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Boston Brown Bread


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I've been playing around with baked beans, and now I want to make some Boston Brown Bread. Recipes are all over the place wrt flour, adding molasses, alcohol, fruit. I'd like to find something that's reasonably close to an early recipe, realizing, of course, that even back then there were local and individual variations.

So, what flours were typical? Was brandy or rum used as a flavoring agent? What type of molasses is most typical? What other ingredients, recipes, or techniques might I want to consider? What should be avoided if looking for "authenticity?" I saw a couple of recipes that included vanilla - somehow that doesn't seem like it would have been in early recipes, but, of course, I don't really know. Thanks!

 ... Shel


 

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Look for a formula that just has baking soda in it, no baking powder. This one is pretty accurate, notice that it does not contain white or brown sugar nor does it contain baking powder.

Molasses in several grades has been available for a long time, the darkness depends on what stage of the refining process it's been through. Generally, for older recipes, use a dark molasses.

The recipe explains brown bread flour, which is sold in New England.

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This appears to be the recipe in the original Fanny Farmer Cookbook: Boston Brown Bread. One doesn't have to use an old can as a mold, but that would be traditional. The book as a whole calls for prodigious quantities of molasses. I remember this bread well from childhood.

Per la strada incontro un passero che disse "Fratello cane, perche sei cosi triste?"

Ripose il cane: "Ho fame e non ho nulla da mangiare."

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I have used this recipe several times. I bake it in my covered Le Creuset terrine baker with aluminum foil under the cast iron cover.

I have baked it in cans (the tall coffee tins) but it is not easy to get it out cleanly.

I use a dark CANE syrup - usually Lyle's Black Treacle - as it is as close to the original New England product as we can get today.

Do NOT use corn syrup!

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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Paging janeer to thread!

Ha. Well, here I am. Boston Brown Bread should be made with graham flour, white (jonnycake) cornmeal, rye, molasses. Raisins (I soak in whisky) became traditional in more modern versions, but at one point were a luxury, as are walnuts, which I like, but are not as traditional as just raisins. Steaming in cans gives the traditional shape; you can also steam in a pudding mold. Here is a recipe.

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Boston Brown Bread should be made with graham flour, white (jonnycake) cornmeal, rye, molasses. Raisins (I soak in whisky) became traditional in more modern versions, but at one point were a luxury, as are walnuts, which I like, but are not as traditional as just raisins. Steaming in cans gives the traditional shape; you can also steam in a pudding mold. Here is a recipe.

When I started looking for brown bread ideas, I went to your site and grabbed the referenced reciped. I've not yet started looking for graham flour and johnnycake cornmeal ... not sure where I'd find it around here. What might good substitutes be? If I decide to use them, can they be ordered on line somewhere? Thanks!

 ... Shel


 

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Bob's Red Mill graham flour is widely available - they have it at my local Walmart. You can order it online from Amazon

I don't think the graham flour of today is like that which was developed in the 1820s - when Boston brown bread had already been a staple for a century or more. The truly original stuff was made with "plain" wheat flour and maize meal and strongly flavored molasses was used to cover the flavor of the whole wheat flour - before there were mills that could separate the parts that contained oils (and much of the nutrients) the flour would quickly become rancid and THRIFTY homemakers were not about to throw it out so made this which was more palatable. They used "plums" (prunes) originally because they were grown and dried locally and raisins were more expensive.

Johnnycake cornmeal is simply finely milled cornmeal and you can use Bob's Red Mill FINE cornmeal. Also available at Amazon.

I have ordered the Johnnycake cornmeal from Kenyon's and I was not really impressed. Having grown up in the south, I am very partial to cornbread, grits and all things made from corn.

Johnnycake is not a southern thing - more New England states.

Rye flour is easy to find but some is better than others. The closest to the original would be pumpernickel rye and again, the easiest to find is Bob's - it is "sweeter" than most rye flours and give a better texture.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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andiesenji,

I didn't think of Bob's, and there are a number of stores in my area that carry the brand, so it's quite possible that one of them will have the graham flour.

I'm going to try the Rhode Island flint cornmeal that Janeer mentioned, just to see what it's like. I can always get another corn meal if the result is unsatisfactory. I found a couple of places on line that will send it mail order.

Thanks for your help.

ETA: Yikes! I just checked the prices for shipping the Rhode Island cornmeal. I'll get something locally for a lot less money, and be just a little less authentic.

Edited by Shel_B (log)

 ... Shel


 

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There were pudding/bread molds that were like a springform pan. Personally, I have used coffee cans and put them in my steamer. As we all know, coffee cans are becoming an endangered species...

