Sometimes you just can’t get enough of a good thing. Right now, *I* can’t seem to get enough MALT. I’m thinking about it, dreaming about it, fiending for it; I might go to extreme measures if someone tried to take it away from me. That nutty, warm je ne sais quoi that malt lends to baked goods gives me warm fuzzies every time. And why this current obsession, you ask? Last week for Baked Sunday Mornings, we made Milk Chocolate Malt Semifreddo, and I’m sort of in love with it. The recipe made two “loaves”, and since I couldn’t bring them anywhere to pawn off on others, as I do with more portable treats, I had no choice (no choice, I tell you) but to eat them. And so, as I continue to enjoy the hell out of this malt-tastic semifreddo, I’ve also had the pleasure of making our next recipe, Vanilla Bean Malt Cake from the Malted Milk Powder chapter of Baked Elements. Although the malt factor is more subtle here, this cake was definitely pleasing to my insatiable malt cravings!
I find that when malt is combined with chocolate, as it often is, the flavor is a bit eclipsed. Now, don’t get me wrong– I love a good chocolate malt dessert as much as the next highly evolved human being; but I think malt absolutely shines when paired with vanilla. Instead of covering it up, vanilla enhances malt’s best flavor notes. Although it’s milder here than in the semifreddo, I’ve got malt on the brain, so if you could be so kind, please indulge me in this little discussion about one of my favorite ingredients. 😉 Malt is available in two forms (that I know of, anyway): powder and syrup. I’ve always used powder, of which there are three common types: malted milk powder, non-diastatic, and diastatic. Malted milk powder is the kind you are likely to find at a well-stocked supermarket near the hot chocolate mixes. Non-diastatic and diastatic must usually be ordered. The latter contains an enzyme that promotes rising, texture, and browning in breads and bagels. Non-diastatic does not contain this property, so it can be used more or less in the same way as malted milk powder, though it has a stronger malt flavor. But now that I think about it, I guess it doesn’t impart that lovely milkiness, and regular milk powder is like MSG for baking– it boosts the flavors. The only thing that drives me nuts about malt is that the powder hardens very quickly, especially when it comes into contact with liquid, so if you leave it sitting out while preparing your ingredients, you’ll end up with small, hard clumps of powder that don’t dissolve well, even in the baking process. I’ve normally used King Arthur Flour’s non-diastatic malt powder, but I stopped ordering it because I could never get through the bag without it hardening up first. I’ve recently learned about the syrup, and I considered substituting it in this recipe, but I chickened out, lest the cake turn into a pile of sludge or something. (Malty sludge wouldn’t be the worst kind of sludge, but still…) Instead, I used the only powder I could find at the store on short notice, Carnation brand, which worked perfectly well.
With all this talk of malt, let me not forget about the vanilla! Vanilla is one of my absolute favorite flavors, and as I’ve said many times, it should not in any way be equated with ‘plain’ or ‘boring’ or any such insinuation of lameness. Vanilla is one of the most complex and special flavors in existence; if it tastes flavorless, you’re doing it wrong. For this cake, it’s important to use good-quality vanilla, which will be the most prominent flavor. I used the seeds of a vanilla bean, though vanilla bean paste is also excellent. Combine your vanilla of choice with a teaspoon of bourbon, and combine the dry ingredients in a different bowl. (Add the malt powder right before you add this stuff to the mixer bowl.)
The cake batter is made by creaming the butter and sugar, adding eggs, and then the vanilla-bourbon, making sure everything is well-blended. Add half of the flour/malt mixture, followed by the buttermilk (always a good thing for cake), and the rest of the dry ingredients. I found that the thick batter came together very quickly and easily.
Now, this recipe is intended to be baked in a 6-cup Bundt pan. While I have a totally superfluous cake pan collection, this particular item is not one of them (though I did consider buying one). I do, however, have a pan that makes six 1-cup mini Bundts, and I’ve been dying to use it, so I thought this would be a perfect opportunity. If you’re going to use a mini Bundt pan, for heaven’s sake, don’t do what I did. You would think I had never made cupcakes before; do not, I repeat, not fill the wells to the top. As cakes do, they will rise quite a bit, and you will end up with overinflated muffin tops that will have to be cut off. I was lucky that the batter didn’t breach the outer edge of the pan! Fill the wells only about ⅔ of the way up, so they reach just to the top edge of the wells when baked.
The mini cakes baked up in 28 minutes– cooked through and perfectly golden, despite the excess of batter. Fortunately, they slipped out of the pan easily, and the shaped parts were lovely. I had to trim so much overhanging cake that I could’ve had almost twice as many mini cakes!
I made the vanilla glaze the next morning, using vanilla bean paste for more of those beautiful, black flecks. The recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of whole milk, but this yielded a very thin glaze. I kept adding confectioners’ sugar, but I couldn’t get the glaze to thicken or whiten much, and I didn’t want it to be too sweet. Unfortunately, most of it soaked into the cakes; next time I would start with about half the liquid. Also, remember that malt syrup that I mentioned? It occurred to me later that I could probably add some malt syrup to the glaze in order to bump up the malt flavor. I actually considered remaking this recipe so I could try that, but I didn’t have time this week…
The cakes were just delicious, I’m happy to say! I was afraid that they would be soggy from the thin glaze, but all in all, they were moist, fluffy, and wonderful. Vanilla is the dominant flavor, and the malt is definitely there– I wondered if it would disappear in the baking process, but my fears were unfounded. The only thing I would change next time (besides properly filling the wells of the pan!) is tinkering with the glaze to make it thicker, whiter, and maltier.
These cakes travel well (they behaved themselves driving all the way from San Francisco to San Diego) and they’d be lovely for most occasions, or you know, every day! Also, I am notoriously slow in the kitchen, and these were very quick to make, even for this slow-poke. The recipe for Vanilla Bean Malt Cake lives at Baked Sunday Mornings— get it! You can see my baking buddies’ cakes there as well. Go forth and make Bundts! 🙂
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2014.