Must Buns or Mosbolletjies or “Poor Man’s Brioche”…

Baking mosbolletjies has been on my bucket list for years. I kept putting it off because it takes a long time (mine took 7 days from start to finish), it involves fermented grape juice as raising agent, lots of kneading, etc. But it is as if I am driven to work my way though my list, so I did it. πŸ™‚

Mosbolletjies were introduced to South Africa by the French Huguenots who left their native country to escape religious persecution. They settled in Franschhoek in 1688. During the winemaking season, they used must or mos, which is grape juice in the first stage of fermentation before straining for wine, to act as the rising agent for the dough used to make the buns. Nowadays, since mos is not widely available, the locals use yeast made from fermenting raisins to make the mosbolletjies. Although the recipe might seem a little intimidating, the end result is totally worth the effort.

The best way to describe mosbolletjies is that it’s a sweet brioche, traditionally made with fermented grape juice and flavored with aniseed. There is nothing like a torn piece of mosbolletjie with thickly spread butter and golden honey. Mosbolletjies are served as mentioned or dried into rusks called Mosbeskuit and are a South African favorite to dunk in coffee. (Beskuit = biscotti : twice baked)

My memories of mosbolletjies go back over many years to my grandmother’s kitchen. The pot of tea brewing on the stove and the tin of Mazawattee on the sideboard. (It always looked like the grandma on the tin was pouring the tea down the front of her dress!) I never asked my grandma whether she baked the mosbolletjies herself, but it was light and fluffy and the thick schmear of butter was the cherry on the proverbial cake. My mother never baked them, we bought from the bakery.

The recipe I used took 7 days from start to finish because I experimented with making must. First I used regular sweet grapes, crushed and left it to ferment. I left it for too long (2 days) and it started souring – on its way to becoming wine…. I then used raisins which I chopped fine, and added lukewarm water. I left it for 3 days and it was perfect. The aroma…. the sense of smell is closely linked with memory, probably more so than any of our other senses.  Need I say more? πŸ™‚

Above, on the left, are the grapes I used and the strained result. On the right are the fermented raisins, and the resultant must which I poured on the flour to start the sponge.

Recipe : Mosbolletjies

4 lb All Purpose flour (2 kg)
1/2 lb Butter (250 g)
1 lb Sugar (500 g)
1/4 oz aniseed (7 g)
1 Pint must (600 ml)
1 Pint warm milk (600 ml)
1 Tbs salt (or less according to taste)

To make the raisin must :

Mince 1 oz (30 g) raisins finely and put them in a preserve jar with a pint of warm water. Stand in a warm place until it ferments – that is, when the raisins rise to the top. It takes about 3 – 4 days.

To make the Must Buns :

Take 1/3 of the flour, place in mixing bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in the must and mix to a soft sponge. Cover closely and leave in a warm place to rise for about 8 hours. Melt the butter in the warm milk and leave until lukewarm. Add the liquid and the rest of the flour and salt to the sponge and knead it well. The dough must feel firm to the touch. Allow to rise overnight after covering it very warmly – a chill is fatal! Next day it should’ve doubled. Add the sugar and aniseed and knead again very thoroughly – the more you knead the lighter the buns will be. Make into buns of a uniform size and a long roll shape. Stand them on end and pack very closely together in the baking tin so that they will rise high and not wide. Leave to rise to double their size, brush the tops with beaten egg and milk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 325 F (160 C) for an hour till golden brown and cooked through in the middle.

To make Must Rusks (to dunk in coffee) :

When the buns are cold, either break them in halves lengthwise or across and dry them in a warm oven (lowest temperature) turning frequently. This can take overnight – leave the oven door open when you go to bed. The rusks should be thoroughly dried out to the centre and have an even golden colour. They should be broken, not cut, to give them the traditional feathery appearance.

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