The $4 Ingredient You’ve Been Overlooking in the Grocery Store Baking Aisle

updated May 1, 2019
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Tucked somewhere near the cans of condensed milk and Jell-O pudding at the supermarket (or maybe by the hot chocolate) is a canister that will change your life. What’s in this oft-overlooked and unassuming little package? It’s malted milk powder.

Okay, so malted milk powder might not change your entire life, but it very well may change the way you bake. It’s sort of like the MSG of the baking aisle — adding a toasty, caramel-y version of umami to all sorts of things like frostings, puddings, and chocolate chip cookies.

You’ve likely had a malt milkshake or malt ball candy (aka Whopper or Malteser) in your life, so you know what malt tastes like. That sweet, rich, toasty flavor is also a hallmark of malty beers, like English brown ales and dark lagers. The flavor comes from soaking barley until it starts to germinate, which converts a lot of its starches to sugars, in a process called malting. Then the malted barley is cooked in hot water (called a mash) to convert and extract even more sugars. The resulting liquid is then boiled down until just a sweet syrup remains.

Okay, so that’s malt extract. What exactly is malted milk powder? It’s a powdered blend of malted barley extract, plus wheat flour, milk, salt, and baking soda. There are only a few consumer-oriented producers on the market (Carnation is the most common, followed by Ovaltine and King Arthur; Horlicks is an English brand) and each makes it a little different. Carnation seems to have a stronger milk flavor than, say, Ovaltine, and it has a finer, more powdery texture too.

Growing up, I used to stir malted milk powder into my after-school glass of milk and sprinkle it on my ice cream (I especially loved doing that with those crunchy Ovaltine crumbs). But that’s kind of all I thought malted milk powder was good for. Then I worked with a pastry chef who put it in everything — whipped cream, panna cotta, butterscotch pudding, blondies. It really can go just about anywhere you want to add a toasty note.

Malt extract is also often used in commercial bread baking to improve the browning and add depth and a touch of sweetness. The same goes for malted milk powder in your home baking. Try experimenting with it next time you bake some rolls, cookies, or whip some cream for dessert. Then, come back to let us know what you thought.

Do you already use malted milk powder when you bake? How do you use it?