of rusks they probably envision hard bread-like biscuits (zwieback) that are given to babies to gnaw on. However, rusks historically were not meant for teething infants. Their history goes back to the medieval days when they were called panis biscoctus (which actually translate to 'twice-cooked bread') and were made as a bread with a long shelf-life that was perfect for army provisions and ships' rations.

Here is a recipe for Rusks from a collection of recipes found in a manuscript journal located in the H. Furlong Baldwin Library at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. The manuscript is attributed to Ann Maria Morris and the date of 1824 is written on the inside cover. The recipe below is one of many from the manuscript that will be included in a book I am writing. The book will contain biographical information about Mrs. Morris, an annotated transcript of the entire manuscript as it was written, and a section of modern recipe adaptations (including this one!):

3 lbs. of flour, 1/2 lb. butter worked in a pint of milk, 1/4 lb. of sugar and a little mace or cinnamon. 2 eggs--tea cup of yeast.

Rusks: Modern Recipe Adaptation

  • 1 Package Active Dry Yeast
  • 1/4 Cup Warm Water
  • 24 Ounces All-Purpose Flour (scant 5 cups)
  • 2 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoons Ground Mace, Nutmeg or Cinnamon
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 4 Ounces (1 Stick) Butter, Softened
  • 1 Cup Milk
  • 1 Large Egg


1.  Place the water in a small bowl and add the yeast. Stir until well-dissolved. Set aside while you prepare the rest of the dough to allow the yeast to activate and become frothy. 
2.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, spice, and salt.
3.  Rub the butter into the flour mixture with your fingertips until the bits of butter are the evenly distributed and the size of peas.
4.  In a smaller bowl, whisk together the milk and egg.
5.  Make a well in the center of the flour /butter mixture and pour the milk/egg mixture  and yeast into it.
6.  Using a fork, work the liquid ingredients into the dry.
7.  Place the dough on a floured board and knead for 10 minutes.
8.  Set the dough in a large, greased bowl and cover. Place it in a warm area and let rise until it doubles in size, for at least 2-3 hours. The longer dough rises, the better it tastes!
9.  After the dough doubles in size, punch it down and then place in a bread loaf pan. Cut a line down the center of the dough. 
10.  Heat the oven to 375º F and let the dough rise again for just about 20 minutes, while the oven is heating.
11.  Bake for 45 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when knocked on the bottom.
12.  Allow the bread to cool long enough to be able to handle it and slice it neatly. Slice into 12-14 pieces and cut these in half. Place the sliced pieces on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake for at least 30 minutes at 325º F, until they are look slightly browned and dried. This cooking time will depend on how thick the slices are cut.

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