I have wanted to try Boston Brown Bread for a long time.
It seemed like an old-timey, old fashioned, piece of American history that I was missing out on.
I relish learning about what people of the past lived like, what they experienced, what they ate, how they cooked, and what their daily life's involved. I had read about Boston Brown Bread being made in pioneer stories and wanted to be able to experience it for myself.
I found a recipe for Boston Brown Bread in American Classics, a cook book by the editors of Cook's Illustrated magazine that was a wedding gift from my mother. I love the Cook's Illustrated magazine and check out a few issues from the library when I want a treat. :)
I was not sure what to expect as far as flavor goes. I thought Boston Brown Bread might be more of an acquired taste or may be just a bread you enjoyed because of the nostalgia associated with it. The ingredients were kind of an odd combination from my 21st century perspective.
All of the recipes I have seen for Boston Brown Bread call for at least three types of flour, usually including; rye, cornmeal, and whole wheat, also a healthy dose of molasses, and raisins.
Boston Brown Bread is chemically leavened with baking soda and buttermilk. I used kefir in the place of buttermilk because I don't have buttermilk. They are both acidic and can usually be interchanged.
Traditional Boston Brown Bread is cooked in small round coffee cans. I don't have small metal coffee cans. I was glad that the authors of the recipe that I was following did not have metal coffee cans either. :) They developed their recipe to be cooked in loaf pans covered tightly with greased aluminum foil.
My loaf pans were a little bit larger (9x5) than the size of the loaf pans called for (8 1/2x4) so, my finished breads were not very tall.
The breads are cooked by steaming on the stove top. I had to use my water bath canning pots because they were the only pots I had that were large enough to fit my loaf pans inside.
When the loaves were finished and still warm I had my first taste of Boston Brown Bread. It was delicious!
I was so pleasantly surprised! It is not a sweet bread like banana or zucchini bread, but the molasses does lend a subtle sweetness akin to sorghum. There are no spices that you may expect to be associated with the raisins. I felt that the raisins dotted throughout were a nice accent. The flavors from the cornmeal and rye flour were robust, but, well balanced.
I would say that you could describe the whole over all flavor as, well balanced. So many of the ingredients could be over powering if they were aloud to be; molasses, cornmeal, raisins, rye flour, whole wheat flour, these are all strong flavors, but I felt that each one could be distinguished and, also, appreciated.
That sums up my review, now on to the recipe!
Boston Brown Bread
2 TBS. butter, softened
1 cup cornmeal. preferably stone-ground
1 cup rye flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup raisins
2 cups kefir or buttermilk
3/4 cup molasses, preferably dark or robust
1. fold two 16 by 12-inch pieces of foil in half to yield two foil rectangles measuring 12 by 8 inches. With butter, liberally grease two 8 1/2 by 4-inch loaf pans as well as the center portion of each piece of foil.
2. Combine softened butter and all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix until well blended. Add the raisins and mix until uniformly dispersed. While mixing slowly add the kefir (or buttermilk) and molasses and mix until fully combined. Evenly divide the batter between the greased loaf pans and wrap very tightly with the buttered foil.
3. Set each loaf pan in a large Dutch oven or a roasting pan and fill each vessel with enough water to reach halfway up the side of each loaf pan. (If your roasting pan is large enough, you may be able to fit both loaves in one pan.)
Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, reduce the heat to low, and cover with a lid.
Check the water level every 30 minutes to make sure the water still reaches halfway up the sides of the loaf pans. Cook until a skewer inserted in the middle of the loaves comes out clean, about 2 hours. Carefully remove the loaves from the pans and transfer them to a cooling rack. Cool for 10 minutes. Slice and serve.