Boston brown bread is one of those dishes that to me, a non-native New Englander, has always been a little bit strange. The idea of steaming a loaf of bread rather than baking it is just weird. To be fair, most of the Boston brown bread I have been served came from a can. That really never seemed very appetizing to me. My husband, a dyed-in-the-wool Bostonian, holds a very different opinion about brown bread and he kept urging me to give it a chance.
I gave in one night when we were having pork chops and baked beans for dinner. How could I say no to brown bread with a meal like that? Turns out, my prejudices were unfounded. Made fresh, Boston brown bread is a delicious mix of whole grain flours with some dark molasses for a hint of sweetness and has a surprisingly light and springy texture. Between the two of us (plus Thing 1) we manged to eat nearly the whole loaf during dinner.
This recipe makes a small loaf (a little smaller than an average loaf pan) which is good because it has to be cooked on the stove top and, yes, steamed in a small amount of boiling water. That means you need to have a pot large enough to fit a loaf pan inside. Luckily, if you use the size loaf pan called for in the recipe, it will fit in a standard 5-quart Dutch oven. This loaf is the perfect side for a Sunday winter dinner in New England (or anywhere else you don’t mind having the stove on for a couple of hours).
Boston Brown Bread
Recipe adapted from Better Homes and Garden New Cook Book, 12th Edition
1/2 cup stone ground cornmeal
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup rye flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk (see note)
1/3 cup molasses (we prefer strong flavored molasses such as black strap)
2 tbls brown sugar
1 tbls cooking oil
Grease 7 1/2 x 3 1/2 x 2 inch loaf pan well, set aside.
In a large mixing bowl whisk the cornmeal, whole wheat flour, rye flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to combine.
In another bowl stir together the buttermilk, molasses, brown sugar, and oil. Gradually add buttermilk mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until combined. Don’t over mix or the bread will be tough. Pour batter into the prepared pan. Grease a piece of foil and place it, greased side down, over the loaf pan. Press the foil around the edges to seal.
Place loaf pan on a rack in a Dutch oven or any other pot which is large enough to hold the loaf pan. Pour hot water into the Dutch oven around loaf pan until the water comes up about 1 inch high on the loaf pan. Bring the water to a boil then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 2 to 2 1/4 hours or until a wooden toothpick inserted near the center of the bread comes out clean. Add additional boiling water to the Dutch oven as needed to keep the water level the same.
Remove the loaf pan from the Dutch oven and let stand 10 minutes. Remove bread from pan.
Slice the bread and serve warm, slathered with butter or cream cheese if desired.
Note: Making Sour Milk – If you don’t have buttermilk on hand when preparing baked goods, substitute sour milk in the same amount. For each cup of sour milk needed, place 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar in a glass measuring cup. Add enough milk to make 1 cup total liquid; stir. Let mixture stand for 5 minutes before using.