BRITISH BAKED GOODS are known to be soothing; there’s a whole afternoon-tea tradition built around them, not to mention a more-recent cult-favorite TV series.
But the category strays beyond scones and spongecakes into less-familiar territory. “There are a lot of things that are peculiarly English in the baking world that just don’t appeal to Americans,” says Sara Naftaly, the British-born, French-trained owner of Amandine Bakeshop on Capitol Hill.
Fortunately for us, Naftaly took a chance when she opened Amandine in 2016 and put malt loaf on her menu, offering toasted slices of the sticky, slightly sweet snack lavished with good butter and a sprinkling of salt.
Studded with sultanas and tiny currants, the snack is deep-flavored and distinctive, and in a category of its own.
“It’s not super-esoteric,” Naftaly says — but that depends on your context. In the United States, malt loaf is virtually unknown. Even in England, it’s unusual as a bakery item and not typically baked at home.
“It was a commercial thing,” she says — nothing fancy, just a packaged loaf that one would grab at the supermarket.
“It’s a deeply personal thing to me, in a very strange way,” she says: not exactly her equivalent of macaroni and cheese, but close enough. “I used to go home and say, ‘I’m going to have to buy a malt loaf and take it home and toast it.’ ”
Naftaly spent many years in Seattle working as pastry chef for Le Gourmand, husband Bruce Naftaly’s groundbreaking farm-to-table restaurant. (He now owns Marmite, next door to Amandine.) As years in the States turned into decades, with no malt loaf in sight, she finally developed one of her own.
“People’s idea of the ideal malt loaf is different. Mine verges on the dark, squidgy, chewy,” she says. “It has to have the right chew; it has to have the right squidginess, which is a very nontechnical term, but I can’t think of a good one.”
The task involved a long series of trial and error. Some attempts at replication had too much honey or “seemed like a malty version of a rustic country loaf.” Others weren’t malty enough. Not squidgy enough. Too dry. Too funky. And finally, she found a formula that worked.
“It has to have a density of character but not too dense,” plus the right mellow maltiness. “Then, it’s perfect. You just toast it up and put your butter on, and there you go.”
Amandine eventually stopped selling the loaf by the slice and switched to little prettily wrapped loaves that have moved on and off the menu at different seasons. (It’s best when about three days old, Naftaly says, and lasts for at least a week.) If it’s not available when you want to try it, or you want to experiment at home, she generously shares the recipe.
“It’s not that hard to make. You just have to have a little bit of patience, and it helps to have a good scale. You do need to measure it by weight,” she says.
Ingredients are another issue: Her loaf calls for malted wheat flakes, which are hard to find in the United States (King Arthur Flour is a good source).
I tested the loaf at home as Seattle shut down in the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, when bakeries closed and tensions rose. The house smelled intriguing and inviting as the loaf baked. I managed to age it a single day before cutting the first slice, toasting and buttering it, and then sipping a cup of tea as I ate. It was all so wonderfully comforting, I could have repeated the exact words Naftaly uses to describe the experience: “It is a very mundane kind of thing, but it makes me happy.”
150 ml hot black tea
65 g dark muscovado sugar
150 g zante currants
150 g sultanas
175 g malt extract, plus extra for glazing (Note: I used Eden brand barley malt syrup, available in many markets.)
2 eggs, beaten
200 g all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
50 g ground malted wheat flakes (Flakes available from kingarthurflour.com; I ground mine in a spice grinder.)
1. Make the black tea first, and allow to steep while weighing out the rest of the ingredients. Steep tea for at least 5 minutes.
2. Spray loaf tin with cooking spray. Line bottom of tin with parchment paper, and spray again.
3. In a large mixing bowl, mix the dried fruit with the sugar to break up any clumps. Pour the malt extract and hot tea over the fruit. Whisk it all together.
4. Whisk in beaten eggs.
5. Whisk in the all-purpose flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda until combined.
6. Whisk in ground malted wheat flakes.
7. Bake at 350 degrees F for 40 minutes.
8. Glaze top of loaf with malt extract as soon as it comes out of the oven.
Recipe courtesy of Sara Naftaly, Amandine Bakeshop
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