Lucky I reserved my reserve, and met malt pioneers Andrea and Christian Stanley. They showed me their first malting system and how they germinated grain -- mostly barley -- for brewers and distillers. I stuck my nose in a bag of malted barley and I smelled Grape Nuts. Criminy. Let me at the kitchen. Here was an ingredient I could use.
Grape nuts is quick bread made in a sheet pan, baked, crumbled and baked again. I'd only used whole-wheat flour in my experiments, not the cereal's mainstay, malt. That ingredient just isn't on the market. Bakers use active and inactive malt powder for sweetening and to help boost yeast performance. Barley malt flour, however, is a DIY deal.
So there I was, in a garage that had once been a potato processing site, in Hadley, Mass., sniffing cereal. "Grape Nuts!" I said to Andrea. "You can use it in pancakes, too," she said. If I wasn't already sold on the stuff, that was the kicker.
I have long had an obsession with pancakes. Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix ushered me into my love affair at the stove. Decades later, pancakes were the first meal I made the man who would be my husband. Ages ago, I calculated we had them about 250 times a year. The serving ratio went up to daily when I found malt.
The best of brewing makes baking better too
Malting is germination. The same stuff that happens in the ground when you plant a seed, or on your counter when you make sprouts, is what maltsters like Andrea or Christian seek. Steeping grains in water starts the growing process. Kilning stops it once the seeds reach a certain point.
What brewers love about malt is that the process loosens up the starches in the grain's endosperm and readies those them for conversion to sugar. That makes the starches available to feed the yeast in fermenting beverages.
Malt is often used in the food industry as a sweetener and sometimes as a flavor. Ovaltine takes advantage of both properties, the sweetness and flavor. In bagels and other breads, however, malted barley is added in tiny amounts to take advantage of malt's enzyme activity and make yeast more muscular.
I am still figuring out exactly what properties I'm using. I know that malt is a boon to my pancakes, adding flavor and helping the whole grain flours I use rise a little bit.
I don't make sourdough or yeasted pancakes, so I'm not certain all the chemistry that the malt is achieving. I just know I see a marked difference.
Experimenting with pancakes and other baked goods
The pancakes are such a hit that I started making mixes for Valley Malt: malted cornmeal with rye, spelt and buckwheat with malt, and of course, whole wheat with malt, my absolute favorite.
When Andrea and I were making mixes in December, she asked me to make pancakes and snacks for the Farmer Brewer Conference she and Christian organize. I love to spread the gospel of what malt does on the griddle. Plus any excuse to play in the kitchen is great.
So I've been fiddling with malt in more than pancakes. I've figured out how to use the pancake mixes to make biscuits. They take tons of butter and less milk. I added cornmeal made from malted corn to shortbreads, cornbread, and pie crusts, all with fine results.
Adding malted barley to whole wheat shortbread stumped me, though. Fresh from the oven, the cookies were adored. A few days in, I opened the tin where I'd stored them, and I could smell the butter was going off. Had I used bad butter? Was the tin a funk fest? Help! I'm still not sure what went wrong, but I managed to make my recipe work by not refrigerating the dough, and by freezing the cookies immediately after baking.
At the conference, I found people to help me figure out what's happening in that recipe, and in my other experiments. While the presentations focused on malting for brewing, people who study malt are also curious about what it does in baked goods.
The snacks I made -- crackers with malted barley, almonds in a barley meringue, and those shortbreads -- went down just fine. The biscuits and pancakes for breakfast were a hit, too.
As I mentioned, this is real DIY territory. If you want to play with malt, and you are lucky enough to have a local maltster, get a little bit and start experimenting. If you don't have a maltster to befriend, you can use malts from a brewing supply place. Either way, grinding is the way to go. I use my blender for the first grind, and a milling attachment on my Kitchen Aid to finish the job.
You can't use malt like flour, because the enzyme activity changes the gliadin and glutenin in the grain, interfering with their gluten-forming capacity. But you can add bits of it for flavor and sweetness. Here's a recipe to get you going.
Making your own malt flour
To make your own malt flour, start with a pound of barley malt from your maltster or from a home brew shop. Your maltster might have a mill that will make flour. Ask her or him to grind it as finely as possible, husks and all, for your baking fun.
Home brew stores are used to grinding grain, but not into flour. They crack grains for brewers, who only need the starches released for access in the brewing process.
If this is your scenario, ask the store to crack the malted barley, and bring it home and put it in a coffee grinder or sturdy blender and go to town. Sift off anything chaffy with a strainer.
In my house, I grind the malt first in my blender, and then put it through the mill attachment for my Kitchen Aid stand mixer. Otherwise, the malt gums up the works and I don't get flour. Other types of table top flour mills should handle the challenge better.
Based on Laura Brody's multi-seed crackerbread recipe from "King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking"
3 cups (12 ounces) whole-wheat bread flour
3 ounces home-ground barley malt flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon olive oil
1 cup water
1. Preheat oven to 450 F.
2. Mix together the dry ingredients, and stir in oil.
3. Add water gradually. You may need more or less than 1 cup, depending how much water your flours absorb. If you're using local flours, the moisture content of the flour can vary a bit. Add enough to make a stiff, but not dry, dough.
4, Knead a bit until the dough is smooth. Cut into 8 sections. Roll into balls and, on a barley-malt-flour-dusted surface, roll very, very thin. I shoot for something like thick paper, less than the width of a cereal box.
5. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes. Watch carefully, as edges darken easily.
6. When cool, break into pieces and serve. Store in a container that closes tightly.
Copyright Amy Halloran via Zester Daily and Reuters Media Express