Friday, 18 January 2008

Boston Brown Bread

Boston brown bread is the classic accompaniment to baked beans. You don't see it much anymore though. It was mostly made at home - it's easy and it doesn't keep terribly well - so unlike the beans, there is no well-known commercial version. I love the stuff: the dense, moist grainy texture, the sweetness of the molasses and raisins, with plenty of butter or cream cheese.

In spite of being called a bread, Boston brown bread is in many ways more like a pudding in the traditional meaning of the word; i.e. a boiled or steamed grain and fruit dish, formed by a mold, cloth or casings into a ball or loaf shape. I wonder if it is perhaps the very youngest member of that family; a return to old techniques of cooking when early American cooks had to adapt to a lack of good yeast and ovens and wheat flour for bread, combined with the use of the New World grain corn, and the New World leavening agent baking soda.

Although it is easy it can be a bit intimidating if you haven't made it before. Two hours of steaming requires some planning ahead and also decent ventilation. You also need to save up some tins, if you are going to make it in the traditional way. Coffee tins used to be called for, but we don't drink coffee, and does it even come in tins anymore? At any rate, tomatoes or pumpkin purée purchased in 796-ml (28 ounce) tins will give you the right sized cans for this; you will need two. I am also experimenting with cooking the bread in 500-ml wide-mouthed canning jars. In this case you will need four of them. I think you will need less time to steam them (maybe an hour and a half) but I'm not completely clear about that yet. I'll update this recipe once I know. As usual, I made mine without wheat, so instead of the traditional cup of wheat flour I used half buckwheat and half rice flour. That works fine.

Serve it with Baked Beans with Pork or with Navy Beans with Herbs and Tomatoes. It's also great for breakfast with a good, tangy cream cheese.

2 to 4 loaves - 24 slices
2 hours 30 minutes - 15 minutes prep time

Boston Brown BreadThis is the loaf out of the 28 ounce food tin, which gives it its customary round shape.

Boston Brown Bread with Butter1/4 cup soft butter to grease tins

1/2 cup buckwheat flour
AND 1/2 cup brown rice flour
OR 1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup dark rye flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup raisins

2 1/3 cups buttermilk
2/3 cup fancy (light baking) molasses

Use the butter to generously grease the tins; either 2 28-ounce (796-ml) food tins OR 4 500-ml (2 cup) wide-mouthed canning jars. If they aren't wide-mouthed, you won't be able to get the bread out.

Put all the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. Add the buttermilk and molasses, and mix well. Divide the mixture equally into the prepared tins or jars. Put a layer of parchment paper and aluminum foil over the top, and hold it in place with string or a large elastic band (tins) or the screw band (jars).

Put the prepared tins or jars into a steamer, with water coming half-way up the sides of the tins or jars.* Bring to a boil, and boil for 1 and 1/2 to 2 hours, until done. You can use a toothpick to test it. Check the water level regularly, and add more boiling water if needed.

The best steamer I have found is a pot set that was sold for cooking pasta, which has a large deep pot, a perferated insert of similar size, and a steamer tray that can go on top of that as well as a lid. I never use it to cook spaghetti, but it's a great steamer.

* Do not bring the water to a boil before adding the prepared tins or jars. Especially don't do that with the jars. They will likely break. Ask me how I know this, duh.


caitlin said...

I love your post, I have scores of warm and fuzzy memories of eating brown bread growing up. Maybe I'll have to finnally make some my self.

I'm a Bostonian and here you can find Brown Bread in any grocery store, tho my husband who grew up only 100 miles away had never heard of it until he met me. Maybe it's because I an Irish girl and he's Portuguese?

Kevin said...

That bread looks nice all dark and molassesy and full of raisins. I like the sound of the cream cheese version.

ev said...

I also have super big love for brown bread, and recently remembered how much I loved eating it while growing up in Boston. I'm slightly intimidated to make it...but I'm going to give it a shot! Great blog!

Annabelle said...

I' m very glad to find beautiful picture of Boston Brown Bread.
I work for a weekly magazin in Montreal, called L'Épicerie, which a the related to the very popular TV show on Radio-Canada.
We're about to publish an article on the Boston Brown Bread, but it's very difficult to find good picture of it. Yours are beautiful.
Do you allow us to use them into the magazin ?

As a credit, we could write the name and address of the blog.

Please let me now very soon if you agree. My request is rush because we're printing on october, friday 23th.

Thanks a lot.

All the best,


Ferdzy said...

Annabelle; yes you have my permission to use those photos. I would appreciate the credit, as you say.