Breads, Dessert

South African Buttermilk Rusks

I’m a South African by marriage.

Well, sort-of.

To clarify, I don’t actually have citizenship, and in total honesty, I’ve still yet to visit. However, in my semi-qualified opinion (hey, I’ve lived with a South African for 10 years now) there are 2 staples of a South African household: Rusks and Rooibos tea. Rooibos tea, or red bush tea, is extremely healthy, and has similar health benefits to green tea. But unlike green tea, it tastes wonderful (does anyone really like the taste of green tea? If you’re out there, please help me understand..). Add a little milk and a bit of honey and I’m in rooibos HEAVEN.

I love me some tea.

Why am I writing about tea, rooibos tea specifically, when my post is about rusks?
Well that’s because a rusk without rooibos tea, is like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without jelly. A bit bland and not so enjoyable. But together they’re perfect partners. They bring out the best in each other!

Rusks are similar to biscotti except they aren’t as sweet, so you could almost describe them as bland. I know that’s a horrible way to describe something that I actually really enjoy, and that I’m taking the time to share with you, but its the truth. NEVER eat a rusk by itself! They’re made to be dunked. They transform into something magically addictive when dunked in honey-sweetend rooibos tea.

If you’re looking for a sweet dessert treat, this isn’t it. Rather go for a biscotti then. These would qualify more as a snack in my book, because they don’t have that sugary sweetness that most american treats have.

Here’s the recipe that we use in my house. Unfortunately, I can’t make them too regularly because my husband and I have so little self control when these little crunchy suckers are around the house. They become so hard to resist!

Here goes…

flour collage
Measure out your flours and add the baking soda, baking powder and cream of tartar.

Originally this recipe asks you to sift these dry ingredients together. But I have a mental block towards sifting, I don’t have the patience for it. This is my poker TELL, if you will, that I’m really not a baker at heart. I love to find shortcuts and skip steps, but in baking that can get you into real trouble. I’ve never had a baking catastrophe from not sifting though, and until I do, I’ll probably continue to be lazy and not sift.

I just take a wisk, or my fingers in this case, and just stir the dry ingredients around so they’re mixed together.
But if sifting is your thing, then sift the dry ingredients together so they’re evenly dispersed.

butter flour blend collage

Next cut up your cold butter, and add to your dry ingredients. Using your fingers, break up the butter with the flour. Then rubbing your hands back and fourth, break them up some more until its kinda sandy, its ok if there are still some pea size pieces of butter. You could also pulse this in the food processor until it reached that same sandy consistency. I just hate doing more dishes, and actually really enjoy the feeling of the flour in my hands.

Add to the dry ingredients whatever flavorings you like. I added sunflower seeds, raisins and currants (the sweetness of the raisins or currants is a must in my book) and some shredded sweetened coconut. Next time I think I’m going to try almonds and almond extract.

mixer with liquid
In a separate bowl, add all the liquid ingredients -buttermilk, oil, eggs, vanilla- to the brown sugar. Beat for a minute until well combined

Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until combined. Then knead for 3 or 4 minutes until nice and firm.

Press in an ungreased 9×13 baking dish and bake for 45 minutes in a 375 degree oven.

Let it cool for 10 minutes and then invert onto a cooling rack, remove pan.

After another 30 minutes or so, cut in 1 inch thick slices. Then cut slice into fourths. My crude drawing should give you an idea…

Now lay them out on 2 baking sheets and dry them out in a 200f oven for 5 hours.

Happy dunking!

Buttermilk Rusks
2 lbs 12oz. flour, or about 9 3/4 cups unsifted flour, or 1.240kg
splitting the flour between whole wheat and white flour, aprox. 75% whole wheat, 25% white.
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
2 teaspoons salt
9oz or 250g unsalted butter, or 1 cup + 2 tablespoons
1/2 to 3/4 cup raisins or currants
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup shredded or flaked sweetened coconut
2 eggs
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
2 cups buttermilk
1 cup oil

1. Measure out the flours, add the baking soda, baking powder, cream of tartar and salt. Stir or sift to evenly incorporate. Cut in the cool unsalted butter until mixture is sandy in texture, pea sized pieces of butter are fine.

2. Add the raisins, sunflower seeds, and coconut

3. In a separate bowl, wisk together the liquid ingredients and the brown sugar until well blended.

4. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients, stir until blended, then knead a few minutes until firm.

5. Spread into a 9×13 baking pan. Bake in 375F or 190C degree oven for 45-50 minutes.

6. Cool for 10 minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack.

7. cut into 1 inch slices, then again into fourths. Lay out on a baking sheet and dry in a 200f or 100c degree oven for 5 hours.
Can last months in an airtight container.

Possible add-ons or variations: dried cranberries + pecans, dried apricots + golden raisins + almonds + almond extract. If you’ve made any other varieties, do tell!