"A cloud o' dust! Could be most anything. Even a whirling dervish.

That, gentlemen, is the whirlingest dervish of them all." - The Professionals by Richard Brooks

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[...] As we all know, coffee cans are becoming an endangered species...

True, but there are still plenty of cans around that have been used for vegetables, beans, fruit, and juices.

 ... Shel


 

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andiesenji,

I didn't think of Bob's, and there are a number of stores in my area that carry the brand, so it's quite possible that one of them will have the graham flour.

I'm going to try the Rhode Island flint cornmeal that Janeer mentioned, just to see what it's like. I can always get another corn meal if the result is unsatisfactory. I found a couple of places on line that will send it mail order.

Thanks for your help.

ETA: Yikes! I just checked the prices for shipping the Rhode Island cornmeal. I'll get something locally for a lot less money, and be just a little less authentic.

I phoned my baker friend, who is originally from Mass. (Marlborough) and worked at a local bakery that specialized in brown bread. He said they bought "regular" corn meal which was rather coarse and put part of it in a food processor to make it finer and mixed the two grinds together to get a product closer to the stone ground meal in the original product. They used whole wheat flour and rye flour and added some wheat germ to make up for the less germ in modern whole wheat flour.

They steamed it in fluted pudding tins for a more attractive product.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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I phoned my baker friend, who is originally from Mass. (Marlborough) and worked at a local bakery that specialized in brown bread. He said they bought "regular" corn meal which was rather coarse and put part of it in a food processor to make it finer and mixed the two grinds together to get a product closer to the stone ground meal in the original product. They used whole wheat flour and rye flour and added some wheat germ to make up for the less germ in modern whole wheat flour.

They steamed it in fluted pudding tins for a more attractive product.

Thanks for the suggestions and the effort to get 'em! It looks like it might be fun experimenting around trying to get a "just right" result.

 ... Shel


 

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I dropped by Ben's place earlier this evening and we had a chat after the shop closed. He said the bakery "back home" had originally used stoneware "pudding basins" lined with cheesecloth (the fine butter muslin type) but as customers became more sophisticated and wanted something more attractive they opted to get the fluted pudding tins - which are usually used for Christmas plum puddings. He says "cans" per se were not used until fairly late in the 19th century because before that time LEAD solder was used and as it had a low melting point the cans would come apart with extended heating. Some can manufacturers continued to use lead solder into the 20th century.

Bakeries that specialize in brown bread use shaped pans because they do not want to have their product look like the mass-produced canned stuff.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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[...] As we all know, coffee cans are becoming an endangered species...

True, but there are still plenty of cans around that have been used for vegetables, beans, fruit, and juices.

Watch out what kinds of cans you use, most are now lined with plastic -which will melt into the bread, taste terrible and be bad for your health. Coffee cans are one of the few types that currently don't have linings. Anything even slightly acidic (most juices, fruits, tomatoes) will definitely have a plastic liner in the can.

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Watch out what kinds of cans you use, most are now lined with plastic -which will melt into the bread, taste terrible and be bad for your health. Coffee cans are one of the few types that currently don't have linings. Anything even slightly acidic (most juices, fruits, tomatoes) will definitely have a plastic liner in the can.

Good point ...and numerous cans contain BPA, although that may only be in those cans that have plastic linings. Perhaps, to make things easier and safer, I should look for some sort of shaped baking cups, like andiesenji mentioned.

 ... Shel


 

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This is the type of pudding mold Ben mentioned.

Interesting that the black treacle that I have used is also listed on this page...

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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This is the type of pudding mold Ben mentioned.

I saw that, and other, similar molds, after posting my comment earlier this morning. I wonder if a 2-quart capacity might be a little big for my needs.

I also saw some smaller sizes with more interesting designs embossed on them, and also a few made of material other than plated steel.

Edited by Shel_B (log)

 ... Shel


 

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You don't have to fill it up to the top and you have to allow for some expansion. I measured mine, which is a "Turks-head" swirl and it is 1.5 qt.

I have a taller, narrower one that is 1.7 qt

I have four of the small 3-cup ones that I use for plum puddings - & etc. I got them from La Cuisine which is a favorite vendor because they carry some hard to find items.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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I love Boston Brown Bread. Isn't it funny that something that was originally intended to be made as a matter of economy to use up possible rancid grains, is now so pricey to make from scratch? My mother, a Southern girl, used to buy it in a can at the market and steam it to eat as a treat with bean suppers.

Shel_B, I saw on a different site the other day, a picture of someone baking bread on their Weber grill in a Dutch oven. You weren't the only one thinking that was a good idea.

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