Marion’s Malt Loaf/Harvo Loaf

Family recipes are something we should all treasure. They are a building block of our formative years and no off-the-shelf cookbook, no matter how good, will ever conjure up the same warmth and comfort than making food that’s as intrinsic to your own past as something your mom, aunt, or nan (or these days, could also be your dad, uncle or granddad) used to make.

And yet it will never taste the same as when they made it. But yet I somehow want to share with anyone who reads this, recipes from mostly my mother’s side of the family. This one, from my great-aunt Marion via my mother’s battered recipe journal, is a classic and will probably be familiar to some. It has been much made by me (indeed, it was partly the bass line for my Irish Porter Cake recipe) both rigidly to the original and with numerous variations.

So what is the recipe?

What was wrong with it (bob-a-job week) was that people like you were getting little lads to shift pianos and double-glaze the French windows… exchange for nine pence ha’penny and a slice of malt loaf.”  – Jean, dinnerladies episode ‘Catering’, by the late Victoria Wood.

Malt loaf.  That squidgy, fruited, malty brown cross between cake and bread so unique to Britain. I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t love it, or ‘sticky bread’ as I first encountered it in Jon Carrie Nursery School (when I didn’t get sent home for severe homesickness-induced tantrums…). Malt loaf was also known as ‘Harvo loaf’ in Birmingham but I’ve never come across this pretender to Manchester-based Soreen’s crown (probably because Harvo went bust in 1973.)

About the only photo I can find of the original ‘Harvo loaf’.

I still call this recipe Harvo loaf anyway owing to my Midland roots, and perhaps to lend it a false air of rose-tinted legacy.

This recipe, like the Porter Cake, doesn’t require scales, creaming of fats and sugar, folding, sieving or any of that nonsense. All you need is a mixing bowl, a 2lb loaf tin and a regular-sized 200-250ml tea mug (no dainty bone china or big Starbucks type mugs!) as your unit of measurement. You may have encountered this type of thing as ‘Weetabix cake’ or ‘All Bran cake’ as breakfast cereal is one of the ingredients. The recipe, as taken from Auntie Marion, calls for All-Bran, but I have also used Bran Flakes, Shreddies, Weetabix or Shredded Wheat in its place. You can get that squidgy Soreen flavour by adding malt extract and wrapping up and leaving for a day or so before diving in, but All-Bran or bran flakes will give the malt flavour already.  It contains no eggs and no butter, so fat free, yay. Unless you slather it thickly in good real butter, of course, which is not compulsory, but highly recommended.

Of course like many simple cakes, you can tweak the recipe to suit your own tastes. Use any mix of dried fruit you want, and the same with the type of sugar used. I cannot recommend classic dark brown soft enough, but again, feel free to do a mix of brown and white, light brown, dark muscovado, whatever you like or have on hand. Same with the milk – whatever you have as it’s just the wetting agent but obviously will push the fat content up or down. And if you’re catering for a vegan or dairy-intolerant crowd, simply use any alternative, or failing that, strong black tea.

If you can’t find malt extract, then a couple of spoonfuls of Horlicks powder would also be a good addition to boost the malty taste. The world’s your pickle, as Laura Vitale says.

However, be aware that you may have to bake the loaf for longer depending on the size of mug and tin you used. Just check to see when the tester comes out clean but in my experience it never takes longer than 1 hour 15 minutes. 1 hour 20 at a push.

It keeps well, up to a week, and is best served thickly sliced with a brew and with that optional butter.

The loaf shown in the photos was the last time I made this recipe and used Weetabix (or Waitrose’s rip-off imitation version). It was for work so never got around to taking photos of it sliced! However I find that for the true Soreen taste, All-Bran is the best bet.

As made the 'correct way', with All-Bran. Takes on a more Soreen-esque colour and taste.
As made the ‘correct way’, with All-Bran. Takes on a more Soreen-esque colour and taste.