Fabulous Chocolate Cake

Photo by Isabel Sanchez

I’ve always had the conviction that a great chocolate cake should either have a bunch of layers (to house more chocolate frosting) or be extremely dense and near flourless, to emphasize that deep rich chocolate flavor.

This cake changed my mind.

And I’m still not quite sure how it did, except that it did.

(I have to give props to my little sis for convincing me to try it. Thanks Nic)!

The most surprising thing is that there’s not even that much chocolate used. Cocoa powder for the layers and unsweetened chocolate make up the frosting.  If I had to guess, its the brewed coffee thats in both the cake and the glaze that brings out the chocolate flavor (you can’t taste the coffee at all), and the tangy buttermilk that moistens and flavors the batter.

ahhhhh, and then there’s the orange zest.  I’ve made this cake twice now and this past time I added orange zest as a garnish on top of the cake. Wow, was it delicious! Just a hint of orange, on a bite or two of cake, and it was such a wonderful bright contrast to the richness of the chocolate. I think a teaspoon of grated orange zest in the glaze would also be wonderful, if you want to fully commit to the orange flavor.  Do try!!

Chocolate Bundt Cake (from the Big Sur Bakery Cookbook via my sister Nicola)

Originally meant for a bundt cake pan, but I used two 8 inch cake pans.

For the Cake:

1 1/4 cups plus 1 Tablespoon brewed coffee
3/4 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
1 1/4 cups plus 1 Tablespoon buttermilk
1 cup plus 2 Tablespoon canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups, plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour, sifted

For the Glaze (You’ll have some left over with this recipe)

6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup unsalted butter
3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1/4 cup brewed coffee, cooled
optional: 1 tsp grated orange zest

Place an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.

Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan or two 8 inch cake pans.

Put brewed coffee and cocoa powder in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, whisking frequently.  Remove from the heat and let come to room temperature.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fit with a whisk attachment, mix together sugar, salt, baking soda, eggs and egg yolk on low speed for about 1 minute.  Add the buttermilk, oil and vanilla extract and mix on low again for another minute.

Add the flour and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes.  Add the cooled cocoa mixture and mix on medium speed for 3 minutes.  The batter will be very loose.  Pour into the prepared cake pan and bake for 1 hour, or until a cake tester inserted in the cake comes out clean. (if using two cake pans, decrease baking time by 10-15 minutes)

Let the cake cool completely in the pan and then invert onto a cooling rack.

To make the icing:  Chop the chocolate into small pieces, put them in a heatproof bowl (or a double boiler), and set the bowl over a pot of barely simmering water.  Be sure that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the boiling water.  Remove the bowl from the heat when all of the chocolate bits have melted.

Melt the butter in a separate pan or in the microwave.  Whisk the melted butter into the melted chocolate until thoroughly incorporated.  Sift in half of the powdered sugar.  Add the sour cream and whisk to combine.  Sift in the remaining powdered sugar and whisk until smooth.  The glaze should be thick and shiny.  Lastly, add the coffee and whisk to create a glossy glaze.

Pour the glaze over the Bundt cake, covering it completely. Or pour a generous amount of glaze in the center of the first layer, letting it drip down the sides and repeat with the top layer.  Leave at room temperature until ready to serve

OPTIONAL: add 1 tsp grated orange zest to the melted chocolate for the glaze OR cut long thin strips of orange zest and slice really thinly into 2 inch strips. Use as a decoration on top of the cake.

*Photos by my beautiful friend Isabel Sanchez
chocolate cake


The almost melted wedding cake… phew!

wedding cake table
Last weekend I made my 2nd wedding cake.

My first wedding cake didn’t make it into a photo album, no way was I going to document that. You know you’ve done an interesting job, when the ringbearer at the wedding asks you “what’s that?”  It was a humbling experience for sure, LOL.

So I’m happy to say I’ve come a looooong way!

Over the past few weeks, desperate to get some much needed practice, I’ve jumped at the chance to make a few birthday cakes. One for my daughter (well I guess that’s a given), and another for my future father-in-law (his wedding cake is the *star* of this post). I just needed some reassurance that I could really do this, and not have another “what’s that?” experience.

bobby's rosettes
makayla's mermaid cake

So back to the title of my post.

It was scorching hot here in Los Angeles last saturday.  Like cook-an-egg-on-the-asphalt hot.  I would say it was THEE hotest weekend this whole summer, at least out here.   And to top it off this wedding started at 11am, outdoors in full sun.  But my future father-in-law loves buttercream frosting, so I really wanted to give him a buttercream frosted cake.  I knew that they were more prone to melt than fondant covered cakes, but my plan was to keep it inside, in a cool air-conditioned room.

