As a child, I thought Halloween was the absolute worst holiday. Most kids love it — a chance to dress up in fun costumes and get handfuls of candy from strangers. But as a kid with food allergies, it was the opposite of fun.
I’d spend all night receiving candy that I knew I couldn't eat. Pretty much everything (anything with even trace amounts of peanuts or nuts) ended up in the garbage. There were a few special treats I was allowed to keep — notably the crinkly, off-white packets of chocolate-coated malted milk balls. The spherical candies, covered in shiny milk chocolate, released a toasty sweetness when I delightedly crunched down on them.
I know I'm not the only one brought back to childhood by the distinct taste of a malted dessert.
I still have food allergies, and I still love malted milk powder, which brings me right back to those late Halloween nights. And I know I'm not the only one brought back to childhood by the distinct taste of a malted dessert. A box of malted milk balls might remind you of going to the movie theater with your dad, or maybe it conjures up memories of getting oversized malted milk balls at the candy shop with your grandparents and siblings. These are just a few of the sweet stories I’ve heard people reminisce about when they taste malted milk.
As a baker, I've found countless ways to incorporate this nostalgic ingredient into a variety of sweet treats that are safe for me to eat and that everyone else enjoys, too.
What malted milk powder adds
Malted milk powder is a combination of malted products (usually malted barley and malted wheat flour) mixed with evaporated milk powder. It adds a distinctive sweetness that some describe as toasty.
I think it tastes like cream that’s verging on caramelization. It’s delicate yet also rich — dry in texture but creamy in flavor.
It takes single-note baked goods and makes them complex, especially anything that contains chocolate. In a way, it’s like adding vanilla or salt to something that didn’t have it before; it amplifies the flavors around it and makes a formerly muted dessert positively sing. Unlike those well-known, frequently used flavor enhancers, malted milk powder adds an unexpected dimension that makes it feel like a secret ingredient. (That is, if you use a high-quality malted milk powder.)
Which malted milk powder to use?
You might have seen a plastic cylinder of something called “malted milk” in the dry goods aisle of the grocery store. The relatively low ratio of malted ingredients to dried milk makes it quite subtle in flavor. In a pinch, you can substitute this kind of malted milk in our recipes that call for it, but you’ll need to use twice as much to get a similar flavor experience.
Our malted milk powder is different. It has a higher ratio of malted ingredients to milk, so that malty, sweet richness is noticeable even if you’re just using a tablespoon or two. It also contains a touch of salt, which enhances its flavor. And bonus: It doesn’t clump as readily as the grocery store brand, either.
5 recipes that use malted milk powder
The easiest and most foolproof way to use malted milk powder is to bake tried and tested recipes that call for it. There are dozens of recipes that use it on our site. Here are five of my favorites, all of which put this secret ingredient to excellent use:
1. Chocolate Malted Scones
These tender, cocoa-based scones are studded with chocolate chunks and packed with malted milk powder. Malt is in both the dough and the glaze that’s drizzled over the top, so you’ll experience the nostalgic flavor in every bite.
2. Malted Milk Palmiers
With just a few ingredients, these flaky, crunchy pastries made from rough puff pastry deliver a pure flavor experience of butter and sugar. The addition of malted milk powder complements the caramelized sugar and brings brown butter-like flavor to the palmier party, and you’ll never want to go there without it again.
3. Chocolate Malt Cake
This is a centerpiece-worthy cake that’s ideal for celebrating the malted-milk lover in your life. There’s malted milk powder in the cake, filling, and glaze for an unmistakable flavor that might remind you of old-school soda shops (if you ever experienced those) or even late Halloween nights eating malted milk balls.
4. Malted Brownie Biscotti
Chocolate lovers won’t be able to stop eating these cocoa-enriched biscotti. They taste like your favorite fudgy brownie gone crunchy. Malted milk powder makes sure the toasty notes are all present to complement the crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside texture.
5. Banana Snacking Cake with Malted Chocolate Frosting
In this recipe, two childhood favorites — banana bread and malted chocolate — come together in one incredible snacking cake. It’s baked as a single-layer cake that’s topped with a flourish of fudgy frosting. Serve it with a glass of milk as an afterschool snack, and you’ll forever be a hero.
How to use malted milk powder without a recipe
What about your beloved childhood recipes that don’t call for any malted milk powder, but could use a flavor boost? In general, you can replace about 25% of the granulated sugar in a recipe with twice the amount of malted milk powder by volume. If measuring by weight, replace 25% of the sugar with about 1.4X as much malted milk powder. (If this math feels tricky, give yourself a break and measure by volume in this instance.)
These are just rough guidelines to get you started on your malted milk journey. We haven’t tested this swap in every single recipe, so you’ll be embarking on a bit of an experiment with the substitutions you make. Don’t worry, though — the results are bound to be delicious. Start by replacing a small portion of the sugar with malted milk powder and then increase from there until you find your literal sweet spot.
Additional ways to use malted milk powder
If you’re eager to use malted milk powder but need a bit more than the rough guidelines above, we’ve got you. Here’s some additional inspiration for ways to use malted milk powder:
- Pump up pancakes: When making pancakes from scratch, add 1 tablespoon of malted milk powder per cup of flour to the dry ingredients, and omit any additional sugar. It gives the pancakes a diner-style taste and a deep golden brown color. (Some of our pancake recipes already have this built right into them, like our Simply Perfect Pancakes.)
- Add it to hot chocolate: Use our Homemade Hot Chocolate recipe and reduce the Baker’s Special Sugar or superfine sugar to 1/2 cup (95g) and add 1/2 cup (70g) of malted milk powder. You can also simply make a single cup of hot cocoa using milk, cocoa, and malted milk powder to taste.
- Enhance classic ice cream flavors: Malted milk powder can be sprinkled over vanilla or chocolate ice cream, or frozen custard — it’ll make the flavors taste richer and warming, even though they’re frozen. It’s also delicious as a garnish dusted on top of chocolate cake.
- Experience an old-fashioned shake: Make a malted milkshake by combining a few scoops of your favorite vanilla ice cream, 2 tablespoons (18g) of malted milk powder, 1/4 cup (57g) of milk, and a handful of chocolate-covered malted milk balls. Blend until smooth. Top with a few more crushed malted milk balls, if you wish.
Cover photo (Chocolate Malt Cake) by Erica Allen; food styling by Liz Neily.