Using diastatic malt

I love it when I get an email asking me a bread related question. Today’s email was asking “how can I use diastatic malt powder?” This is a great question as I too had fallen victim to buying a packet of this, using it in a couple of loaves, and then finding it loitering at the back of the cupboard some months later.

What is diastatic malt?

Diastatic malt is made from barley grain that is sprouted, dried and ground into a flour. When a grain germinates an enzyme called amylase breaks down the starches in the grain into sugar (maltose) which provides food for the growing seed. By germinating the barley grain this kicks the amylase enzyme into action and if the grain is then dried at a suitably low temperature then the amylase is still present when the barley is milled into flour.

How does it work?

When added to your usual flour (at between 0.5-2% of flour weight, 2.5g-10g, or half to two teaspoons of powder per 500g of flour, although I would err on the lower side) the amylase in the diastatic malt powder helps to break the flour starches down into maltose (sugar) giving the yeasts an extra food source and therefore boost in activity. This results in the yeast working faster leading to a better rise and bigger oven spring. It also means that by the end of the fermentation there should be more residual sugars which can then caramelise during baking leading to a darker, redder crust than a loaf made without diastatic malt powder.

When you should use it?

You can use it any of your bread recipes but be aware that using it in a long fermentation dough may result in too much starch being broken down and the resulting dough and baked loaf being sticky. It is best used in a short fermentation loaf.

If you know the flour you are using has weak amylase activity then malt powder will help to boost fermentation and the strength of the final dough. So if your fermentation seems sluggish and oven spring is poor then using a little diastatic malt powder could help correct this.

You can use it in place of malt extract in recipes, for example my bagel recipe, but be aware that malt extract is different in that it does not contain the active enzyme amylase and so the dough will rise faster than normal.

Things to remember/ be aware of

Keep an eye on your loaf, it will rise faster than normal.

Make sure you use only a small amount – half to one teaspoonful per 500g – or there will be too much starch degradation and the benefits will be lost and the bread will be gummy.

Check the ingredients label on the flour bag. Some flour, particularly in the US already has malt powder added. If you add more then the starch will be degraded and the loaf will be sticky.

Non- diastatic malt powder is also available. This has been made with sprouted grains that are then dehydrated at a higher temperature so as to make the amylase inactive. Non-diastatic malt powder will add sweetness and colour to your final bread but without the boost in yeast activity.

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