Well I made a little bo-bo.  Novice wedding cake maker that I am, I took some advice from some obscure website and wiped my metal spatula with hot water after each smear of buttercream on the cake (I toweled it dry, but it still must have been a little damp).   I didn’t realize when I was doing this that whatever moisture was left on the spatula was mixing with the buttercream, and so the buttercream was not “crusting” as I read that it would.  Well, you can see by my pics that the crazy catastrophe I imagined in my head didn’t happen.  It didn’t droop down to one side, and melt into a puddle of strawberries and buttercream, thank God.  But it could have! The air-conditioning was just barely cooling the house, and so the buttercream looked a bit like it was sweating itself, LOL.

bobby and sylvia cutting cake
But in the end, my mother-in-law and her new husband, Bobby, loved the cake. And that’s what counts! They had a gorgeous wedding, and really both deserved to find love again.
That’s me, helping them cut the cake. The wooden dowels were getting in the way of the knife, and they needed a little help.

On another note, here are a few shots of my son, rebelling against his suit and tie.   It was just too hot for a 6 year old to sit politely in his ring-bearer suit!

See those hot pink cheeks! He was NOT happy that he got called back to take more wedding pictures.

Then his silly aunt Nicola stepped in. I was taking this photo from my chair at the reception, during the toasts. Oh well, boys will be boys, my sister on the other hand… lol. Well, at least he was having a blast!

kaleb in pool

And then the inevitable happened, suit pants, leather belt and all. I think all the wedding guests, including myself, were secretly envious!

Thanks for stopping by!
Oh, and I plan on dedicating a post (coming soon) on how to make this delicious strawberry shortcake wedding cake. It tasted reeeeeally good!


Raspberry gratin

This is one of my favorite desserts!

For 3 reasons:

1. Well, its delicious… the obvious reason!!

2. the berries are the star!  And you can switch them out for any of your favoirte  seasonal fruits (OMG cherries…)

3.  the vanilla custard is silky, oh so creamy, and not overly sweet.

And once you make this custard, you’ll be the Queen of custard making!  Its the basic technique you need to make anything from bread pudding, creme brule, flan, creme caramel, chocolate mousse, ice cream, and the list goes on and on….

Oh, I have a fourth reason!

4.  it can be made in a relatively short amount of time.

That’s a pretty important reason in my book.  Because I find most glorious show-stopping desserts, (and this is one of those) , take too much time!

Just make the custard, leave it in the freezer for an hour, and then quickly broil it in the oven before serving. It’s perfect for dinner guests, or anyone you want to impress!

so here goes…

Whisk together 3 extra large egg yolks (i usually use 4 large if i don’t have extra large eggs), with the sugar, cornstach, and a little salt.

pour the milk in a medium sized saucepan, turn on the heat, until the milk is hot, but not boiling.

Add to the bowl with the egg mixture. Stir, and pour back into saucepan.

Whisk, over medium-low heat.  Once its hot, the mixture will start getting thicker.  Once its reached pudding like consistency, you’re done. (usually 3-5 minutes)

Pour the hot custard into a bowl and add 1-2 tsp vanilla extract, 2 Tbs butter.  After letting it stand and cool off for a few minutes, press some plastic wrap into the surface, this will prevent a thick skin from forming on top.

Place it in your freezer for about an hour ( if you’re short on time like I usually am), or place it in your fridge to chill for at least 3 hours or up to 2 days.

Before you’re ready to serve, mix in 1 cup creme fraiche.

Sprinkle half the raspberries over your gratin dish, I use my cast iron skillet.  I looove my cast iron skillet, its so versatile, and super easy to clean!

Then top with the pudding mixture, and sprinkle with the rest of the berries, and some confectioners sugar.

Broil, 4 inches from the flame, for 3 minutes, or until the berries are a bit seared, and you see a few burnt spots of custard here and there.

In my rush to bring this dish out to my friends, I forgot to take a picture of the final product… and it was so gorgeous!!  I’m kicking myself inside!


Variations: berries and stone fruits would be the best, because they don’t require a lot of cooking and because they taste great with anything creamy: cherries, plums, pluots, apricots, peaches, blackberries, blueberries etc.

Lemon zest is also wonderful (about 1/2 tsp), add  it before you cook the custard on the stovetop.


3 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup + 1 Tbsp granulated sugar
2 T bsp +1 tsp cornstarch
pinch of salt
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp lemon zest (optional)
1 -2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup or 8 oz creme fraiche
1 pint or 2 baskets fresh raspberries
1 Tbsp powdered sugar for dusting

shallow gratin dish (if you want to use a glass pyrex dish, just make sure you cover the sides completely with aluminum foil, that way it won’t crack under the high temperature of the broiler flame)

This is a recipe adapted from Suzanne Goin’s cookbook Sunday Supper’s at Luques, a favorite of mine.