Hobz Malti (Maltese Bread) 37

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)

Crusty bread from Malta
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 40 minutes
Resting time 15 hours 45 minutes
Servings 1 Loaf


Ingredients for Stage 1 - making your dough starter

  • 3 grams active dry yeast (or 7 grams fresh yeast)
  • 100 grams 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)
  • 100 grams strong flour (unsifted)

Ingredients for Stage 2 - Refresh Tinsila (old dough)

  • 200 grams Previously made starter or Tinsila (old dough)
  • 100 grams lukewarm water
  • 100 grams strong flour

Ingredients for Stage 3 - Make the Bread

  • 200 grams Tinsila (old dough) (keep the other half from stage 2 in the fridge for next time)
  • 3 grams active dry yeast (or 7 grams fresh yeast; you use less, or none, but leave the bread to rise longer)
  • 250 ml lukewarm water
  • 400 grams strong flour
  • 10 grams salt
  • [Optional] Sesame seeds or additional flour for dusting


Stage 1 - Make your the dough starter (only do once, if you don't have a starter)

  • Place all Stage 1 ingredients in bowl
  • Mix by hand until a smooth dough (add more water if necessary)
  • Knead for a few minutes (may be tricky due to the small quantity).
  • Cover and leave in a warm place (about 21-29º C) for at least 6 hours. Overnight if cooler.

Stage 2 - Refresh Tinsila (old dough)

  • Mix all Stage 2 ingredients in a bowl
  • Mix/knead to a ball
  • Cover and leave in a warm place (about 21º C) for at least 6 hours. Overnight if cooler.
  • Split Tinsila in two. Store half for future use; you can dry it, or store in the fridge or freezer. Use the other half for the bread

Stage 3 - Make the Bread

  • Mix 200 grams Tinsila or old dough, yeast, and water in a bowl. Dissolve the dough starter by squeezing with your fingers.
  • Add salt and flour to yeast mixture and mix.
  • 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. .
  • Cover and rest the dough for 10 minutes.
  • Knead the dough in the bowl until it is smooth and silky (about 10 min).
  • Turn into an oiled bowl, cover and leave to rise in a warm place (21-29º C) 2-5 hours.
  • Turn the dough over in the bowl every hour during that time.
  • DO NOT KNEAD OR KNOCK BACK – we want the air bubbles intact.
  • At this point you can store the dough in the fridge
  • When ready to bake transfer to a floured work top.
  • Lightly slash the top of the dough.
  • [Optional Step] Dip dough in a pile of sesame seeds or sprinkle flour over the top of dough.
  • Gently transfer to an oiled or floured baking tray
  • Leave to rise in a warm place until doubled from its original size (about 45 min).
  • Bake at 230º C (or as high as it will go) for 30-40 min; check after 25 min to turn the loaf around.
  • Remove from oven and leave to cool uncovered on a wire rack.


Update 27 May 2020:
I have updated the recipe to align more with the original Maltese recipe by Anne & Helen Caruana Galizia. The changes are:
- More flour in Stage 1 starter (from 90 grams to 100 grams).
- More water in Stage 1 starter (from 80 grams to 100 grams). So 100% hydration.
- More water in Stage 2 Tinsila (old dough) (from 60 grams to 100 grams). This is now much wetter (100% hydration) and much harder to "knead". "Mix" is more accurate.
- Reserve the starter after Stage 2 Tinsila (Old dough) rather than Stage 1.
- More starter/Tinsila/old dough in Stage 3 bread (from 90 grams to 200 grams). This will add more flavour and also, because of the higher water content of earlier stages, increase the hydration of the end result.
- Less yeast in Stage 3 bread (from 10 grams to 3 grams).
  • The final loaf is 70% hydration.
Earlier Notes
(1) Whether or not you have a starter affects where you begin this recipe. Begin at :
Stage 1 - Making your dough starter - if you have no starter.
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.
(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.
(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,

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.

37 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.

        • Reply Steven Thomas Apr 15,2018 1:46 pm

          Lisa, yes, exactly.

        • Reply Steven Thomas May 27,2020 11:31 am

          I have no changed the order around to align better with the original Maltese recipe. So
          – All of Stage 1 goes into Stage 2
          – Half of Stage 2 is stored
          – The other half of Stage 2 goes into the 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 .

  15. Reply Lynette Sant Apr 18,2020 7:12 pm

    Are you able to make the starter without the active dry yeast? I thought the starter itself is the leavening agent?

    • Reply Steven Thomas Apr 19,2020 10:07 am

      The yeast is used once, to make the starter.
      After that point the starter is, indeed, the leavening.
      You can reuse the starter again and again (if you feed it).

  16. Reply Jan Pace Apr 26,2020 9:25 pm

    Hi guys,

    First of all hope every one is safe in this time & thanks for this lovely post. Im a professional Maltese chef living in U.K. and of course always miss Maltese bread. I have tried this recipe and works well.

