Diastatic Malt Powder – Should You Use It?

As the King Arthur site puts it in their diastatic malt powder product page…

Diastatic malt powder is the “secret ingredient” savvy bread bakers use to promote a strong rise, great texture, and lovely brown crust. Especially useful when flour does not have barley malt added, as is true for most whole wheat flour and many organic flours. Active enzymes in diastatic malt help yeast grow fully and efficiently throughout the fermentation period, yielding a good, strong rise and great oven-spring. Add only a small amount: 1/2 to 1 teaspoon per 3 cups of flour. Try using it in yeasted doughnut batter or in soft pretzels!

Actually, diastatic malt is the secret ingredient added by millers that’s in most of the flour that you can buy in a grocery store – even King Arthur flour. As the KA product description further states, “Especially useful when flour does not have barley malt added, as is true for most whole wheat flour and many organic flours.” I can attest to this: It really is useful.

But what is it?

Essentially diastatic malt powder is made from sprouted barley or wheat grains that are then heated to kill the sprouts but retain the enzymes (amylase) that break down starches into sugar, specifically glucose molecules. Yeast loves glucose!

Simply put, diastatic malt powder helps yeast feed, which helps them multiply, which means more yeast are feeding and multiplying, and helps produce more CO2 gas, giving your bread a better rise. In short, more food, more sex, more gas. πŸ™‚

So the question is, should you use it?

It’s not a necessary ingredient, especially if it’s already in the flour you’re using. For instance, here’s the nutrition label for King Arthur Bread Flour:

If you look at the ingredients list, you’ll see that the last ingredient is malted barley flour. That’s diastatic malt powder. And though it’s not necessary, I’ve found that incorporating it into the flour blends that I use for sourdough loaves helps the rising action as I use 100% certified organic flour. It helps me manage the fermentation process a little.

I vary the amount I use depending on the weather. In cold, winter months like it is currently, I use about 2.5%. In warmer months, I’ll use 1%. But if it’s a really warm day or my starter is particularly active, I’ll dispense with it altogether. My aim with it is to maintain consistent rising times throughout the year, as I don’t have the luxury of baking in a temperature-controlled environment.

As far as taste is concerned, even at 2.5%, if there is any change to the taste of the bread, it’s very subtle. I have noticed though that when I use more of it, my crusts seem to be a little more pliable. But that’s more a hypothesis and perception than actual fact. I’d have to do side-by-side tests.

It is purported that diastatic malt powder produces a softer crumb. To be honest, I haven’t noticed a significant difference in the crumb when I use it. I develop my dough and use specific blends of flour and bake my bread to no more than 195ΒΊF to always achieve a soft, moist, and springy crumb so it’s very likely any influence on the softness will be subtle at best for my bread.

And as far as subtlety is concerned, bear in mind that diastatic malt’s effect on the rising action is also subtle. It’s not as if your yeast going to go crazy when you use this stuff. It does give the yeast a little boost, that’s for sure, and in bread that’s risen with commercial yeast, they will be noticeably more active as things will happen faster (which is why I never use when I make baguettes). But you’re not going to suddenly see huge Tartine-like holes in your bread when you use it. That’s more due to technique and high hydration than the rising action of the yeast.

I recommend using diastatic malt powder. But use it sparingly and experiment with it to see if it works for you. As I mentioned, its effect is subtle, but used judiciously, can be quite useful to your baking process.

Don’t Just Fold Your Dough!!! STRETCH and Fold It!

This is going to be a short one…

After reading lots of forum posts from people saying things like, “I stretch and fold my dough like Ken Forkish says in Flour Water Salt Yeast, and my dough still seems like batter,” then seeing replies from other folks about lowering hydration, I thought I’d address it here.

Before you even think about playing with hydration numbers, look to your stretch and fold technique first. Most beginning bakers only fold the dough, but they don’t actually stretch it. You have to stretch your dough to its extents without tearing it, then fold it over.

For example, look at the picture to the left. As you can see, I’m really stretching the dough. And though it’s difficult to tell from the picture, I’ve actually pulled the dough out about 12″ from the base dough ball. Then I folded it over the main mass. While stretching the dough, I could feel the dough strengthening.

Also, another point of confusion with stretching and folding dough is the number of times you should do it during a session. As a rule of thumb, I will do stretches and folds until the dough no longer wants to be stretched, and as I stretch the whole dough mass wants to come along. For the stiffer, lower-hydration dough, that could be 3 to 4 stretches and folds. But for wetter dough, like the 82% dough shown in the picture, that could be 12-15 times!

Forkish talks about turning the dough over onto its folds after the end of a folding session. You really can only do that when you’ve created lots of tension through stretching.

What about protein content?

Though related, it’s a slightly different topic and yes, a soupy, soppy dough could be the result of using flour that can’t support the hydration levels called for in a recipe. But I’ve found that developing dough strength – or lack thereof – tends to be the culprit.

Here’s a Little Acid Test…

I’ve spent quite a bit of time on various online bread forums and have seen many pictures of bread people bake from around the world. There’s LOTS of talent out there! And today, as I was perusing a forum, I saw a picture that someone took of a half-dozen boules they made today. They were gorgeous!

And they were perfectly round and all the exact same diameter. When I zoomed in on the picture, I noticed that the bottom sides of the loaves were just a tad bit flat, which told me one thing: The loaves expanded outward to the sides of the Dutch oven.

Look, I don’t want to take away from how beautiful the loaves were. But it made me ask the question: What if they didn’t use a Dutch oven? Chances are, those loaves would be a LOT wider in diameter and not nearly as tall.

I don’t use a Dutch oven. I bake all my bread on a baking stone with a pan of water at the bottom of my oven for steam as shown below.

That doesn’t necessarily make my bread better or make me a better baker. But baking on a stone has forced me to constantly think about the strength of my dough and really hone my shaping skills. If I mess up, I get results like this:

That was not amusing. Those loaves were made with 40% Kamut, 30% Organic Whole Wheat, and 30% Bread Flour at 88% hydration. I knew I was in trouble after final proof. Though the loaves were perfectly fermented, there just wasn’t enough dough strength and they collapsed under their own weight. The lack of strength wasn’t due to kneading – or lack thereof – either. I used too much of a fairly acidic starter, and the hydration was simply too high for the flour I used. Both the Kamut and Whole Wheat flour from this supplier just don’t develop enough strength. Combine that with a low pH and well… you see the results.

As for the title of this post, here’s an acid test: For those of you who bake with a Dutch oven, try using a metal pan or a pizza stone to bake your next loaf. Instead of covering your loaf, put a cast-iron skillet on the bottom rack of your oven and put some hot water in it to generate steam. If you’re building up good strength in your dough, your loaf should rise up nicely. But if it spreads out, chances are you’ll need to work on building up your dough strength and shaping.

When I personally moved to a baking stone from a Dutch oven, I made several flat loaves until I learned how to get great gluten development, and learned how to create a taut skin during shaping; that, and studying my flour’s capabilities. In fact, with that brand of flour, I rarely take it above 80% and usually stay around the 78% hydration mark.

And when I saw the flatbread I had created, I have to admit that it was pretty humbling because I thought I was the bee’s knees with my perfectly shaped loaves! πŸ™‚ Little did I know that my skills needed A LOT of development.