#1 Suffolk Rusks

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Almost like a cross between a scone and a cracker, Suffolk rusks are according to one of my books best served with butter and jam at teatime, or with cheese or Bloater Savoury (another traditional Suffolk recipe, similar to mackerel pate). Coupled with the Bloater Savoury they were apparently a popular Edwardian appetiser and may have also been given to farm workers with cheese as a high energy lunch during long working days, due to their high fat content. According to Suffolk Country Recipes, “Traditionally, baking used to be done in brick ovens. Faggots or dry gorse would be burned inside the oven until it was heated up. Then the fire was scraped out and the weekly joint was put in at the back. The bread dough was put in next, and Suffolk Rusks, which only took 10 minutes to bake, were put in at the front.”

 I decided I wanted to try them all three ways – with butter and jam, Boater Savoury and Suffolk cheese - so set about gathering the ingredients together I would need, some of which I already had, some which I didn’t. However, to throw a bit of a spanner in the works, there were four different variations of the recipe across my three books! One using plain flour, fresh yeast, sugar and lard, then another in the same book with self-raising flour, lard, margarine and no sugar. One of the other books just used butter for the fat content, then the other book called them Norfolk Rusks and used just margarine as opposed to butter or lard. The quantities also varied for each ingredient across all three books. So I sat for a bit and pondered what would be the best course of action.

I was not sure where to buy fresh yeast from and it was not available in the supermarkets I do my weekly shopping in, so that option was out and meant I was going down the self-raising flour route for convenience as I already had that at home. I also had the eggs, milk and salt, having decided I did not want to put sugar in them, so all I needed to buy was the fat element. When I made them during the first lockdown I just used butter and they came out beautifully. This time I wanted to try them with some lard, so that helped narrow down my recipe choice from the four options to just one, settling on the following from Suffolk Country Recipes.

Difficulty: Easy

Time taken: About half an hour. Extra 15 mins cooling time

Serves: Made enough to pretty much fill a Quality Street tin

Ingredients:

  • 175g self-raising flour

  • A pinch of salt

  • 50g lard

  • 25g margarine

  • 1 egg, beaten

  • A little milk

  • *Heat oven to 200 celcius, gas mark 6 (I presume it means without the fan)

 

I swapped the margarine for butter because I already had some unsalted butter in the fridge so all I needed was lard. I got this in Lidl for 39p, I was shocked it was so cheap!

Once I had gathered together the ingredients I set about following the recipe.

Method

1. Grease a baking tray

I didn’t do this, I just put baking parchment on a tray.

 

2. Sift the flour and salt into a mixing basin 

Don’t skip the sifting of the dry ingredients as you don’t want clumps of flour throughout your mixture as it will create floury pockets in your dough.

3. Rub in the fats so that the mixture resembles breadcrumbs 

 

I cut the lard and butter into small cubes straight from the fridge and rubbed them into the self-raising flour as quickly and lightly as possible. This recipe resembles a scone recipe, so I tried to handle the dough as little as possible like you would with scones and I made sure the fats, egg and milk were all as cold as possible.

4. Add the beaten egg and enough milk to make a soft dough 

 

I put the egg and about 50ml of milk in, stirring them in using a fork in a figure of eight motion on the advice of my mother, to avoid handling it until necessary and to get it mixed in as evenly as possible with minimal handling. Once it had just come together, I used my hand to gently form it into a ball. 

5. Roll out the dough on a floured board to 1cm thick and cut out into small rounds using a pastry cutter

 

I lightly floured our kitchen counter top and rolled out the dough to the required thickness. I used a half-pint glass with a 2.5 inch diameter as that was the perfect size last time I made them, plus I could not find the pastry cutters and my mother was out at the time on the hunt for Suffolk cheeses!

6. Place on the baking tray and bake in a moderately hot oven for 10 minutes, until the rusks have risen and there is a crack in the middle

I had turned on the oven before starting so it was at temperature when I needed to put the rusks in.

7. Remove from the oven and use two forks to split the rusks 

 

This bit was pretty tricky, the rusks were very hot and inserting a fork right into the middle through the crispy outside then another to prise them open without breaking them into pieces takes some practice and left me with a burnt finger while trying to manoeuvre them!

8. Reduce the temperature of the oven and continue baking the split rusks until they are crisp and brown 

 

As per the instructions I lowered the temperature of the oven to 180 celcius, gas mark 4 before putting them back in for another 5 minutes. By this point I was noticing a very distinct bacon-like aroma around the kitchen which was both delicious but a bit overpowering. I was also concerned about how strong this would taste, having not ever cooked with lard before so having no idea what the result may be. 

9. Leave the rusks to cool 

 

I put them on a wire rack and as I waited for them to cool I ate the broken ones which were still hot, with Bunghay Butter and Suffolk mixed berries jam that I had in the fridge already. I was pleased to note I could not actually taste bacon.

These rusks are very short and melt in the mouth, but still crispy enough to carefully spread pate or soft cheese on. They are very moreish, it is really hard to stop eating them. I made the Bloater Savoury to go on these the day before so that was ready and waiting in the fridge. I have written up the recipe for that separately to the rusks. My mother returned from Suffolk Food Hall with two stunning local cheeses - Suffolk Brie and Suffolk Gold, along with a varied selection of freshly baked bread rolls and some pre-mixed cocktails from Edmunds which were very boozy, then we had a picnic-buffet sort of dinner that evening with the rusks, bread rolls, fish pate, local cheeses, local butter and jam and cocktails – winning at the local! 

There were a few rusks left over so I put them in my trusty cake tin, however they were a bit too soft for my liking the next day, so I would recommend eating these on the day you cook them if you want them crispy. I personally prefer them made with butter as opposed to lard, but the difference is negligible really.

So that’s two recipes which complement each other tried and tested; see the following recipe for my lazy-girl version of Bloater Savoury. Now I just have to somehow choose what to make next. I’m thinking something sweet, Felixstowe Tart perhaps as I love apples, maybe Ipswich Almond Pudding with the rosewater, or Suffolk Buns with caraway seeds. I can already see this will be a very difficult decision, but at least I will make them all, eventually.