I am sitting at the kitchen counter with a pint of Malted Milk Ball Custard, from Old School Custard, sitting across from me. I probably would have waited longer to eat it, savoring it every time I saw it sitting on the shelf and promising myself a spoonful when I got home from work, but I was afraid that my wife would eat it before I did. She wouldn’t eat it all, but I know that when I finally opened the container and there would be only a spoonful or two left at the bottom.
I love malted milk, malted milk balls and all related products. I love then enough to want to sing their praises in public, because it seems like the flavor of the malted is disappearing.
As a boy in Columbus in the 1980s, I lived down the street from the last functioning soda shop in Ohio. It was a pharmacy with a full service counter for floats, flavored sodas and malteds. The soda jerk was like a heroin dealer for all the retirees that lived in my neighborhood. Serving up malted milks to fill their plump bellies as they lined up for their fix every day after lunch.
When it was introduced, after being invented by James Horlick in the 1870s, malted milk was advertised as making you fat. This was back in the days when fat meant healthy and skinny meant that death was a hair’s breadth away. You wanted a fat baby and malted milk would give it to you. The flavor wasn’t even considered, but it was the flavor that made it catch on.
After being used to make babies plump up, it spread to explorers and other travelers because malted milk could be powdered and would keep forever. It made the perfect high calorie emergency food for anyone making his way through the notoriously diner-free arctic. Also, invalids and anyone with wasting could improve their chances of survival by sipping on a malted milk. It was recommended by doctors and sold in pill form as “lunch tablets” for snacking.
As much as I loved a malted milk, it was really malted milk balls that I coveted. The double kick of malted milk powder and chocolate in one shot activates the pleasure centers of my brain. When I was young, it was Whoppers and other mass-produced malted milk balls, but as I grew older I could start to taste the waxiness of the chocolate and the inconsistency of the powder inside. Some would be dense as Baryonic dark matter, while others would be as light as a cloud.
I have the container of custard open now and I’ve spooned it into the bowl. The custard is incredibly creamy, so much so that if it hits the side of the bowl on its way down it sticks there until I push it down with my spoon to make room for more. I can smell the malt and it’s making me hungry.
The best malted milk balls I’ve ever eaten were from Krema. The perfectly-formed malted milk centers are dipped in amazing chocolate so many times it forms a shell on the outside. The shell is so thick that in the time it takes your teeth to work through it, you will have forgotten you’re eating a malted milk ball. So, when you finally hit the center the explosion of malt is a surprise. It’s like a malted grenade with chocolate shrapnel. Any hand-dipped malted milk ball is delicious, but Krema’s are a nirvana-like experience for the lover of malt.
I put a spoonful of the custard in my mouth and my eyes are rolled back in my head as I let the complicated mix of textures and flavors slowly melt across my tongue. It’s not simply sweet, but rich and deep.
I bought some Whoppers earlier today; I hadn’t tried them in years and didn’t want to disparage them in writing if they didn’t warrant it. While I was checking out, the cashier looked at them and said, “I’m surprised they even still sell these. They’re so old-fashioned.” In fact, on the box there’s a recipe for something called “Malt Shoppe Pie.” Never trust a pie that spells shop the same way they spell it at a Renaissance faire. Not content with recalling a malt shop, the makers of Whoppers now want malt to seem ancient.
Isn’t it enough to be delicious?
I finished my custard. Relishing the single spoonful of melt that was at the bottom of the bowl. I know there are large groups of people that hate the flavor of malted milk, just as there are people that find puppies irritating and others that can’t enjoy Pixar movies. I just look at them and shake my head. Anything that makes babies fat, helps explorers in the arctic and tastes this good is all right by me.
I left two spoonfuls of custard on the bottom of the container for my wife. I bet if I ate them she wouldn’t even remember that we bought it.