This Boston Brown Bread recipe is so easy to prepare and steam in the slow cooker. Boston brown bread is a traditional New England bake prepared with plain [all-purpose] wheat flour, rye flour and cornmeal, and flavoured with rich molasses and juicy raisins.
Enjoy a wedge of this vegan brown bread spread with vegan butter, or dunk it into your favourite soup or stew, or toast it and serve with a scoop of home-made Boston baked beans. So tasty and perfect for cosy Autumn meals.
What is Boston Brown Bread?
Boston brown bread also known as brown bread, is a New England traditional bread and dates back to at least the 1800s colonial era.
Brown bread was an inexpensive staple as cornmeal, rye, wheat flour, and molasses were readily available and could be prepared together to create a batter that could be steamed over a fire place.
Not every New Englander had access to an oven but most could use a fire place or even set up an outside fire pit. Even if an oven was available it took many many hours to heat the oven enough to bake anything and maintaining the ovens temperature was a difficult chore. Therefore many colonists would only use their oven once a week and would attempt to get all their baking done at once.
A can shaped mould was used to cook the bread which gave the bread its unique oblong circular shape. Indeed a coffee or baked bean can is a popular more modern mould that can be used to steam or bake brown bread.
In the US B&M the food manufacturing company produce cans of brown bread which is already steamed and ready-to-eat straight from the can. Over in the UK we have nothing like that readily available. But we do have access to tasty recipes and so can easily prepare steamed brown bread at home.
While researching how to prepare Boston brown bread and its origins, I discovered this cute Boston brown bread rhyme in a very old book and thought I would share it:
Boston Brown Bread Rhyme:
One cup of sweet milk,
One cup of sour.
One cup of cornmeal,
One cup of flour.
Teaspoon of soda,
Molasses one cup.
Steam for three hours,
Then eat it all up.Author: Unknown
How to prepare slow cooker Boston brown bread
Boston brown bread is traditionally sweetened with molasses but if this ingredient is difficult to source, especially if your in the UK, then black treacle can be used instead.
First prepare the sour plant milk by stirring the vinegar into one cup of milk and leaving for 5-10 minutes.
Next, prepare the sweet plant milk by mixing the brown sugar through ½ a cup of milk.
Set the slow cooker to the high setting and pour in 2 cups of water. Place the cooker lid over and leave to preheat while the bread is prepared.
Sieve the cornmeal, rye flour and plain [all-purpose] flour into a mixing bowl.
Tip in the salt, bicarbonate of soda, and baking powder.
Next add the molasses and raisins.
Pour in the sour milk and sweet milk.
Stir until thoroughly combined.
Scoop the bread batter into a greased pudding basin.
Top with a circular layer of greaseproof/baking parchment.
Cover with a large layer of kitchen foil, bunching up the top to allow for the bread to rise.
Tightly press the foil around the edges near the top of the basin.
Place the basin into the slow cooker and pour enough hot water into the cooker so that the water level is at least half way up the pudding basin.
Pop the slow cooker lid on and cook for 8 hours on high.
Once ready remove from the cooker and leave the bread in the basin until the bowl is cool enough to handle.
Tip the bread out of the pudding basin and its ready to enjoy.
Recipe notes and FAQs
Boston brown bread can be stored within a food/bread bag or wrapped in a layer of kitchen foil, and stored within a bread bin/container. This bread will store well for 2-3 days.
Older slices can be refreshed within a warm oven for a few minutes, dry fried in a non-stick pan, or toasted.
Brown bread can be frozen for 3-4 months. Wrap well with food wrap and freeze as a whole loaf or as individual slices.
Cornflour is the starch that is removed from ground corn kernels. It is a very fine white powder and is most commonly used to thicken soups, stews and sauces. In the US and other countries cornflour may be known as cornstarch. Cornflour or cornstarch is not the type of flour that is needed to prepare brown bread.
Whereas, cornmeal is the whole of the corn dried and ground to a flour-like consistency. The cornmeal flour can be ground into a fine, medium or coarse texture.
Other recipes may call for different types of cornmeal, but for this vegan recipe fine cornmeal is used.
Fine cornmeal is also called fine polenta as the same cornmeal can be used to prepare Italian polenta as well as cornbread.
The brand used for this recipe was Natco Fine Corn Meal and I have included an amazon affiliate link within the recipe card so you can see which one has been used. But of course you may be able to source a cheaper cornmeal in a local shop.
Although, feel free to use any variety or brand of cornmeal that is easily available or that you usually use. Just bear in mind that the texture of the bread may be slightly different if a coarser cornmeal is used, but I wouldn't think it would be too significant.
The protein content of plant milk varies so certain types such as soya milk react more readily, by curdling, when mixed with an acid such as lemon juice or vinegar. Therefore home-made plant buttermilk or sour milk can be achieved more readily if a high protein plant milk is chosen.
Soya, oat, or almond milk are good choices, but really any plant milk can be used for the Boston brown bread recipe as the aim is for sour milk so curdling the milk is not especially necessary. Mixing the plant milk with vinegar will create a sour flavoured milk which is perfect for brown bread.
