The latest instalment of the Golden Yorkshire Sock Club to go on general release was themed around the city of Sheffield. Rachel Coopey’s sock pattern Sheff, was inspired by the fact that Sheffield has more trees per person than any other city in Europe and the leafy motif trailing down the leg and foot of the pattern is perfectly complimented by The Knitting Goddess bright green yarn. As for me, well I turned to one of my favourite childhood flavour memories for the recipe…
I loved going to stay with Grandma and Grandad. More often than not visits were over a weekend and early Saturday evenings were spent in the front room checking the pools as the final football results were read out on the television. Grandad would sit in his chair by the window, pools coupon on his lap and a glass of Black Beer on the window ledge.
Black beer is, or at least was, manufactured by Mather’s of Huddersfield and came in a handsome bottle with a gold and green label. The ‘beer’ itself was a malt based liquor usually drunk diluted with milk or lemonade but also served as a mixer for various spirits. The malt meant it was high in Vitamin C and because of these purported health benefits, black beer was given to children – just a capful watered down with a lot of lemonade as a Saturday evening treat. This lemonade version was known as Sheffield Stout.
The warm malt flavour of black beer and my infinite and eternal love for the wonder that is Soreen Malt Loaf, led me down a deliciously malty baking path as I tried to conjour up some of those malty memories from childhood. Malt loaf recipes fall into one of two categories; bread or cake and unsurprisingly I chose the cake path for mine! Malt extract is available in large supermarkets and health food shops and will sometimes be labelled as ‘barley malt extract’. Once again I have dug out the never-ending bag of dried prunes as their unctuous texture adds the extra stickiness the loaf needs. I made another version with dates in place of the prunes and that was just as tasty, but I do like the dark melting quality of the prunes.
Serve the malt loaf sliced, generously buttered and washed down with a pot of tea. As with parkin, malt loaf really benefits from resting for a couple of days after the bake to allow the flavours to settle and a stickier texture to develop, so if you can possibly bear to wait then I promise you it’s worth it!
Sheffield Stout Loaf
(makes 1 loaf)
150g malt extract + extra for finishing
60g unsalted butter
100g soft dark brown sugar
125ml strong black tea
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
250g plain flour
1 heaped tsp baking powder
A pinch of salt
100g stoned prunes
Line a 9 x 20cm loaf tin and preheat the oven to 160°C fan.
Put the malt extract, unsalted butter, sugar and tea in a small saucepan and place over a low heat until the butter is just melted and the sugar dissolved, then leave it to one side to cool slightly.
In the meantime, sift the flour, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl.
Roughly chop the prunes into smallish pieces and mix with the sultanas.
Add the lightly beaten eggs to the malty liquid and combine.
Make a well in the flour mixture and pour in the liquid, lightly stirring to bring the wet and dry ingredients together and ensuring any lumps are dealt with, then mix the dried fruit into the batter.
Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 1 hour until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean (barring a few crumbs) and the loaf is springy to the touch.
Upon removing from the oven, brush the top of the loaf with malt extract – it’s quite sticky but will become runnier with the heat.
Leave to cool thoroughly then wrap in baking parchment followed by a layer of foil and rest it for a couple of days.
Slice, butter and enjoy.