I don't know what it is, but there's something about the flavor of malt that's hooked my taste buds for life. Forget the chocolate syrup and the Strawberry Quick, when I was little I'd beg my mom to keep the pantry stocked with Ovaltine and Carnation malted milk powder. And Whoppers? Little balls of crack.
So what exactly is this "malty" stuff that I can't resist stirring into anything dairy? Well to start, malt is simply grains of cereal that have been soaked and germinated, then dried up nice and toasty. Of all the cereal grains, barley is the most common grain to malt, and it's used to impart flavor to foods such as vinegar, beer, whiskey, Whoppers, and Malta soda drink.
Malt extract is a thick sweet syrup made from heating the malted grains with water, which activate enzymes in the malt that transform the starches into sugars. It was a gem of a food in the 1800s because its nutritive properties made it ideal as a dietary supplement. Riding that bandwagon were William and James Horlick, who created an instant powder of malt and dried milk that could be easily stirred up into a healthy drink for kids. To their surprise, the powder became hugely popular with adults too, as people realized that this "malt" substance was not good for you, but it was pretty darn tasty. The soda counter at Walgreen's was the first place to whip up malt powder into a milkshake, and the rest is sweet history.
Whirling up a malted milkshake is practically a no-brainer—just toss ice cream, milk, and malt powder into a blender and you're done. But even so, I realized that it pays to work with set ingredient amounts so that you end up with a creamy bodied milkshake and the perfect balance of malt flavor. As my "more is better" mentality forever dominates my decisions, my first instinct was to pile on the malt, but malted milk powder is already super sweet, and balancing it with more milk made the shake too loose. I ran into the same problem with chocolate syrup—I wanted the shake to be super chocolatey but the addition of chocolate syrup was way too cloying.
In the end I decided to keep it simple and just start with a chocolate ice cream that was up to par. Another trick: start with a chilled blender bowl and your shake will stay frosty. And for the malt? To me, Horlicks brand has the intense maltiness that I'm looking for, much more so than Milo or Ovaltine. Though I couldn't test Carnation malted milk here in Singapore, I would expect it to taste great too.
About the Author: Yvonne Ruperti is a food writer, recipe developer, former bakery owner, and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide To Easy Artisan Bread. You can also watch her culinary stylings on the America's Test Kitchen television show. She presently lives in Singapore as a freelance writer for Time Out Singapore. Check out her blog: shophousecook.com . Follow Yvonne on Twitter.