New England Brown Bread

Brown bread is primarily a New England delicacy often served with traditional Maine Bean suppers. For as long as I can remember I’ve always called it canned bread. Its a slightly sweet quick bread made from multiple flours such as corn meal, wheat and rye. Its usually sweetened with molasses and sometimes contains raisins. I prefer it with raisins and a sneaky spike of cinnamon. Although cinnamon is not traditional I really think it makes this special. Most new england food is based around the early settlers, the puritans, the pilgrims.  Traditional old New England food is based upon their diets which were pretty basic.  What was actually on hand was limited. Spices, dairy and sugar were a rarity but corn meal and molasses became very popular staples to the New England diet.

To cook this bread its placed in a tin and steamed for up to 2 hours. I’m sure this treat has made its way to other regions, but honestly it seems to be a dying tradition everywhere. Although its fairly easy to find the store bought variety its much, much better home made. I’ve seen it in every grocery mart I’ve ever shopped in. Even here in Pennsylvania. The hardest part of making this bread for me is preparing myself and finding a tin that will work. Normally New Englanders use coffee cans but I personally will not drink coffee from a can, do they still even  sell metal cans? So, I turned to my pantry and looked and looked and looked… towards the very back was a long forgotten tin of yams! Its about a 40 ounce can and it works absolutely PERFECT for this 1 loaf recipe. You can double the recipe easily and make two tins or you can divide the dough into 2 small tins to make mini loaves. A 2 cup fruit or vegetable can will work just fine but adjust your cooking time. One large loaf will give you about 8 large slices. I served mine with a delicious cinnamon cream cheese spread. (and then later of course with a proper bean supper)

You will Need:

  • A large pot with a steaming tray, such as a pasta pot or a canning pot with a lid. If you do not have something similar you can get a heat proof dish such as a small pie plate and place it at the bottom of a large soup pot.
  • tin cans- for this recipe 1 coffee tin -or- 40 ounce yam tin , two 2 cup tins will work
  • parchment paper
  • aluminum foil
  • rubber bands, hair ties, string …or duct tape

New England Brown Bread:

  • 1/2 cup wheat flour (I use white wheat Its not quite as harsh)
  • 1/2 cup rye flour
  • 1/2 cup stone ground corn meal
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup raisins soaked in 1/4 cup boiling water
  • 1 cup buttermilk (or sour milk)
  • 1/3 cup molasses

Place 1/2 cup of raisins in a bowl and cover with 1/4 cup of boiling water. Allow to plump 10 minutes to an hour. Combine wheat flour, rye flour, corn meal, salt, baking soda and cinnamon. Whisk gently together just to get rid of any huge clumps. Combine molasses, buttermilk and raisins with the dry mixture. Stir just to combine. Do not over mix.

Butter your tins liberally and pour mixture filling it half way. Tap the mixture down to remove any air bubbles. Cut a square (about 4″ square) of parchment paper and place it on top of the tin. Cut two to three pieces of aluminum foil and wrap it around the top of the tin on top of the parchment. Wrap tightly with a rubber band, string or even duct tape. I used an “ouchless” hair tie. Repeat with any additional cans.

Place the prepared cans in the bottom of your pot. Fill the pot with water up about half way on the can. Place the lid on and bring to a rapid boil. Boil on high for the first 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and continue to steam an additional hour to hour and a half. To test the breads done-ness use a long skewer or knife and insert it towards the middle of the bread. If it comes out clean your ready. Place the parchment and foil back on the tin and set aside until your ready to eat it. It will stay warm about an hour.

Cream Cheese Spread:

  • 2 tablespoons softened butter
  • 2 ounces (1/4 cup) softened cream cheese
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • *pinch of salt

Combine and refrigerate.