The Warm Embrace of Nostalgia

Malt loaf

Malt loaf

Last night was a very special Band of Bakers event – the first of its kind.  Due to my inept scheduling, I had accidentally planned the event for the same night as The Great British Bake Off final, so we decided that, instead of cancelling the event or forcing everybody to miss the show, we would instead create the ‘Band of Bakers/GBBO Final Mash-up’.  Our venue, The Clockhouse, kindly allowed us the use of their television and we all sat down together to watch it.  Congratulations to Nancy, a very worthy winner and my favourite all along.

The theme for last night’s event was ‘Childhood Favourites’, so we invited our bakers to delve into their memory banks and bring something along that is a part of their past.  Since starting Band of Bakers a couple of years ago, I have always found nostalgia to be a really big part of baking – people will often bring along old family recipes, or something that reminds them of a particular time.  The things we loved as children may not be the best tasting or most accomplished bakes, but they are often those that give us the best memories.  It is also interesting to see how bakers of different age groups work with this theme – those who grew up in the 1970s, for example, will have a different repertoire to those who grew up in the 1990s.  What is also interesting is the influences in the baking of those with parents of other nationalities.

My bake for this event is something that has been a favourite of mine ever since I can remember: malt loaf.  And there is, of course, a bit of a backstory.  I spent a lot of time at my Nan’s house growing up in the late 80s and early 90s.  Like many grandmothers, she would often allow us more treats than we would get at home.  She would also allow us to eat our lunch in front of the television, something we were seldom allowed to do in our own house.  She would make us sandwiches of corned beef or polony, cut into eight tiny triangles, and would give us slices of malt loaf, thickly spread with butter.  It sounds fairly ordinary, and I suppose it was, but the memory of it always makes me smile.  Nan passed away a couple of years ago and I would trade any of the beautiful food in London for a corned beef sandwich and a slice of malt loaf in front of her old television.

Despite being an excellent baker and home cook, it would never have occurred to Nan to make her own malt loaf.  Having such a large family, she baked more for necessity and sustenance than for pleasure; desserts for Sunday lunches, tea loaves to give to visitors and pies for weeknight suppers.  Malt loaf came in those yellow packets from the supermarket, and that was the way she liked it.

I love those too, but I wanted to try my hand at making my own for the first time.  This recipe by Paul Hollywood looked like the most authentic and straightforward.  This recipe is very simple to do and, if you allow the usual time for proving, is fairly quick to make.  The biggest difficulty was finding malt extract, an ingredient I had never used before.  I had heard that some supermarkets do stock it, but seemingly none that I went to.  Luckily, the wonderful bakers of Twitter pointed me towards Holland & Barrett, who did indeed have a jar.  It’s very thick, a bit like honey and after the first use, you will forever have a sticky jar in your cupboard.

This malt loaf does not look much like the ones you get in the supermarket – it is far lighter in both colour and in texture, however the nostalgic taste is there.  Glaze it with honey, slice it up and spread thickly with good Irish butter.

Notes:  I made this malt loaf in a freestanding mixer as, to quote last night’s GBBO winner Nancy, I don’t have the strength to pummel it around.  You can make it in by hand if you wish, just knead it for a bit longer.

Malt Loaf

1 tbsp demerera sugar
3 tbsp malt extract
2 tbsp black treacle
25g butter
350g strong white bread flour
100g strong wholemeal flour
Pinch of salt
2 x 7g packets instant yeast
225g sultanas
250ml warm water
1 tbsp honey, to glaze

Prepare a 1lb loaf tin by greasing it with butter or spraying it with cake release spray.  Set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat together the sugar, malt extract, treacle and butter over a medium-low heat until the sugar has dissolved and the butter has melted.  Set aside to cool.

Combine the flours, salt, yeast and sultanas in the bowl of a freestanding mixer.  Add the warm water and cooled malt extract mixture and mix using a dough hook until the dough comes together.  Continue to knead with the dough hook for an extra couple of minutes.

Scrape the dough into the prepared loaf tin, it should come up to about ¾ inch below the edge of the tin.  You may not need all of the dough.  Place the tin in a plastic bag and leave to prove in a warm place for a couple of hours.  The dough should rise up just slightly above the tin.  Preheat the oven to 190ºc.  Smooth off the top of the dough to the top of the tin and bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes until browned and risen.  Leave to cool a little in the tin before transferring to a wire rack.

Heat the honey in a small saucepan over a low heat until it loosens in consistency.  Brush over the warm malt loaf using a pastry brush.

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