My first foray with the Great Rare Books Bake-Off was an adventure (I will never try to make puff pastry from scratch again) so I was looking for something a bit more low-key this time around. I decided to hunt up an appetizer to try out but…I was uninspired. I looked through a lot of the cookbooks and just nothing sounded great to me. Also, a lot of the recipes called for weird and/or expensive ingredients which also did not appeal. So, then I switched over to looking for something more along the lines of a tea snack, a breakfast appetizer if you will. I am a massive fan of afternoon tea (hosting them, baking for them, attending them) so when I stumbled upon a small set of recipes for things called rusks, I knew I’d found a winner.
Now, I quickly realized through my googling that what we call a rusk today was not what this cookbook, The Country Kitchen, from 1911 was calling a rusk. Today, a rusk is usually a twice-baked cookie, along the lines of biscotti. The 1911 recipe called for one bake and the dough was pretty straight forward. Unlike my first GRBBO experience, this recipe gave me ingredients I recognized and (mostly) the amounts. What was lacking was how I was to actually bake the dough once made. “Mould into biscuit and bake immediately” seemed to be missing some crucial instructions but I was game to try it out.
So, the dough did come together really quick and easy (though I forgot the salt when I wrote out the recipe but I don’t think that was vital). The recipe said to add enough sweet cream until a soft dough formed so I slowly added a 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream until I had a dough. It was soft…but also sticky. Should it have been sticky? I have no idea but I didn’t want to overwork it by adding more flour and rolling it out so I pressed on. In retrospect, I think I would try rolling it out next time as adding a bit more flour might have resulted in a softer, less sticky dough which might better fit what I was supposed to end up with.
I then rolled out small bits of dough and flattened them into biscuit-like shapes on the baking sheet. I decided I couldn’t go wrong with 350F and did 8 minutes to start (I have no idea why other than the dough vaguely reminded me of my Mom’s Christmas Cookie recipe and those bake fast). Here is where I turned into that Great British Bake-Off contestent. You know the one, sitting anxiously in front of her oven, staring at her bake, willing it to do something. 8 minutes was definitely not long enough so I kept doing 4 minute increments until I got to around 18 minutes. At this point, I figured it was better safe than sorry and pulled out this first batch. They were baked, barely brown underneath, but baked and edible! Yay! Turns out a rusk from 1911 is basically a scone and I really wished I’d planned to make clotted cream to go with these.
As I had a successful(ish) first batch done, I decided to make the biscuits a tad smaller and bake them a full 20 minutes straight and see what happened. Definitely the right move, this second batch browned nicely underneath and are a tad bit more firm than the very soft biscuits from the first batch. If I make these again, I would perhaps either go up to 375F for 15 minutes or stay at 350F and do between 25-30 minutes.
And, as I write this, I am enjoying some cinnamons rusks with tea this morning and finding it to be a perfect morning snack so calling it an appetizer is definitely a stretch but I feel like I could happily munch on one while making myself a more substantial breakfast in the morning too!
Cinnamon Rusks (makes roughly 28 biscuits depending on the size you chose to make them) Adapated from The Country Kitchen, 1911 (and more specifically from Mrs. L.A. Will, Waterbury, SD)
1 quart flour (4 cups)
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
Enough sweet cream to form a soft dough (I went with heavy whipping cream and used about 1 1/4 cups; other articles say you can also use half and half for this ingredient)
1) Pre-heat over to 350F
2) Mix all ingredients save for the sweet cream together. The eggs will sort of crumble in the dough
3) Add sweet cream in 1/2 cup intervals until a soft dough forms – this dough will be sticky and mixing by hand will probably be required
4) Using your hands, roll small balls of the dough into discs and place on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper
5) Bake for 25-30 minutes until the bottoms are golden brown