Today’s recipe comes from Eliza Leslie’s book “Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes & Sweetmeats”, published in Boston in 1828. It was the first of Leslie’s numerous books on cooking and other subjects, but I only own one so my options are limited here. She’s credited with being the first to use the term “cupcake”, but that’s not what I decided to make today. The recipe I went for this time around is for something called rusk.
Nowadays rusk refers to a hard biscuit or dried bread, sometimes used as teething food for children. Leslie’s rusk, though, looked more like something akin to a sweet, yeast-leavened bun.
After some calculations I went with the following ingredients:
110 g sugar
110 g butter
450 g flour
3,6 dl milk
30 g yeast
1 tablespoon of rose water
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
I followed the recipe fairly closely. Milk and butter went into a pan and got warmed up to a suitable temperature for yeast. 37 degrees C, to be exact, but since I didn’t have a thermometer I went with the traditional “that feels pretty warm when I stick my finger into it” measuring method.
Make sure you don’t stick your finger into anything scalding-hot.
I measured the flour into a bowl, poured the buttery milk in, followed that with the sugar (the addition of which is not mentioned in the recipe – I’m looking at your editor here, Miss Leslie), egg, yeast and spices. I used my hand to work the dough, rather than a knife. The amount of yeast was pure guesswork. One wine-glass should equal about 1,2 dl, which is way too much yeast in the form I know it. In Finland we bake sweet buns known as pulla, and I extrapolated what sounded like a suitable amount of yeast based on what I know of yeast-to-liquid ratios in pulla. I turned out to be on the money with the yeast, but where I went astray was the amount of flour. After 450 g, my dough looked like this:
This is not turning into little thick round cakes any time soon.
Either I had my measurement conversion wrong, or the rest of the flour was supposed to go in while kneading the dough on the table. I ended up adding more and more flour until I was happy with the consistency. I didn’t measure it, but I’m guessing about 200 grams more flour went in until I was satisfied.
I was satisfied.
I formed the dough into little round cakes about 8 cm across and 2 cm thick and set them to rise. They puffed up nicely, and about 12 minutes in an oven heated to 180 degrees C was sufficient to give them an appetizing colour. Opening the oven was a heady experience – the rose water gave the oven, and the finished rusk, a lovely fragrance.
This little fellow was a delightful new acquaintance.
The rusks were lovely. They were not overly sweet, the scent of the rosewater stimulated the palate already before you took a bite, and the taste of roses was subtle enough to complement rather than overpower the taste of the bun. Bravo, Miss Leslie!