Technically, sultanas [golden raisins] or perhaps currants could replace the raisins if preferred. Certainly there is no need to go out and buy raisins specifically for this recipe if you already have a perfectly good bag of less expensive sultanas in the pantry, and your trying to be frugal. If it was me I would just use the sultanas.
Also, dried cranberries may not be authentic but could replace the raisins especially for a tasty holiday or Thanksgiving themed Boston brown bread.
However, if you really dislike the idea of raisins then simply omit. But they do add delicious moistness and flavour to the brown bread and plump up so much into little gems of juicy tastiness, that they may convince you to enjoy raisins!
The answer to this question differs between people and recipes. Some people prefer black-strap molasses whereas others find it a tad bitter, others prefer using light molasses for baking as it provides less of the rich molasses flavour.
Also, a mix of blackstrap and light molasses may be preferred by some as it provides the best of both bitterness and sweetness.
Alternatively if your in the UK, black treacle could replace the molasses or perhaps use an equal mix of black treacle and golden syrup for a less intense and more sweet flavour.
Although I am from the UK, and used black strap molasses that I purchased from my local health/wholefood store and in my opinion it produced a tasty Boston brown bread. As a bonus, Black strap molasses has valuable nutritional content and so its worth adding to your diet if you like it.
A few ideas:
* Boston baked beans
* Baked beans in a tomato sauce
* British mushy peas
* serve these creamed chickpeas or this creamed spinach or these creamy butterbeans on top of toasted Boston brown bread
* Old-fashioned Irish potato soup
* Old-fashioned creamed corn soup
* Vegan traditional British 'beef' stew
* Vegan creamed 'beef' and barley stew
* Slow cooker chilli with fluffy quinoa
Slow Cooker Boston Brown Bread
- 3.5 litre/quart slow cooker [or use a larger slow cooker]
- 1 litre/ 1 quart pudding basin [or a 1.5 litre/quart sized] pudding basin] use a Pyrex glass pudding basin, or a ceramic pudding dish or plastic steamed pudding mould or similar
- greaseproof paper [baking/parchment paper]
- kitchen foil aluminium foil
Plant sour milk:
- 250 millilitres plant milk [such as oat/soya or your usual milk]
- 2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar or white distilled vinegar
Plant sweet milk:
- 125 mililitres plant milk [such as oat or soya or your usual milk]
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar [light brown or dark brown]
Prepare sour milk:
- Add the apple cider vinegar to the 250ml/1 cup of plant milk. Stir well.2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar, 250 millilitres plant milk
Prepare sweet milk:
- Add the brown sugar to the 125ml/½ cup of plant milk. Stir well.1 teaspoon brown sugar, 125 mililitres plant milk
Prepare slow cooker and baking basin:
- Switch the slow cooker to the high setting. Pour in 500ml/2 cups of water and place the lid over the cooker.
- Rub the pudding basin with a generous amount of vegan margarine or oil as this will prevent the bread sticking.Cut a circle of greaseproof/baking paper the same circumference as the top of the pudding basin.
Prepare the bread:
- Sieve the plain flour, rye flour and cornmeal into a mixing bowl. Tip in any bits of the flour that are too big to make it through the sieve.135 gram plain flour, 130 gram rye flour, 140 gram cornmeal
- Next add the bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and salt.1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt
- Tip in the raisins and stir well.100 gram raisins
- Scoop in the molasses and pour in the sour and sweet plant milks.170 gram molasses
- Give it all a good mix.
- Transfer the bread batter into the greased pudding basin. Level out the top.
- Place the greaseproof paper circle over the top.
- Rip a piece of kitchen foil large enough to provide some room for the bread to rise during steaming. Scrunch the kitchen foil tightly around the top of the pudding basin so that the steam can not get access into the pudding basin. The middle part of the pudding basin kitchen foil lid will be a little baggy.
- Place the pudding basin into the slow cooker, and pour hot water into the slow cooker so that the water level sits about ¾ the way up the pudding basin.
- Add the slow cooker lid and leave to steam for 8 hours.
- The bread is ready when it is browned, firm and a skewer popped in the centre comes out clean.
- Carefully remove the pudding basin from the slow cooker. Remove the kitchen foil and baking parchment.Once the pudding basin is cool enough to handle, place a plate or board over the pudding basin, flip the basin over and tap the bottom and sides firmly so that the bread slides out.
- Enjoy warm or at room temperature and spread with vegan butter or margarine.Slices or wedges can be toasted. So tasty.
- Nutritional information is provided for guidance only and is not an exact analysis as ingredients can vary.
- Boston brown bread can be stored within a food/bread bag or wrapped in a layer of kitchen foil, and stored within a bread bin/container.
- Brown bread will be at its best for the first 1-3 days.
- Older slices can be refreshed within a warm oven for a few minutes, dry fried in a non-stick pan, or toasted.
- Boston brown bread can be frozen, well wrapped, for up to 3-4 months. Freezing individual slices makes it easier to pull out one or two slices when needed.
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Thanks so much Jacq x