A few months ago my addiction to recipes with long ingredients, preferably obscure, led me to make Smitten Kitchen's 19 ingredient Russian Black bread (and Julia Child's ratatouille, lasagna Bolognese from scratch and many four layer cakes). The endeavor left our cupboard overflowing with bags of rye, cornmeal and whole wheat flours. Determined to use them again in a more modest recipes, I stumbled upon a recipes for Boston Brown Bread in Amanda Hesser's NYTimes cookbook.
Boston brown bread is a traditional New England bread, made with “brown flour,” or a mix that usually contains a combination of wheat, whole wheat, rye and corn meal. According to some research on the internet, it was invented by settlers as a way to supplement the more expensive flour (wheat) with flours that were in abundance (rye and corn). It also traditionally contains milk (or buttermilk), baking soda, molasses or maple syrup and raisins. I added some walnuts as well.
Boston brown bread is traditionally cooked in a re-purposed coffee can. Other recipes suggest that it can be make in two smaller cans or a pudding mold. I had none of the above, so I tried it in a standard loaf pan. The other thing that makes this bread unique is its cooking method. Instead of being baked, it is steamed so that it remains moist. The pan (or can) is covered very tightly with foil (some recipes suggest tying it with string) and placed in larger pan filled with water, so that the water come halfway up the sides of the bread pan. The cooking time for this method is quite long, so the second time I made the bread, I baked it instead per Mark Bittman's instructions. It turned out the same: moist and delicious.
It tastes like a cross between a bran muffin and a great loaf of whole wheat bread. It’s lack of butter or oil draws it away from the pastry category, but with the molasses it is sweeter than your average sandwich bread. The second time I added about a tbs. less molasses and more walnuts. Feel free to play around with it depending on your tastes. I like to eat it toasted with a little butter or peanut butter.
Boston Brown Bread
Makes 1 loaf
½ c. rye flour
½ c. whole wheat flour
½ c. corn meal
6 tbs. molasses (or less)
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 c. buttermilk
¼ c. raisins
¼ c. roughly chopped walnuts
1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Grease an 8x4 loaf pan generously with butter.
2. Mix the flours, the baking soda and the salt together. Stir in the molasses and butter milk until just combined. Gently stir in the raisins and walnuts.
3. Spread the batter in the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour. Remove and let cool (it will be a pretty flat loaf- don't worry).