Boston Brown Bread

Recipe by PJ Hamel

And you thought it only came out of a can, right? Boston brown bread is actually a mixture of rye and wheat flours and cornmeal, sweetened with molasses, moistened with buttermilk, and steamed in a steamer for hours atop the stove. Follow this traditional approach, or bake the bread in the oven. The results are remarkably similar — peel off the foil to reveal a moist, delicious brown bread!

10 mins
1 hr 10 mins
1 hr 20 mins
one 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" or Bundt-shaped loaf
Boston Brown Bread


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  1. If baking the bread, preheat the oven to 325°F; no need to preheat the oven if you choose to steam the bread on the stovetop. 

  2. Lightly grease an 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" loaf pan or a 10-cup Bundt pan.

  3. To make the bread: In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the pumpernickel flour, cornmeal, whole wheat flour, baking soda, salt, and currants or raisins.

  4. In a separate small bowl, beat together the buttermilk and molasses until smooth.

  5. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined; there's no need to beat the batter.

  6. Spoon the batter into your chosen pan, and cover the pan with buttered aluminum foil, fastening the foil tight to the edges of the pan (so the bread will steam a bit), but ballooning it in the center, so the bread has room to expand without hitting the foil.

  7. To bake in the oven: Bake the bread in the preheated oven for 1 hour. Remove the foil (the middle of the loaf may be slightly sunken; that's OK), and bake for an additional 10 minutes. The bread is done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, or with a few moist crumbs clinging to it.

  8. To steam the bread: Secure the foil cover with a rubber band. Place a steamer insert (or some crumpled aluminum foil) in the bottom of a deep kettle; you want to shield your Bundt or loaf pan from resting on the bottom of the kettle. Place the pan into the kettle, atop the insert or foil. The kettle should be deep enough so its lid can cover the pan with a bit of room to spare.

    Fill the kettle with boiling water two-thirds of the way up the pan. Bring the water back to a boil, lower it to a simmer, then place the lid on the kettle. Steam for about 2 hours, adding water if necessary. The bread is done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, or with a few moist crumbs clinging to it.

  9. Remove the bread from the kettle or the oven, and let it cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before turning it out of the pan onto a rack to cool completely.

  10. Storage instructions: Store leftover bread, well wrapped, in the refrigerator for up to five days; freeze for longer storage.