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Cooking (and Contemplating) New England

Where Does a Year Go? Or, More Adventures with Steamed Brown Bread

Steamed Brown Bread, Made in Our Pudding Steamer!


It simply can't be that a year has passed since we last posted to our Cooking (and Contemplating) New England blog! We've been cooking up a storm, mind you, just not blogging about it. We're at work on a cookbook--a collection of historic recipes that we've made at home--which leaves little time for blogging, or much else. But our blog tells us it feels neglected . . . so here's something we made recently and just love. We hope this keeps our blog readers happy (and thank you, dear readers) until we can devote more time to this medium!


For a recent talk we gave on a beautiful spring evening at the beautiful Wethersfield Historical Society in Connecticut, we made the Colonial Revival favorite, Steamed Brown Bread (aka Steamed Boston Brown Bread or Steamed Connecticut Brown Bread). We used a recipe first published in an 1898 community cookbook from Connecticut. We made only two slight changes to the recipe--we reduced the molasses from two cups to one, and we used a local brand, Grandma's Molasses, not the mysteriously-named "New Orleans" molasses recommended in the original recipe. This produced a sweet, but not too sweet, moist, whole-grain (whole wheat, corn, and rye) steamed bread that was a big hit with our audience.


This bread is easy to make, especially if you have a pudding steamer. If you don't have a pudding steamer, it can be steamed in any waterproof cooking vessel. But if you use a can (a large coffee can is a traditional shape for Brown Bread) be sure that the can isn't lined with some plastic or other weird substance, as many are nowadays. (We've researched this and you'd be surprised what's lining your "tin" cans!) You can purchase pudding steamers online or we suggest using a fairly deep, well-greased bread pan, watching that the steaming water comes up the sides of the pan only about two-thirds of the way.


Here's our version of the Meriden recipe.




This recipe is adapted from "Connecticut Brown Bread," found in the Meriden Cook Book, a late nineteenth-century fundraising effort from Meriden, Connecticut. The original recipe, with commentary, can be found in Keith Stavely and Kathleen Fitzgerald's Northern Hospitality: Cooking by the Book in New England (University of Massachusetts Press, 2011), p. 359.


Special Equipment

Pudding steamer or 8½ x 4½ loaf pan

Large, deep pot

Trivet or steaming rack (optional)

Aluminum foil         

Pastry brush (optional)

Parchment paper

Baking sheet


6 cups water

1-2 tablespoons butter, softened

1 heaping cup rye flour

1 heaping cup stone ground cornmeal

1 heaping cup whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 cups whole milk

1 cup buttermilk, not low fat

1 cup molasses, not blackstrap

Glaze, optional        
3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon water
Steaming the Bread
In a kettle or large sauce pan, heat 6 cups of water to boiling. Place a trivet, steaming rack, or some crinkled aluminum foil in the bottom of a pot that is large and deep enough to hold your pudding steamer or loaf pan easily.
Grease the pudding steamer or loaf pan with the softened butter, and also grease inside the steamer cover or one side of a piece of aluminum foil large enough to cover the steamer or loaf pan.
In a large bowl, whisk the dry ingredients to combine. In a separate bowl, blend the milk, buttermilk, and molasses. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir just until combined.
Pour the batter into the greased steamer or loaf pan. The bread expands so only fill the mold or pan two-thirds full. Cover tightly with the steamer cover or the greased aluminum foil.
Place the bread atop the trivet, steamer rack, or foil in the pot, and add the boiling water, being careful not to wet the bread, until the water is about two-thirds the way up the steamer or pan. Bring the water to a simmer and cover the pot well, using either a pot cover or a separate piece of aluminum foil.
Steam for 4 hours, replenishing the water as necessary. After 3½ hours, preheat the oven to 425ºF.
To test the bread for doneness, insert a toothpick or skewer into it. If the tester comes out clean or with just a few crumbs, the bread is done. Place on a rack and cool for 10 minutes.
After the bread has cooled, unmold it by gently loosening it all around with a butter knife. Place a large plate on top of the steamer or loaf pan and invert together to release the bread. If the bread doesn't release immediately, gently tap the bottom of the steamer or loaf pan. With a spatula, carefully transfer the bread from the plate to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place the bread in the preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and, keeping the bread on the parchment paper, transfer to a rack to cool.
Optional Glaze: Beat together the confectioners' sugar, melted butter, and water. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat the bread to give it a nice shine.
Slice and serve on its own or with butter. This bread also goes well with savory toppings such as cream cheese and smoked salmon. Wrapped carefully, it will keep in the refrigerator for 5 days or can be frozen.
Baking the Bread
This bread can also be baked in a greased loaf pan covered with greased aluminum foil at 325°F for one hour. During the last 10 minutes of baking, remove the foil to brown the bread. To test the bread for doneness, insert a toothpick or skewer into it. If the tester comes out clean or with just a few crumbs, the bread is done. Place on a rack and cool for 10 minutes.

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