I’D SAY I’M nostalgic for malted milk, but in reality, I never lost my taste for it. I sneak Whoppers candy from the 10-year-old (don’t worry; she never reads my articles), and I regularly buy the fancier malted-milk balls from grocery bulk bins. If malt flavor is an option for ice cream or milkshakes, that’s the version I’ll choose.
What I somehow missed until adulthood, though, is that I can make the same flavors at home, thanks to cans of malted milk powder available in almost any grocery store. It’s a shelf-stable mix of wheat flour and malted barley extracts, dry whole milk, salt and sodium bicarbonate.
The lesson came thanks to the new total-keeper cookbook by Claire Saffitz, “Dessert Person: Recipes and Guidance for Baking with Confidence” (Clarkson Potter, $35). I’ve discovered that nearly every Saffitz recipe takes a familiar baked good and elevates it with smart and sometimes-startling tweaks: adding baking soda directly to cooked rhubarb in the pretty rhubarb cake that you might have seen all over Instagram this spring (the baking soda neutralizes acid and helps with even rising), sieving cooked egg yolks into her rye cookie dough for added tenderness, and so on.
In the case of the malt powder, it came with Saffitz’s brownies, a gorgeously rich, fudgy, yet also close-your-eyes-in-chewy-ecstasy creation. I doubled the recipe and baked it in a 9-by-13-inch pan as Saffitz suggested, and I most definitely did not have leftovers to freeze the way she seemed to think I would.
The funny thing is that the malt powder (she recommends Carnation brand, but says you can chop up malted milk balls in a pinch) isn’t even what I’d think of as her secret tweak. Saffitz thinks the key to perfection for these brownies is chilling them after baking, for the added chewiness.
“The malted milk powder isn’t a functional ingredient in the brownies; it just adds the malty flavor,” she says via email. The starch might have a minor thickening effect, but not a dramatic one, she says.
That’s OK. For me, it’s become magic. Friends who seem to have gotten the malt memo years before me advised adding it to waffle batter, blondies and directly on ice cream, all with A+ results. I’ve even been tossing it into cakes and other recipes just to see how it works. (Note that this powder is not the malt used for bagel-baking or beer brewing. Malted milk powder comes from non-diastatic malt, whose enzymes have been deactivated, according to “The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion.”) Stella Parks of BraveTart fame has written that the lactose in the malted milk powder helps baked goods brown and adds a butterscotch-toffeelike flavor to the toasty grains and added salt — she calls it an “umami bomb of dessert.” (See seriouseats.com/what-is-malted-milk-powder.)
I asked Saffitz for any suggestions on where else to use the powder (and where maybe to avoid). “I do find it to be an intense flavor, and for me it pairs best with dairy and chocolate, but it’s really up to the user! I love the flavor in ice cream and puddings,” she writes.
Keep in mind its thickening power in cooked foods, she says, but otherwise, “You can use it as a flavoring in pretty much any recipe.” I have a feeling I will.
Malted “Forever” Brownies
Makes 16 brownies
Butter for the pan
¼ cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
5 ounces semisweet chocolate (preferably 64% to 68% cacao), coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
¼ cup neutral oil, such as vegetable or grapeseed
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
¾ cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons malted milk powder (optional)
1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt
6 ounces milk chocolate, coarsely chopped (1 cup)
1. Preheat the oven, and prepare the pan: Arrange an oven rack in the center position, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8-by-8-inch pan (preferably metal) with 2 sheets of foil, crossing one over the other and pressing the foil into the corners and up the sides. Lightly butter the foil, and set aside.
2. Bloom the cocoa: In a large heatproof bowl, whisk the cocoa powder and ¼ cup boiling water until smooth (this will bring out the flavor of the cocoa).
3. Melt the chocolate, butter and oil: Add the semisweet chocolate, butter and oil to the bowl with the cocoa mixture, and set it over a medium saucepan filled with about 1 inch of simmering (not boiling) water (make sure the bottom of the bowl isn’t touching the water). Warm the mixture gently, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate and butter are melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat, and let cool until lukewarm.
4. Add the sugars and egg: Whisk the granulated and brown sugars into the chocolate mixture. It will look grainy, and you might see some of the fat start to separate from the rest of the mixture, which is normal. Add the whole egg, egg yolks and vanilla, and whisk vigorously until the mixture comes back together and looks very thick, smooth and glossy.
5. Add the dry ingredients: Add the flour, malted milk powder (if using) and salt, and whisk slowly until everything is combined, then whisk more vigorously until the batter is very thick, a full 45 seconds.
6. Fold in the chocolate and bake: Add the milk chocolate to the batter, and fold with a flexible spatula to distribute. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, spreading in an even layer all the way to the corners.
7. Bake the brownies until the surface is shiny and puffed and the center is dry to the touch but still soft when pressed, 25 to 30 minutes.
8. Cool, chill and cut: Allow the brownies to cool in the pan until they are no longer hot, about 1 hour, then refrigerate until the bottom of the pan feels cold, about 1 hour longer (this results in a chewier texture). Use the ends of the foil to lift the brownies out of the pan and transfer to a cutting board. Slice the brownies into 16 squares.
From “Dessert Person: Recipes and Guidance for Baking With Confidence” by Claire Saffitz