Use This Bread Baker’s Secret to Take Your Homemade Loaves From Good to Great
The professional baking world is full of secrets, specialized equipment, and tricks of the trade, many of which are inaccessible to or unfeasible for home bakers to use on their own. But while you might not have access to a deck oven or a dough sheeter, there is one simple ingredient that will take your yeast-risen breads to new heights—literally.
I’m talking about diastatic malt powder. While it may sound like some synthetic chemical (and it is technically what bakers refer to as a dough conditioner) diastatic malt powder is actually just the pulverized form of sprouted grain, usually barley. In small amounts it acts like a superfood for yeast, allowing it to create loftier loaves of bread—what’s known as “oven spring”—deeper flavor, and a more favorable crumb structure.
How does this magic happen? It comes down to an ancient technique called malting. First, barley is soaked with water, which starts the process of germination and unlocks dormant enzymes contained within the grain. One of those enzymes is called diastase, which has the ability to convert starch into a form of sugar called maltose. (Yeast cells can more readily consume maltose than pure starch, which is one of the reasons why malting is crucial to the beer brewing: The malt helps convert grain into sugar that yeast ultimately turns into alcohol.) After the malted grain has germinated, it’s dried in a kiln—and in the case of diastatic malt powder, then ground into a powder.
When diastatic malt powder is added to yeast doughs, the enzymes go to work breaking down the starches in the flour, and ultimately providing the yeast with more food. “While the purpose of diastatic malt powder isn’t to sweeten your bread, it adds a deeper flavor to any dough and allows it to get a lovely dark robust crust,” says Camari Mick, a James Beard Award semifinalist and the powerhouse behind the pastry at Michelin-starred The Musket Room. Diastatic malt powder makes it possible for the yeast to survive in dough for longer, ultimately producing more complex flavor compounds.
Where can I find diastatic malt powder?
Diastatic malt powder isn’t really something you run into while cruising down the baking aisle at your local grocery store. Fortunately, it’s easily found online, and since you only use it in very small amounts, it's likely you won’t need to order it more than once.
What’s the difference between diastatic and non-diastatic malt powder?
You may come across two different types of malt powder when shopping online, but they are not interchangeable. Non-diastatic malt powder does not contain the enzymes that help break down starch, and it’s used primarily as a flavoring and sweetener. This version of malt can give your bread that tantalizing deep, dark, crust, and your bread full-bodied flavor, but it won’t stimulate yeast activity like diastatic malt powder will.
Does my bread really need diastatic malt powder?
Like everyone else during the pandemic, I let bubbling jars of sourdough starter dictate my life with feeding schedules and periodic temperature checks. If you're anything like me, you eventually gave up and let your sourdough loaf get the best of you. However, it may be time to break out those Dutch ovens to give those crusty loaves another chance—this time with diastatic malt powder on your side.
As Maurizio Leo of The Perfect Loaf writes in his recent cookbook, “With most white flour that’s available today, you likely won't need to add diastatic malt because it already contains it (look for ‘malted barley flour’ or ‘barley flour’). But in some cases, adding some malt might help take your loaf from good to great.”
How do I use diastatic malt powder?
Let's explore the scenarios that may make diastatic malt powder useful in your pantry.
When making a yeast dough that includes a sizable amount of enrichment like butter, eggs, or sugar, proofing or fermentation may seem sluggish. (Fat and sugar can slow down yeast and inhibit proofing.) Diastatic malt powder may be a welcomed addition to your ingredient list. “Putting this in addition to any sugar will help boost any enriched dough. Also, I’d like to add that I use it in my baguette and general enriched doughs that might stand on their own, such as a Parker House roll,” says Mick.
When making a recipe with natural yeast (sourdough starter or “levain”) that requires an extensive time commitment of folding, bulk fermenting, and proofing, diastatic malt powder acts like a little bit of an an insurance policy—especially if you’re doing an overnight proof in the fridge. “I add malt primarily because it helps my baked loaves achieve a deeply colored, beautiful crust,” says Leo. “Additionally, since I'm a sourdough bread baker, my dough requires lengthy fermentation. Adding malt can help ensure fermentation is vigorous and can continue for the typical multi-day recipes I bake.”
If you want to obtain an even deeper brown crust on baked goods like pretzels and bagels, a little bit of diastatic malt powder will help convert starch to sugar and promote caramelization.
When baking with flours that don’t contain any malted barley, and in recipes that mainly call for white flour. (As Leo notes in his cookbook, whole wheat flours contain plenty of the enzymes that help feed yeast on their own.)
How much diastatic malt powder should I use?
To include diastatic malt powder in a recipe, mix it directly into the flour. If you’re trying to decide how much diastatic malt powder to use in a yeast dough that does not include the ingredient already, Leo recommends starting with a range of about 0.25% to 1% of the total weight of the flour. Remember, that’s baker's percentages. Too confusing for you? King Arthur Baking Company recommends using ½ tsp. to 1 tsp. per 3 cups of flour.
Remember to exercise restraint in your malted baking trials. “Be cautious with how much diastatic malt you add to a dough. If too much is added, it can result in a reddish-colored crust and a gummy interior,” warns Leo. Ultimately, the best way to decide if your bread could benefit from a little diastatic malt powder is to include a small amount in your mix and taste the results.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious
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