Boston Brown Bread

4.9/5 - (11 votes)

Boston Brown Bread is an old fashioned ‘quick bread’. It comes from Boston in Massachusetts and is a quick bread. This bread has been popular for many years now. It is made with a combination of rye flour, wholemeal(wholewheat) flour and cornmeal. It also contains molasses which imparts a rich and deep flavour profile to a dense loaf. Black Treacle can be used instead of molasses since it has the same characteristics. It is considered a quick bread since there is no yeast in the loaf. Indeed, the use of rye flour and cornflour wouldn’t necessarily work well with a yeasted dough.

The loaf is dense in texture and has such a rich flavour. From what I have read this bread was traditionally steamed in a coffee can. That gave a cylindrical loaf, which was then sliced into neat little rounds. These days, in the absence of those coffee cans, a 28 ounce(800g) can which is food safe can be used instead.

However such cans are not easily obtained in the UK, so I decided to make mine in a 1lb loaf pan. I checked my pan by filling it with water, which weighed 840g. That meant that it would be large enough to make the loaf.


As I mentioned, above, the bread is usually steamed though I have seen some recipes that will bake it in a loaf pan. I decided to stick to the traditional method of steaming. Of course using a loaf pan meant that I wouldn’t have the traditional round slices of bread. But that really doesn’t matter at all.

Steaming the bread does take a while, as you would expect. The water level needs to be checked from time to time too, so more boiling water can be added if necessary. But the steaming works so well giving a lovely dense and moist bread.

Often some raisins are added into the bread mixture. That provides just a little fruity sweetness to the bread. Although molasses comes from the process of refining sugar, and does have a little sweetness, the flavour profile varies somewhat depending on which type you use. For my bread I used blackstrap molasses which is less sweet and has a robust flavour with a slight bitterness. This works very well for Boston Brown Bread.

Boston Brown Bread
Boston Brown Bread

I have read that Boston Brown Bread is often served with baked beans. However, in my experience, baked beans in the USA are very different to those in the UK. In the USA they seem to be sweeter and stickier in a barbecue type sauce, as opposed to the looser tomato based sauce for UK baked beans. So I decided not to serve mine with baked beans at all. Rather, I decided to try the bread with butter and then with some cheese too.

The recipe is actually very simple and can be mixed and ready to steam in less than 15 minutes.

The loaf pan

As I mentioned I used a 1lb loaf pan, the dimension of which are 7 1/4 inches in length, 3 1/2 inches in width and 2 1/2 inches deep. That is the perfect size for this recipe.

However since many people will have a 2lb loaf pan I should mention that you can simply double the recipe and it will work in that size of pan. It may be, in those circumstances, that the steaming will need to be extended. But it should be checked after 2 hours and if a skewer test comes out clean it will be done.

My Boston Brown Bread

Since I had never had this bread before I did a test before I made the video. The test worked so well, giving me a perfectly formed loaf. The texture was dense and the flavour was rich. I tested the loaf after about 1 hour and 55 minutes and it was fully cooked.

So I knew from experience that the one I made for this recipe and video would work perfectly.

I can only report on the flavour of my test version, since my sister was keen to have this particular one. The loaf slices so well, once cooled, and was perfect for buttering. I enjoyed it just like that, and then I also tried it with some thinly sliced cheese and it was great too. I am sure it would go well with so many things.

Boston Brown Bread – Video

Another lovely recipe using molasses, or black treacle, is Black Treacle/Molasses Cookies.

Boston Brown Bread

Recipe by geoffcooCourse: BreadCuisine: USADifficulty: Easy


Prep time


Cooking time




  • 60g(6 tbsp) rye flour( I used white rye flour)

  • 60g(6 tbsp) wholemeal flour

  • 55g(6 tbsp) fine corn meal(Not cornflour/starch)

  • 70g(1/4 cup) molasses

  • 200ml(1/2 cup+1/3 cup) buttermilk. See note below for using milk

  • 21g(1 1/2 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

  • 3.5g( just under 1 tsp) baking soda

  • 1g(1/4 tsp) baking powder

  • 40g(1/4 cup) raisins(optional)


  • Place a trivet, or an upturned plate onto the base of a large saucepan, and then add water and bring to a simmering point.
  • Grease the inside of a 1lb loaf pan.
  • Grease one side of a sheet of aluminium foil which is large enough to cover the top of the loaf pan and to crimp it around the edge.
  • In a large bowl mix the rye flour, wholemeal flour, corn meal, baking soda, and baking powder until thoroughly combined.
  • Stir in the raisins if you are using them, and set the bowl aside.
  • In a smaller bowl mix the buttermilk, molasses and butter together until fully combined.
  • Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and stir thoroughly until everything is combined.
  • Transfer the mixture into the prepared loaf pan and use a spatula to level it off.
  • Cover the loaf pan with the aluminium foil, greased side down. Press the foil around the sides of the pan and try to tuck it tightly under the rim.
  • Place the loaf pan into the simmering water, standing it on the trivet. The water needs to come about half way up the side of the loaf pan. Add more boiling water if necessary.
  • Cover the saucepan with a lid and steam the loaf with simmering water for about 2 hours.
  • After 2 hours remove the loaf from the saucepan and take off the foil. Test the loaf with a skewer. If the skewer comes out clean the loaf is cooked. If it doesn’t come out clean replace the foil and steam for longer.
  • Leave the loaf in the loaf pan for 20 minutes. Then turn it out onto a wire rack and allow it to cool completely before serving.


  • If you don’t have buttermilk you can make your own. Measure out 200ml of milk and remove about 1 tbsp of that and replace it with the same amount of lemon juice or vinegar. Stir it and leave for a few minutes to curdle and it will be a great substitute.

1 Comment

  1. I remember buying Boston brown bread in a can from the supermarket, but I definitely don’t remember it tasting as good as this. This recipe’s great because I live in Texas and we’ve been having 100° F temps for months, and I could make it on the stovetop. Easy and fun–I used an actual coffee can. It’s delicious, too. I’m going to make a batch of vegan baked beans to go with it!

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