    So my advice is:

    -Step 1 day 1 : Make sourdough starter (this recipe will weigh after mixing 180g )

    -Step 2 day 2 : Mix 1/2 starter from day 1 (90g starter with 100g flour, 60g water) (Make dough and put in fridge. It can be called tinsila or old dough because we leave over night in fridge to develop flavour)

    -Step 3 day 3 : Mix tinsila dough with step 3 ingredients (250ml luke warm water, 10g yeast, then mix 10g salt & 400g flour and knead to make a dough)

    Faults for dense dough not rising are as follows:

    -1 yeast has to be used from a new packet so its 100% sure it will be good quality & active when used (PLEASE REMEMBER YEAST DIES OVER TEMP OVER 36 DEGREES) SO WHEN USING LOOK WARM WATER 30 DEG IS GOOD

    -2 when making dough make sure its kneaded properly other wise when baking it wont rise due to gluten not developed. (check on you tube bread windowpane test)

    -3 make sure as stated on the recipe “NOT TO KNOCK BACK THE DOUGH” other wise you loose the gas bubbles

    -4 after shaping dough into a ball make sure it “PROVES” doubling in size
    before baking otherwise it will be a dense dough (remember ambient temperature and temp of dough will determine how fast the proving will take)

    5- lastly when I bake bread I put a shallow tray in the bottom of the oven and when putting the bread in i put 2 cups boiling water eg 300ml in the hot tray and close the oven.

    (what happens is that in the first 10-15min of baking if the oven has moist heat it will allow the bread to expand better) (if its dry heat what will happen the dough will become crusty asap and when the gases try to expand in the dough de to the crust developed immediately it wont allow gas to expand and will be a dense bread)

    Any way if any one needs further help pls feel free to email me janwpace@gmail.com

    Best regards,


    • Reply Steven Thomas May 27,2020 11:34 am

      Thanks for explaining that Jan.

      But, based on all the comments, I have decided to change the recipe to align better with the original Maltese recipe. So all of the starter is consumed in the tinsila and then half this consumed in the bread and the other half is stored for next time.

  17. Reply Lisa LiGreci Apr 28,2020 1:44 pm

    Thanks for simplifying this Jane. So, the starter or the other half of Stage 1 can go in the freezere for later use? I have another question. I’ve heard that once you get a starter going, you don’t have to make anymore. You can just keep making bread from the original starter. So where does it come from? At that point do you save some of stage 2 for the next time?

  18. Reply Jan Pace Apr 28,2020 3:03 pm

    My pleasure. I will guide you with simple terms to this recipe above:

    – Stage 1 is making your sourdough starter (YEAST CULTURE) from scratch, which lets say, we call this your “PET” and you keep this in glass jar with a loose lid in your kitchen so you can see activity every day.

    ( Now your PET in the jar needs to be fed once a day) (Reason is the yeast will ferment and eat all sugars in the flour)

    ( So once a day same time: eg if you starter weights 100g you remove 50g of it and add 50g flour and 50g water to you starter) ratios are directly proportional (eg 100 starter feed 100 flour 100 water ) so on so on

    (lets call this feeding time) & you will repeat this process every 24hr otherwise it will not have food (new flour and water and will die)

    So once the Pet is fed (Step 1 you will never need to make because you have it in the jar called the Pet) but you need to feed it

    -2 (Now with the 50g left over you will use it for stage 2 and make a sort of wet dough called “Tinsila” or OLD DOUGH leave in fridge to ferment & next day you will add to stage 3 recipe to have the final dough) This is how the flavour is developed.

    Now as you know you are feeding the Pet every day and you either throw away the 50g left over starter or you use it to make bread

    Last note: ( keep feeding you Pet every day and after 2 weeks this starter will become stronger and you can refrigerate the starter in the fridge and instead of feeding one a day you can feed it once a week because in the fridge & yeast is dormant so you pet will be sleeping)

    -Yes the starter stage on can go in freezer
    -Yes you dont need to make more starter because now you have the PET and you need to feed it once a day
    -Yes Starter jar keep alive and use for stage 2

    Check youtube for sourdough starter clips

    Feel free to follow me on instagram chef_janpace

  19. Reply Josefa Vella May 27,2020 5:05 am

    Hello. Thanks for the recipe. Also enjoyed reading the insightful comments. One question, so if I have a sourdough starter at 50% water 50% wheat flour and nothing else which is fully active, can I go directly to stage3, use approx 90g starter and possibly adjust the water slightly? Will that work or does the starter itself have to have yeast? I make regular sourdough bread and though the crust is very similar to Maltese bread, the crumb though it has big holes tends to be chewey and much denser than the Maltese bread. Many thanks

    • Reply Steven Thomas May 27,2020 6:09 am

      Yes, if you have a starter (stage 1), and you’re refreshed it (stage 2), you can jump straight to stage 3.

      • Reply Steven Thomas May 27,2020 11:36 am

        However, I have just updated the recipe to align better with the original Maltese recipe. This has a larger portion of Tinsila going into the Stage 3. 200 grams rather than 90 grams. Like your starter the Tinsila is 50% water and 50% flour.

  20. Reply Steven Thomas May 27,2020 8:55 am

    I have updated the recipe to align more with the original Maltese recipe by Anne & Helen Caruana Galizia. See the notes

  21. Reply robeverything Jun 22,2020 8:04 am

    My bread came perfect … the only thing was the crust was a tad harder then usual … i did cook it at 250 degrees … you think that is why ?

    • Reply Jan pace Jun 23,2020 9:05 am

      Try cooking the bread 250 first 15min, and afterwords lower to 220deg.
      Make sure you have a hot tray and pour boiling water in the oven when you put the loaf. This makes the air in the oven moist and allows the bread to rise. I also spray water in the oven. So after 15min baking you can remove the tray of water and keep cooking the bread in a dry heat to start crisping up the bread. See how this goes.

      And if still you find the crust to hard, you can always put a tea towel on the bread after baking this will keep the moisture in the bread and will give a softer crust.

      Good luck

  22. Reply Bella Pace Dec 11,2020 9:46 am

    Wonderful information thank you. I miss the bread in Malta.

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