Marion’s Malt Loaf / Harvo loaf


1 x mug mixed dried fruit

3/4-1 x mug dark brown sugar

1 x mug All Bran cereal (the plain stick-shaped one beloved of the elderly please)/Bran flakes/Weetabix/Shreddies

1 x mug milk (any kind will do, depends how virtuous you’re feeling. Dairy-free milk will make this vegan but check your cereal box as well if you’re baking for vegans)

1 x mug self-raising flour

1 tsp mixed spice
1-2 tbsp malt extract, plus extra for glazing
1 tbsp black treacle
Nib sugar, for sprinkling atop before baking

  1. Soak cereal of choice, fruit and sugar (and treacle/malt if using) in the milk for 6-8 hours or overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to Gas Mark 4/160C fan/180C.
  3. Add the flour (and spice if using) and mix to combine.
  4. Pour this somewhat stiff mix into a greased and lined 2lb/900g loaf tin, sprinkle with nib sugar if using, and bake for 1 hour-1 hour 15 minutes (depends on size of mug used and tin – the mixture can vary in consistency too) until risen and a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  5. Cool in the tin for a little while and then remove and finish on a wire rack. If using malt extract to glaze, smear this over whilst still warm.
  6. Slice thickly and smother with proper butter if desired and enjoy with a brew.

Rocket Fuel: Chocolate Concrete


School dinners of the mid-late-20th century have experienced somewhat of a nolstalgic revival in recent years, especially in the post-Jamie Oliver crackdown. What were once reviled as days of sulphurous overboiled cabbage and lumpy custard are now looked back on extremely fondly as simple yet evocative fare. I’m perhaps slightly too young to be part of this era of school dinners but I still own a copy of Becky Thorn’s hard-to-get School Dinners cookbook on Kindle and have attempted a few.

This recipe however, came from a childhood friend’s mother in 2001 who worked in a primary school in Birmingham. I was 12 and remember her cooking it for us one visit 2 years previous and asked her for the recipe. I found it many years later in my mother’s recipe file in 2013 and copied it into my own. It has lost NONE of it’s charm.

Chocolate Concrete, or Chocolate Crunch as it’s sometimes known, was a popular dessert amongst schoolchildren, and Giles Coren and Sue Perkins showed it on a Supersizers feature on school dinners if I remember correctly. It is essentially a crude version of shortbread, served warm in glorious brown slabs with chocolate flavoured custard poured thickly over the top. However it can also be served cold and eaten like any other biscuit/cookie. I have taken it into work before and it received rave reviews – one colleague christened it ‘rocket fuel’ as it packs a calorific burst and childhood chocolate hit, perfect to get you through the rest of your shift.

It is a very simple recipe and very cheap to make – obviously it was designed be made quickly and served in large quantities out of those epic square tins. Don’t worry though – this recipe fits a small roasting tin and you won’t have stale pieces haunting you 10 days later! You will most likely have all the ingredients to hand in your store cupboard.

Final word of note – the standard recipe is gratifying enough, but feel free to substitute ingredients to take it from misty-eyed school lunchtimes into something more grown-up – use dark muscovado sugar instead of regular, for example; wholemeal flour for extra texture; replace some of the flour with rice flour a-la some shortbread recipes; add vanilla extract to the melted butter; add some salt to cut some of the juvenile sweetness; replace some of the cocoa with a little instant espresso powder to add adult bitterness – the list is endless. You can even forego the cocoa entirely and make a blonde vanilla concrete sister version. I will be bossy though and insist an oblong tin is compulsory, and it shall not  be served in any way other than being cut into dense, crunchy squares.


Chocolate Concrete


8oz flour (can be plain or self-raising)

2oz cocoa powder

4oz sugar

4oz melted butter or margarine

  1. Preheat oven to gas mark 3/140C fan/160C electric
  2. Mix the dry ingredients together.
  3. Add melted butter or margarine. Be warned that you may need more as flour can annoyingly vary in its absorbent qualities; or add a little water if the mixture behaves impossibly.
  4. Mix (No?!). Best started with a regular dessert spoon and then finish it with your hands. You won’t get a full dough, but rather a mixture resembling damp soil. Be careful to not overmix.
  5. Tip this glorious mound of Aztec earth into a small rectangular baking tin, (ungreased  but lined with parchment if you intend on serving it cold as a biscuit for easy lifting out) and press in with your hands or the back of a spoon. Compact it down as hard as you can.
  6. Brush the top with water and sprinkle with some caster or granulated sugar.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes. When cooked, leave to cool in the tin – like cookies and shortbread, it will harden as it cools.
  8. Best eaten warm on the same day, cut into equal squares with some chocolate custard -(good old Bird’s custard, please, to which a few squares of cooking chocolate is added) or left to cool completely before cutting.