You would be forgiven for thinking this is a chocolate cake waiting patiently to be frosted. Seriously, I kept wanting to dust it with powdered sugar. But no. This is a bread. Yep. A steamed Boston Brown Bread, adapted from a fabulous new book written by a friend of mine.
All Stirred Up
The book is All Stirred Up by Laura Kumin, which traces the Suffrage Movement with accompanying recipe sections. The history of the Suffrage Movement is fascinating, as are the recipes.
Laura not only provides a fabulous history of the Suffrage Movement, but also adapts historic recipes from that era so we can make them today in our own kitchens. After all, there are challenges in following recipes written 100 years ago.
In truth, I love looking at recipes from earlier eras to see how our tastes have changed. Well, that, and to see how our measurements and recording recipes has become so much more detailed through the years.
Because, those of us who create recipes want home cooks to be able to make our recipes at home.
Well, Laura solves it all for us with her judicious recipe development techniques. I bow to you, my friend.
For fun, here's the original recipe:
3 cups of Graham flour; 1 cup white flour; 1 cup Sorgum molasses; 2 1/2 cups of sour milk; 2 even teaspoons soda; 1 large teaspoon salt; put equally in 4 large baking powder cans and steam 4 hours. –-Louise Goring, Progressive Household Club
Laura does a fabulous job in the book, but there are a few further adjustments to this Boston Brown Bread recipe for you high altitude cooks and bakers out there. Because, as we all know, we are Ginger Rogers dancing in heels, backwards, up a bunch of stairs, every time we bake.
Making Boston Brown Bread at High Altitude
No matter how you make this bread, it's absolutely delicious. But it was difficult to get the bread to reach 200˚F, even after 2 hours of steaming, although Laura's recipe recommends only 45-60 minutes.
So here are my recommendations for success at high altitudes:
I had more success using a Steamed Pudding Mold (pictured above) than the traditional cans, as I cook and bake at 7100 feet above sea level. This kind of mold is designed with a tight fitting lid that snaps on over the rim of the mold. The mold was much more successful, likely because of the tighter seal.
Follow Laura's directions for steaming the bread.
Check the internal temperature with an instant read thermometer. If the temperature is around 192˚F, finish in a 375˚F oven for 20 minutes, in the mold. I used my toaster oven for this. If the temperature of the bread is higher coming out of the steaming pot, adjust the finish baking time down.
Lightly spray the sides and scooped bottom with olive oil. When cooked and cooled, run a knife around the mold. Flip it upside down. The bread should easily release.
As always, reduce the baking soda for your altitude. At 7100 feet, I reduced mine 25% to 3/4 teaspoon.
There is no need to adjust the liquid since the baking method is very moist by design.
What is Boston Brown Bread?
Boston Brown Bread, called simply Brown Bread in New England, started making its appearance at New England tables in the early 1800s. It was originally made with less expensive coarse flours, and sweetened with molasses, making it affordable to everyone.
The other thing that differentiates this rustic bread from others is that it was always steamed on the stove top, usually in cans. This way even home cooks lacking wood-burning ovens could make this bread.
The texture is very dense and moist, thanks to the baking method, and tastes sweet from the molasses. Adjust the molasses to your own taste, but it's almost like having a thick slab of rustic gingerbread for breakfast.
Needless to say, it was a huge hit at our house. And so is All Stirred Up.
Boston Brown Bread
- 1 1/2 cups (6 2/3 oz / 180g) whole wheat graham flour, See Notes
- 1/2 cup (2 1/10 oz / 60 g) all-purpose (white) flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, (or 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt)
- 1/2 cup (4 fl oz / 118 ml) dark molasses
- 1 1/2 cups (12 fl oz / 360 ml) buttermilk See Notes
- Remove the paper wrapper from 2 empty, BPA-free 28-ounce cans. Wash and dry them, then grease the bottom and sides with cooking spray. Line the bottom of each can with a round of parchment and press it to lay flat.
- Whisk the dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl.
- Add the molasses and buttermilk or soured milk to the dry ingredients, stirring just until combined.
- Divide the batter between the 2 cans, tapping them on the counter to level out the batter. Cover the top of each can with foil, secured tightly around the sides.
- Put the cans in a pot on the stove with water halfway up the cans.
- Cover the pot and bring the water to a simmer on medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and keep it simmering for 45-60 minutes, until the breads are set on the top and sides. The bread should pull away slightly from the sides of the can. The internal temperature of the bread should be 200˚F / 93˚C.
- Remove the cans from the pot. Set them on a wire rack and cool the breads in the cans. Once they are room temperature, use a knife to loosen the bread from the sides of the can, then turn the can upside down and tap it lightly. The bread should slide out.
- Graham flour is slightly coarser than whole wheat, with a nutty, slightly sweet flavor. As a rough substitute for graham flour, you can use a mixture of all-purpose, wheat bran, and (raw) wheat germ in the following proportions: 2/3 cup (2 4/5 oz / 84 g) all-purpose, slightly less than 1/3 cup wheat bran (3/4 oz / 15 g) and 1 1/2 teaspoons wheat germ (2 1/2 g).
- As an alternative to buttermilk, use whole or low-fat milk with 1 tablespoon + 1 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice, stirred until well combined, then left aside at room temperature for 5 minutes.
High Altitude Tips for Making Boston Brown BreadNo matter how you make this bread, it's absolutely delicious. But it can be difficult to get the bread to reach 200˚F, even after 2 hours of steaming at high altitudes. Here are my recommendations to rectify this:
- I had more success using a Steamed Pudding Mold (pictured above) than the traditional cans, as I cook and bake at 7100 feet above sea level. This kind of mold is designed with a tight fitting lid that snaps on over the rim of the mold. The mold was much more successful.
- Placed the mold inside a large pot, such as a Le Creuset, filled with enough water to reach half-way up the sides of the mold. Periodically check to see if you need to add more water. I added more water after approximately 45 minutes to maintain that level. Steam for 60 minutes.
- Check the internal temperature with an instant read thermometer. If the temperature is around 192˚F, finish in a 375˚F oven for 20 minutes, in the mold. I used my toaster oven for this. If the temperature of the bread is higher coming out of the steaming pot, adjust the finish baking time down.
- Re-insert an instant-read thermometer to check the temperature. It should read at least 200˚F, and come out moist, but not liquidy. As Laura states in the recipe, the sides of the bread will pull away from the sides of the baking container.
- It was not necessary to line the mold with parchment paper when using a mold, but I did lightly spray the sides and scooped bottom with olive oil. The bread easily released when it cooled.
- As always, reduce the baking soda for your altitude. At 7100 feet, I reduced mine 25% to 3/4 teaspoon.
- There is no need to adjust the liquid since the baking method is very moist by design.
Welcome to Progressive Eats, our virtual version of a Progressive Dinner Party. This month’s theme is a celebration of women's suffrage, and our host is Laura who blogs at Mother Would Know.
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, a progressive dinner involves going from house to house, enjoying a different course at each location. With Progressive Eats it’s a virtual party. The host for the month chooses the theme and members share recipes on that theme suitable for a delicious meal or party. Then you can hop from blog to blog to check them out. So come along and see all of the delicious and inspired dishes!
- Sparkling Fruit Punch Cocktail – Creative Culinary
- To Broil Chickens (Spatchcocked & Grilled Chicken) – Mother Would Know
- Chicken Pot Pie – The Redhead Baker
- Ginger Bread – The Heritage Cook