Hobz Malti (Maltese Bread) 22

I really love visiting Malta and eating in the restaurants that served local food. I particularly like the bread (Ħobż Malti), and the snack called Ħobż-bi-żejt (bread and oil), which I found remarkably like a Tunisian Sandwich. Maltese bread is a solid sourdough bread. It has a crisp crust and a light crumb with irregular holes – and it is very tasty. It uses a dough-like starter (pre-ferment) called ħmira or tinsila in Maltese, but called biga in Italian.

My starting point for this recipe was Anne & Helen Caruana Galizia’s book The Food & Cookery of Malta, but the recipe has evolved somewhat through experimentation.

Hobz Malti (Maltese Bread)
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Ingredients for Stage 1 - making your dough starter
  1. 2 grams (1/4 teaspoon) of active dry yeast
  2. 80 ml (1/3 cup) lukewarm water (body temperature, 37º C, or just cool enough to put your little finger in. I use 1/3 boiling to 2/3 tap water)
  3. 100 grams (2/3 cup) strong flour (unsifted)
Ingredients for Stage 2 - Refresh your dough starter
  1. Half your dough starter (Use the other half for making your bread)
  2. 60 ml (1/4 cup) lukewarm water
  3. 100 grams (2/3 cup) strong flour
Ingredients for Stage 3 - Make the Bread
  1. Half your dough starter
  2. 10 grams (1 teaspoon) of active dry yeast (you use less, but leave the bread to rise longer)
  3. 250 ml (1 cup) lukewarm water
  4. 1-2 teaspoons salt
  5. 400 grams (3 - 3 1/2 cups) strong flour
  6. [Optional] Sesame seeds or additional flour for dusting
Stage 1 - Making your the dough starter
  1. Place all Stage 1 ingredients in bowl
  2. Mix by hand until a smooth dough (add more water if necessary)
  3. Knead for a few minutes (may be tricky due to the small quantity).
  4. Cover and leave in a warm place (about 21-29º C) for at least 6 hours. Overnight if cooler.
Stage 2 - Refresh your dough starter
  1. Mix all Stage 2 ingredients in a bowl
  2. Knead to a ball.
  3. Cover and leave in a warm place (about 21º C) for at least 6 hours. Overnight if cooler.
  4. Store for future use. You can dry it, or store in the fridge or freezer.
Stage 3 - Make the Bread
  1. Mix starter, yeast and water in a bowl.
  2. Dissolve the dough starter by squeezing with your fingers.
  3. Add salt and flour to yeast mixture and mix.
  4. Add just enough flour to yeast mixture so it stops being a batter and holds together as a soft dough. The wetter it is the bigger the holes in the final bread, but don't make it too wet or the loaf will collapse. .
  5. Cover and rest the dough for 10 minutes.
  6. Knead the dough in the bowl until it is smooth and silk (about 10 min).
  7. Turn into an oiled bowl, cover and leave to rise in a warm place (21-29º C) 2-5 hours.
  8. Turn the dough over in the bowl every hour during that time.
  9. DO NOT KNEAD OR KNOCK BACK – we want the air bubbles intact.
  10. At this point you can store the dough in the fridge
  11. When ready to bake transfer to a floured work top.
  12. Lightly slash the top of the dough.
  13. [Optional Step] Dip dough in a pile of sesame seeds or sprinkle flour over the top of dough.
  14. Gently transfer to an oiled or floured baking tray
  15. Leave to rise in a warm place until doubled from its original size (about 45 min).
  16. Bake at 230º C (or as high as it will go) for 30-40 min; check after 25 min to turn the loaf around.
  17. Remove from oven and leave to cool uncovered on a wire rack.
  1. (1) Whether or not you have a starter affects where you begin this recipe. Begin at :-
  2. Stage 1 - Making your dough starter - if you have no starter.
  3. Stage 2 - Refresh your dough starter - if you've already got a dough starter. This might be from Stage 1 or because you already have a large walnut sized dough ball from a previous bread making exercise.
  4. (2) The aim of Stage 2 - Refresh your dough starter - is to have enough starter for next time. The dough starter contains no salt because salt impedes the fermentation process. Nor is there any added yeast - this is, after all, sourdough. Once you've got the starter you can make the bread. Store the rest of the starter for future use. You can dry the spare starter, or store in the fridge or freezer.
  5. (3) You can store the dough in the fridge until you are ready to bake (8-24 hours). The directions show when you can do this safely. The cold of the fridge will practically stop the fermentation. Place the dough in a banneton (cloth lined wicker basket), cover with another cloth, and put into the fridge. The basket provides support for the soft dough. When you are ready to bake, the cold will have made the dough easier to handle and also retarding the fermentation gives a better crust. If you want interesting patterns on your bread then, use a banneton with no cloth cover; the shape of the canes will imprint on the dough. If you are going to dust with flour, then dust the bottom of the banneton as well as the top of the dough, and put dough into the banneton top first.
Adapted from Anne & Helen Caruana Galizia’s book The Food & Cookery of Malta,
Adapted from Anne & Helen Caruana Galizia’s book The Food & Cookery of Malta,
Balagan Recipes http://balaganrecipes.info/

Sources and inspiration

Beth. Biga sponge/starter for Italian breads. http://countrylife.net/pages/recipes/684.html [broken link].

