Malt Loaf Is the Must-Try Recipe From ‘The Great British Bake Off’

This tea-time classic put 12 home bakers in a tizzy.

September 28, 2021
Photo by Prue Leith

Last Friday, The Great British Bake Off celebrated the start of its twelfth season on Netflix the only way bakers know how to do—with cake! Twelve home bakers participated in the first week of competition with mini rolls, malt loaves, and gravity-defying cakes. Wait...what’s a malt loaf? If you’re asking that question, you’re not alone. Nearly every contestant on GBBO asked the same question. Ahead, we’re explaining what this British tea-time treat is and which bakers rose—and which sank—during the first episode of Season 12.

What Is a Malt Loaf?

Think of a malt loaf as a richer, denser fruit cake. Prue Leith, a judge on The Great British Bake Off, makes her malt loaf with freshly brewed black tea, raisins, pitted prunes, malt extract, black treacle, and dark muscovado sugar (in addition to other pantry staples like flour, baking soda, baking powder, eggs, and butter). “This is a really old-fashioned recipe and those of you who are under 35 may never have heard of it. But don’t panic, just read the recipe,” said Leith to the contestants. A wise lesson to all home bakers who enter unfamiliar territory in the kitchen.

While it’s likely that you won’t encounter malt loaf state-side, across the pond, it’s been an essential part of tea time in the United Kingdom since John Montgomerie patented the recipe for “Malted Bread” in Scotland in 1889. The recipe has evolved from a loaf of bread to something closer to a fruit cake and is prepared with dried fruit and served with a pat of whipped butter on the side.

In the technical challenge during the competition, bakers were all given the same ingredients and a paired-down recipe to make their own. During this round of competition, home bakers were not given the chance to put their own twist on the tea-time classic, but rather had to follow the same recipe exactly in order for the judges to blindly determine who best executed it. “It should be rich and moist, like Old Hollywood,” said Noel Fielding, beloved GBBO co-presenter. In addition to the malt loaf, bakers were also tasked with whipping up homemade butter to serve alongside it.

What Could Go Wrong?

Although Leith said that the loaf is pretty simple, there are a number of things that could go wrong during the process. After all, this is a competition, so what fun would it be to watch if all went smoothly? The British-South African restaurateur and chef said that it’s easy to undermix the batter, leaving lumps of flour scattered throughout. Underbaking the loaf may cause it to sink, while overbaking causes the loaf to become tough, chewy, and dry. The sign of a good malt loaf is fruit that is evenly distributed throughout each slice, a firm texture as you slice it, and a dark brown color.

“It’s sticky and rich...nobody doesn’t like a malt loaf,” says Leith.

Inside the Tent

Among the contestants, there were plenty of over-35 bakers who had never heard of or tasted a malt loaf before, let alone tried their hand at baking one.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen malt extract before,” commented contestant Freya. Chigs had never baked with black treacle, a product that’s quite similar to molasses. Contestant Maggie hoped that by cutting the prunes to match the petite size of the raisins, they would be less likely to sink during the baking process. “This doesn’t look very promising, does it?” questioned Giuseppe as he mixed his batter.

“It’s dark, so how would you know if it’s over-baked?” asked a concerned Amanda.

Maggie thought it looked “scrumptious” and “really quite pretty” as she pulled her loaf out of the oven, but others were less convinced that theirs were fully cooked or totally presentable.

The Final Verdict

Leith and co-judge Paul Hollywood were impressed with how Freya’s malt loaf looked both on the outside and inside. The fruit was evenly distributed and Hollywood complimented the crystallization. “It’s got that characteristic chew,” said Hollywood. The judges liked the generous amount of candied peel on Maggie’s malt loaf and loved the flavor and color of her loaf. “That’s excellent. It’s got lots of fruit, a malty taste, and lots of tension,” says Leith upon tasting.

Other loaves lost points for being too small, tasting too-bread-like, or not having even distribution of fruit to bread. The biggest critique all-around was that many loaves were underbaked, resulting in a too-pale color and slightly doughy texture.

Ultimately Maggie came in first place with her “perfect malt loaf.”

Have you ever tried baking a malt loaf before? Let us know in the comments if you would win Prue Leith over!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Louise Chiffonade Brescia
    Louise Chiffonade Brescia
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    Dawn DeSimone
Former Food52 Staff Editor


Louise C. October 2, 2021
What am I missing? Where's the recipe for this?
Regine October 2, 2021
Check Kelly’s response in the comments. She put link for the recipe.
FrugalCat October 2, 2021
I am totally making this soon! Can someone help me find malt extract? Is it like malted milk powder/Horlicks?
When I bake, I usually make cakes in muffin tins. How should the baking time be adjusted?
For the raisins, I'm planning on golden raisins plumped up in rum! May do that with the prunes too.
Regine October 2, 2021
The only place I could find it is on I live in Maryland and I don’t know any store that sells it. This brand is good.
donna L. October 1, 2021
Now can someone help convert the measurements for those of us who can’t?
Lee A. October 2, 2021
This site should help; you might also buy a good scale that you can set to ounces, grams, etc.
donna L. October 2, 2021
Thanks, Lee. This chart is great.
Emily T. October 1, 2021
Noel said it should be "Rich and moist, like Paul Hollywood." 😂
Dawn D. September 30, 2021
Thank you for the recipe!
David K. September 30, 2021
Here's Prue's Recipe:
Kirs T. September 30, 2021
Perfect, thanks!
Kirs T. September 30, 2021
Kelly V. September 30, 2021
Hi Kirs! Here is Prue Leith's recipe that was featured on GBBO:
Regine October 1, 2021
Thanks Kelly.
Regine September 28, 2021
I was looking for a recipe in your article so I can try it 😀 I do have the perfect one already. Here is link:

Kelly V. September 30, 2021
Let me know how it comes out!
HalfPint September 28, 2021
I'm convinced that Prue is a sadist. Last season it was that Sussex Pond Pudding and now it's this malt loaf. Those poor contestants. Are they running out of ideas for the technical challenges?