If you want to add a touch of natural sweetness to your bread, along with a browner crust and a glossy sheen, malt powder could be the magic ingredient you’ve been looking for. Not to be confused with malted milk powder, this tasty flour can be used to add colour and flavour to cookies, bagels, granola, sauces and gravies. It is also the secret ingredient in Scott Heimendinger’s molecular mashed potatoes.
What is malt powder?
Malt powder is made from grains - usually barley - that have been allowed to sprout. The grains are steeped in water to encourage them to germinate, then air-dried to halt the process. This short germination period stimulates the grain to release certain enzymes that break down its starches into sugars, creating a sweeter flavour. The grain is then dried and ground to produce a fine powder.
True malt powder should not be confused with malted milk powder, an ingredient many people will be familiar with from childhood treats such as malted milk balls and malted milkshakes. Malted milk powder is made from malted barley, wheat flour and condensed milk, and is occasionally referred to as malt powder, but true malt powder does not contain any milk.
There are two different types of malt powder, known as diastatic and non-diastatic malt powder. In diastatic malt powder, the enzymes stimulated during germination are still active, and can be added to dough to break starches down into sugars. In non-diastatic malt powder, however, the only purpose of the enzymes is to break down the grain’s own starches and create a sweet flavour - after this the enzymes are deactivated using heat.
How is it used in the kitchen?
Diastatic and non diastatic malt powders have different properties that lend themselves to different culinary uses. Because non-diastatic malt powder contains no active enzymes, it is primarily used for flavouring and colouring, adding a slight sweetness and glossy brown colouring to baked goods, sauces and cereals. While malt powder and malted milk powder are not the same thing, non-diastatic malt is one of the ingredients in malted milk, which is used to amplify the flavour of chocolate in cookies, brownies and cakes.
Using diastatic malt powder to bake
Diastatic malt powder, with its active enzymes, is a useful ingredient for bakers, as the enzymes break down the starches and proteins in the dough, making them into sugars that can be used to feed yeast. This results in a smoother, higher rise, with a more finely-textured crumb, and also means you don’t have to use as much yeast. Diastatic malt also adds the same sweetness and glossy crust as non-diastatic malt, so you get a better rise, flavour and colour, without having to use as much of your precious yeast.
Use diastatic malt sparingly to replace sugar
The best way to use diastatic malt is as a replacement for some of the sugar in your recipe. It is important to use it sparingly, as too much malt can lead to over-proofed dough and an unpleasant sour taste. Many bread flours already have added malt powder, so be sure to check the ingredients before adding any more. If yours doesn’t, replacing one teaspoon of sugar with half a teaspoon of diastatic malt powder should be enough to provide the effect you need without over-proofing your dough.
What about sourdough?
A small amount of diastatic malt powder is also useful for sourdough, providing the bacteria and yeasts with a slow release of energy while your starter colony establishes itself. Add half a teaspoon to your starter after the initial resting period, or ‘autolyse’.
When used in the correct quantities, diastatic malt powder can be a baker’s secret ingredient, with just a tiny pinch promoting a strong rise, well-textured crumb and a shiny brown crust. Both types of malt powder can be used to add flavour and colour to your bake.
If you want to try malt powder in your own baking, this simple gluten-free bread is a great place to start. This easy, step-by-step recipe uses a non-diastatic maize malt, for added flavour and an attractive, glossy crust.
If you need a substitute for non-diastatic milk powder, you could use the same amount of Ovaltine, although this will, of course, also add a chocolate flavour. Alternatively, you could also use the same amount of diastatic malt syrup as a replacement. Substitute non-dairy milk powders such as coconut milk powder, soy milk powder and almond milk powder also work well and can add an extra dimension to the flavour profile of your baking.