BOSTON STEAMED BROWN BREAD: An Oldie But Goodie!

Every now and then I come across a long-forgotten recipe. Such was the case the other day while thumbing through my old Joy of Cooking cookbook. Boston Steamed Brown Bread!  

For those of you unfamiliar with Boston Steamed Brown Bread, it’s a flavorful quick bread that’s cooked in a can and steamed in a water bath. It’s sliced into discs and can be eaten plain, smeared with cream cheese, paired with egg salad – really, the ideas are endless!

This bread takes minutes to prepare, but 3 hours to steam (which is hands off, of course), so make sure you get your timing worked out.

Traditionally, Boston Steamed Brown Bread was cooked in a coffee can, but I found that a 28-oz can – such as the can from whole tomatoes – is the perfect size to contain the entire recipe. You can, also, divvy up the batter between tomato paste cans or the slightly larger soup can, if you’re looking to make canapes. I would suggest making sure the can is BPA free (it will say it on the label).

BOSTON STEAMED BROWN BREAD – makes 1 loaf

  • 1 cup (250 ml) buttermilk
  • 3/8 cup (88 ml, 4 oz) dark molasses or treacle
  • 1/2 cup (63 g) raisins
  • 1/2 cup (76 g, 2+5/8 oz) cornmeal – I’ve used medium & coarse grind
  • 1/2 cup (56 g, 2 oz) rye flour
  • 1/2 cup (76 g, 2+5/8 oz) graham flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda

Combine the buttermilk, molasses, and raisins in a bowl.

In a larger bowl, combine the cornmeal, rye, graham, salt, and baking soda.

Prepare your can by buttering the bottom and sides thoroughly. Cut out a parchment circle to fit the can bottom and lay it flat on the can floor – you don’t have to butter it.

Put about 1½” of water into a pot that’s taller than the can.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and gently stir to combine.

Pour into prepared can so it’s no more than 3/4 full. (This recipe is the perfect amount for a 28 oz (794 g) can. Cover top tightly with foil with an overhang of about 1″ (2 cm).

Place in water bath, turning flame on high to bring a slow boil. Turn down flame to maintain a simmer, cover pot with lid, and steam for 3 hours.  SET A TIMER – 3 HOURS IS LONG ENOUGH YOU MAY FORGET WHEN YOU STARTED! (Uh, this may have happened to someone I know.)

After 3 hours, remove can from water bath and discard foil.

Let set 20 minutes then flip can and let bread slowly drop out. Discard parchment. Let loaf cool, at least, an hour before slicing. (A proper bread knife will give you nice clean slices!)

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