Anne & Helen Caruana Galizia. (2001). The Food & Cookery of Malta. Pax.

This book started a resurgence in interest in Maltese cooking, and was the basis for this recipe. Helen. one of the authors, emailed me and suggested I put contact details up should you wish to obtain a copy: Pax Books: 75 Quentin Road, London, SE13 5DG, England

Geri Guidetti. Italian Biga Bread. http://waltonfeed.com/grain/y-rec/biga.html.

Jack Lang. Sourdough Bread. http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=27634.

22 thoughts on “Hobz Malti (Maltese Bread)

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  3. Reply Joseph Pace Jan 13,2015 6:19 am

    Hi,Iread your instruction,but I can not understand the word banneton mean,please help.I like to make maltese bread the old stile with big holes and crusty.Can you email me this please.

    Regards Joe Pace Sydney

  4. Reply hi Nov 4,2015 10:48 am

    I tried to make Maltese bread it came nice but heavey can you tell me why

  5. Reply Jane Oct 14,2017 3:02 am

    I’m a bit confused by the stages, it appears to go from Stage 3 – Make the bread, back to Stage 1 – Make the starter.

    Could you please tell me if this is an error.



    • Reply Steven Thomas Oct 14,2017 6:57 am

      Apologies for the confusion. Stage 1 is to make the initial starter – as you figured out. What isn’t super clear is that after stage 1 you split the starter in half. Half the starter you use in Stage 2; this means you always have some starter available. The other half of the starter goes into Stage 3 to actually make the bread. Hope that makes sense.

  6. Reply Janine Feb 25,2018 1:30 am

    My bread was rather flat about 1 and 1/2 inches. Tastes good, but is it supposed to rise more?

  7. Reply Lisa LiGreci Apr 9,2018 11:31 pm

    So what happens to all the Stage 2 dough? Is that also mixed in with Stage 3 ingredients?

    • Reply Steven Thomas Apr 10,2018 6:06 am

      Lisa, the idea with Sour Dough bread is that you use the starter to make bread on a continuous cycle. What that means for this recipe is that you use half the Stage 2 dough in Stage 3 to make the bread. You keep the other half of the Stage 2 dough for future use. You can dry the spare starter, or store in the fridge or freezer.

      • Reply Lisa LiGreci Apr 10,2018 7:03 pm

        Please pardon my ignorance. I’ve never made bread before. I just want to make sure I have this straight.

        Half of Stage 1 goes in Stage 2 along with the Stage 2 ingredients.
        The other half of Stage 1 goes in Stage 3

        Half of Stage 2 goes in Stage 3 along with Stage 3 ingredients.
        The other half of Stage 2 gets stored away for later use.

        Does this eliminate Stage 1 next time?

        All of Stage 3 is made into the loaf of bread.

  8. Reply Ella Apr 15,2018 10:34 am

    Why is there no sugar in this bread please?

    • Reply Steven Thomas Apr 15,2018 1:45 pm

      Although sugar is often added to bread to feed the yeast and get it bubbling, it isn’t essential.

      Yeast is very happy to feed on the flour. Purists will say this makes the bread taste better.

  9. Reply Helen Caruana Galizia Jan 10,2019 3:14 pm

    Thank you for all your interest and contributions.

    Helen Caruana Galizia

  10. Reply Charles Feb 11,2019 6:27 am

    I’ve tried all of the about but no luck.

  11. Reply George Mar 19,2019 7:40 am

    So confusing. Why cant you just make the bread in 2 stages. Make siur dough and then make bread.

  12. Reply Eden Apr 3,2019 11:43 am

    Maltese bread (“hobz Malti”), has a particular sourdough crust (“qoxra”), outside – inside it is very soft (“bieba – ibieba”). Bread recipe never changed, it was made with few and simple ingredients – flour, yeast, plenty of water, sea-salt, hard work and lot of patience.

  13. Reply Donna Turner Apr 8,2019 3:25 pm

    Is there a type of yeast you would recommend?

  14. Reply Ann Muscat Apr 20,2019 6:05 am

    I tried it before and my bread came out very heavy , it’s not that the recipe isn’t correct it’s I’m getting old and slow in understanding. I’m trying it again and I’m doing it day by day and I have the feeling that I’m going to get it right this time,hope so before I go to heaven loll .when I was a teen I worked in a bakery and I did tried it when I came to Australia and it was close but not as as good as I would have liked it . This recipe it’s the best I came about ,I shall keep you informed on my bread . I like to thanks Lisa LiGreci for her comment ,because I understand it better the way she explained it .

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