An American Tradition: Boston Brown Bread
Though not as well known today, Boston Brown Bread has a pretty interesting history story. Better known in the New England areas, brown bread started making in appearance in the early 1800s. Early settlers where trying to grow wheat, which was their preferred grain for baking. They soon realized that wheat did not grow well in the New England soil and this drove up the prices. Corn on the other hand was a crop that flourished on the east coast, making the price of cornmeal much cheaper and readily available. Another cheap alternative to flour was rye flour.
These two grains made up the main dry ingredients for the bread, occasionally whole wheat flour was added and eventually became a mainstay on the ingredient list. Molasses is added and gives the bread its signature rich color and sweet flavor. Because we are using baking powder and soda as our leavening agents as opposed to yeast, we are able to complete cut out having to factor in a rise time and can go straight from mix to dish to cook.
Another key element that sets it apart from most traditional breads, is the cooking method. Brown bread is typically steamed in a can of some sort until finished cooking. At the time, this was in large part due to the fact that this was a bread for the common people. Using the cheaper grains made this an affordable bread to make at a time when wheat was at an expensive price and not easily affordable to all. Steaming the bread in a can over a fire or stove top made it assessable to most, especially those that didn’t have a wood-burning oven.
Somewhere along the way brown bread started being steamed in coffee cans. I’m not sure if this was because at the time canned foods where not as readily available as it is today, and this was just a common things to have on hand. But after doing loads of research on brown bread and reading multiple variations of recipes, almost everything listed a coffee can as the vestal to steam your bread in. So this took my brown bread adventure on an interesting twist.
I am fortunate enough working here at Clabber Girl, to work someplace that has its very own coffee roasting company. In fact, all our Rex Coffee is roasted in house just 10 steps away from the kitchen I work in on a regular basis. So I started thinking about ways I could tie in our coffee with a bread that is known for being cooked in coffee cans throughout history.
I gathered up old cans we had on hand and started wondering about different ways I could try and incorporate coffee into this historic bread besides just using our old tins. The obvious answer to me was to just try and add coffee to the batter…but would it work? After multiple tests working on the recipe, the ratios, and finally the final taste test…I can honestly say that it did!
5 oz. whole wheat flour
5 oz. rye flour
5 oz. cornmeal
1 tsp. Clabber Girl Baking Powder
1 tsp. Clabber Girl Baking Soda
2 tsp. kosher salt
8 oz. Blackstrap molasses
8 oz. butter milk
8 oz. Rex French Roast Coffee, room temperature
8-10 cups water
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Bring 8-10 cups of water to a boil over medium high heat. While the water is coming to a boil, add all of the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside. In a small mixing bowl, add the molasses and Rex Coffee and whisk together.
Create a small well in the middle of your dry ingredients. Add the buttermilk and molasses-coffee mixture and whisk to completely combine the batter.
Spray the insides of two quart-sized cans with cooking spray. Divide the batter evenly between the two cans. Using aluminum foil, cover the tops of the cans, folding the excess over the outsides of the cans. Use butchers twine to tie around the edges of the can to secure the aluminum foil to the sides. Place cans in Dutch oven or an oven safe pot.
Carefully pour in the boiling water, taking care not to pour the water over the tops of the covered cans, until the water reaches halfway up the side of the can. Bake in a 325 degrees F. oven for 1 hour and 45 minutes or until a knife inserted into the bread comes out clean.
Remove pot from oven, and using oven mitts carefully removed cans from pot and set on a cookie rack. Let cool 15-20 minutes and then gently slide bread out of can to cool completely. Once cool, slice bread and toast and serve with butter or cream cheese.