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Old-Fashioned Boston Brown Bread

Have you heard of this New England classic??

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Have you ever heard of or tried Boston brown bread? It’s a classic New England staple that doesn’t seem to have caught on in other regions, but really everyone should know about it. What it is is a moist, sweetened brown bread that’s chock-full of raisins, that’s got a rich, molasses flavor. The real trick here though is how it’s baked. While you could easily throw this in a loaf pan, the traditional recipe is baked or steamed in a can – while traditionally made in baked beans cans, any old (but clean) can will do.

So let’s get into what makes this bread special, shall we? Do get that nice, deep color (and flavor!) we use a mix of whole wheat and all-purpose flour. Other recipes incorporate rye flour, but we decided to keep ours simple. To the flour we also add molasses and buttermilk. Molasses adds to the darkness and amps up the flavor, the buttermilk keeps things light and moist, and prevents the bread from becoming too heavy or dense. Finally, we mix in some (plumped up, rehydrated) raisins for that added pop of sweetness.

This bread is so good, and it’s got the perfect balance of sweetness. Traditionally, it was served along side hot dogs or baked beans, but we like it in the morning or afternoon with a generous swipe of butter or cream cheese. (Pro tip: warm it up first so your topping of choice is able to melt into the bread a bit.) Whether you serve it the classic way, or you make a batch to grab-and-go as needed throughout your busy day, try out this staple and see if you don’t just end up loving it.

Yield(s): Serves 6-8

1 hour

Rated 4.5 out of 5
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  • 2 1/2 cups wheat flour
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup water, boiling
  • butter, garnish
  1. Preheat oven to 350º F and, if using (cleaned) cans, generously spray 4-5 (15 oz.) cans with non-stick spray. If not using cans, use a greased 9x5-inch loaf pan.
  2. Place raisins in a medium bowl and top with boiling water. Let sit for 10 minutes, or until puffed up.
  3. Combine wheat flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Beat in egg.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk baking soda into buttermilk, then stir in molasses.
  5. Fold wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, mixing until just incorporated, then fold in plumped up raisins.
  6. Pour batter into greased cans, filling them only 1/2 full. Tap cans on counter to remove any air bubbles.
  7. Place cans on a baking sheet, then (optional:) place a second baking sheet on top of the cans (to prevent the bread from baking too high).
  8. Place baking sheet(s) in oven and bake for 50 minutes.
  9. Remove top baking sheet and cook for another 10 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  10. Remove from oven and use a knife to cut around edges of cans. Gently take loaf out of cans and let cool on a wire rack.
  11. Serve with butter or cream cheese and enjoy!

Recipe adapted from Life's Too Short To Skip Dessert