If you haven’t grown up in the UK since the 1950s, chances are you’ve missed out a real classic sweet treat called Malt Loaf. Soreen has been making them for the best part of 70 years now and my childhood lunch boxes or Saturday afternoon snacks wouldn’t have been the same with a slab or three of the gloriously sticky and intensely fruit loaf, loaded with enough salted butter to leave forensic quality teeth marks in every bite. It took a while but I’m finally happy with my own version and so am sharing my Malt Loaf recipe with you today!
Those of us who know and love Malt Loaf need no further incentive to make your own but for those who have never even heard of it, let me explain. It is a very modest looking little loaf which straddles the boundaries between cake and a sweet bread, although it is typically risen with baking powder, not yeast.
The traditional way to eat it, is spread with butter but perhaps you have your own way of eating it? Do let me know in the comments below. It’s packed full of fruit and uses brown sugars to give a caramel flavour and, of course, malt extract which gives it that characteristic rich, almost savoury flavour. It sounds mad but honestly, it is wonderful to eat!
I think of Malt Loaf as something of a cross between a fruit cake and gingerbread. Two sterling British baking classics! It’s got a damp and squidgy texture, just like gingerbread, but the high proportion of dried fruit gives a really juicy pop when you bite into it. On researching recipes and testing a few out myself, I saw that in its most basic form, malt loaf is simply flour, fruit, malt extract, brown sugar and perhaps some treacle but little else. A very basic cake which is made from frugal, store cupboard ingredients.
Whilst some bakers are somewhat renegade with their malt loaf recipes, adding things like Stout (Dan Lepard), yeast (Paul Hollywood) or even mixed spice (Gary Rhodes), I prefer to keep it relatively simple but do have some tweaks that I like to do. For starters, I go with dark brown sugar and a little treacle, as a Malt Loaf has to be good and dark and very rich in flavour. I use half sultanas, half prunes to up the squidge factor too, which is very important. I make sure the fruit is plump and won’t dry the batter out by a brief soak in hot, strong tea first.Learn how to make your own Malt Loaf, every bit as good as Soreen! Click To Tweet
My Malt Loaf has eggs and uses a wholegrain flour too. I use Marriage’s new flour (which they kindly sent me to trial) Golden Wholegrain Plain Flour which works beautifully. It is like using 50:50 white to brown flour – still light and fluffy when baked but with the extra flavour of a wholegrain flour. Plus its extra fibre and the healthier image seems to fit a Malt Loaf, which is the least ostentatious of all the sweet treats I can name! But other than that, I keep it traditional.
My final personalisation is to make two loaves at once so that you can use up a full jar of malt extract, an ingredient which otherwise is likely to go out of date before you finish it otherwise. Plus, like gingerbread, it is best wrapped up in some waxed paper and left somewhere cool for a few days to allow the flavours to marry and the stickiness to become optimal. You may need to grease your knife when slicing malt loaf! So if you have two loaves, you can shamelessly devour one as the second matures nicely ;)
Sweet and sticky, fruity and a little bit savoury from the malt extract.
- 300 g sultanas or raisins
- 200 g prunes, cut or chopped into small pieces (I use scissors)
- 400 ml strong black tea (pour 400ml boiling water into a jug and add 2 teabags for 5 mins)
- 50 g soft butter
- 75 g treacle
- 175 g dark brown sugar (or dark muscovado sugar)
- 3 large eggs
- 340 g malt extract
- 500 g Marriage's Golden Wholegrain Plain Flour (or 250g plain flour + 250g wholemeal plain flour)
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Start by soaking the sultanas/raisins and prunes in the hot strong tea. Add in the butter so it melts in the heat of the tea. You will need your biggest bowl to mix this batter in.
Meanwhile, line two 2lb loaf tins with paper cases or foil - it is a very runny batter so you need a good liner in your tin, especially if it isn't one single piece of metal. Preheat the oven to 150˚C conventional, or 140˚C fan.
When the fruit has cooled to room temp and the butter has melted, stir in the treacle and soft brown or muscovado sugar. Beat in the eggs.
Now you have a choice - either add the whole jar of malt extract to the fruit or reserve 1-2 tbsp that you will brush on the loaves when they are cooked. I like a little brushed on top but feel free to add it all to the batter.
Fold in the flour and raising agents then divide between two prepared loaf tins and bake for 1 hour - 1 hour 15 minutes until well risen and springs back to the touch. You may need to cover the top with a piece of foil for the last 15 minutes if it looks like it will catch and brown too much.
NOTE - a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake may come out a little sticky with a few damp crumbs attached, not raw batter when it is ready. Do not overbake them - you want it damp and squidgy to enjoy it at its best.
When cooked, brush with the reserved malt extract (you may need to warm it up by standing the jar in some just boiled water to make it easier to spread) if using. Cool in the tins on a rack. Wrap in waxed paper or baking parchment and put somewhere cool and dark for at least 2 days before eating. Will keep at least a week after that.
If you can't get Marriage's Golden Wholegrain Plain flour, then 50:50 plain white flour to wholemeal or wholemeal spelt flour are good substitutes.
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