When I was growing up, a rusk was a simple thing – a thick, fairly hard, round biscuit given to teething babies. Now I am grown up, and interested in such things, I appreciate that there is nothing simple about rusks.
An individual rusk may be simple of course, but the Class of Rusks is very wide indeed. The word has been in use in the English language since at least the late sixteenth century, and the Oxford English Dictionary posits that it may be related to the Spanish rosca, referring to a coil of bread. As for the definition of 'ruisk' in that illustrious reference, we are given two main interpretations:
1 a.Originally: bread or cake broken into small pieces and hardened by rebaking, esp. for use as ship's stores. In later use: plain or sweet bread which has been baked twice until it is dry and crisp. Originating as a convenient way to preserve bread or cake, various forms of rusk are found as a traditional food in different countries, esp. in northern Europe, Russia, Greece, and South Africa.
b. A piece of plain or sweet bread which has been baked twice to form a light biscuit. Rusks are widely used as a food for babies and children.
2. Twice-baked bread or cake which has been reduced to crumbs by pounding, and freq. used in foods such as sausages, stuffing, etc.
So – a ‘rusk’ may be the same as hardtack (and here), sea-biscuit, crackers, traveller’s bread, or various other forms of hard plain biscuits (or cookies, if you prefer) or small dry cakes – or the crumbs thereof. They may be leavened, or not, or sweetened, or not. The range within the range is also impressive. Cookery books of the nineteenth century include recipes with many specific names; to name a few - Italian rusks, French rusks, Russian rusks, Zouave rusks, Marlborough rusks, Anisette rusks, finger rusks, savoury rusks, tea rusks, wine rusks.
As the recipe for the day I give you the following example – chosen because I like the name, the baking container, the shape, and the amount of butter in the mix.
Rusks, Or Tops And Bottoms.
Add two eggs beaten up to half a pint of good mild yeast and a little milk. Sift four pounds of best white flour, and set a sponge with the above ingredients. Add boiling half a pound of fresh butter, and a sufficient quantity of milk to make the sponge the stiffness of common dough; let it lie in the kneading trough till well risen; then mould and make it into loaves of the size of small teacups; batch them flat, bake in a moderate oven, and when nearly done take them out, cut the top from the bottom, and dry till of a nice colour on tin plates in the oven.
The Art of Cookery, (1802)by John Mollard
Quotation for the Day.
It is the mark of a mean, vulgar and ignoble spirit to dwell on the thought of food before meal times or worse to dwell on it afterwards, to discuss it and wallow in the remembered pleasures of every mouthful. Those whose minds dwell before dinner on the spit, and after on the dishes, are fit only to be scullions.
St Francis de Sales