Breads & Doughs

Boston Brown Bread Recipe in a Can (New England Brown Bread)

4.78 from 9 votes
Try our Boston Brown Bread Recipe and learn how to steam the nostalgic, moist, and sweet bread effortlessly in a can on the stove.
Boston Brown Bread in a can is steamed perfectly with a pleasantly coarse crumb, a note of comforting sweetness, and a rich, dark color.

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Hi Bold Bakers!

WHY YOU’LL LOVE THIS RECIPE: You can count on this Boston Brown Bread Recipe in a Can being amazing, because this delightful baked good has been well-loved by generations of  New Englanders, dating back to the Colonial era! This hearty rye and cornmeal bread is cooked by steaming, giving it a uniquely delectable, moist texture. It’s fun and easy to make!

  • Boston Brown Bread is leavened with baking soda, so no long rising time is required.
  • Rye flour, cornmeal, and molasses give this bread a pleasantly coarse crumb, a note of comforting sweetness, and a rich, dark color.

I love learning about and making traditional breads from countries around the world. In addition to this Brown Bread Recipe in a Can, you’ll love Homemade Matzah, French Baguette, Naan from South Asia, Indian Roti, Finnish Rye, and Irish Soda Bread.

Table of Contents

Boston Brown Bread in a can is steamed perfectly with a pleasantly moist and coarse crumb, a note of comforting sweetness, and a rich, dark color.

What is Boston Brown Bread in a Can?

  • Boston Brown Bread in a Can is a cylindrically-shaped rye and cornmeal quick bread (a bread leavened with baking soda, and in this case baking powder, too). The bread is steamed in a can, which gives it its trademark shape.
  • In New England, Boston Brown Bread is traditionally served for a Saturday supper along with hot dogs and baked beans made with salt pork and molasses.
  • The bread was a mainstay in the New England colonies. The ingredients were commonly available, and because cooking equipment was primitive, steaming the bread in a burlap pudding cloth was more accessible than baking it in an oven. The B&M company developed pre-made Boston brown bread sold in a can in the 1920s.

Tools You Need

Key Ingredients and Why

  • All-purpose flour

    • All-purpose flour has a protein content of 9-11%, which gives the brown bread structure and a slight chew, while still having a tender crumb.
    • Using all-purpose flour in this recipe keeps the bread from being too coarse and tough.
  • Rye flour

    • Rye flour is earthy and tangy, with a slight sweetness and a hearty, robust texture. If you do not have rye flour however do not worry. You can use a fine whole wheat flour.
  • Finely-ground cornmeal

    • Cornmeal makes the bread taste slightly sweet with a nutty note.
    • Because it’s made from ground corn kernels, it has a sandy consistency that adds to the texture and gives a subtle crunch.
  • Baking powder

  • Baking soda

    • Baking soda is a leavening agent that reacts with acid to create air bubbles to make the bread rise and give it lightness.
    • In this recipe, baking soda reacts with the acid from molasses and buttermilk.
  • Allspice (optional)

    • The flavor of allspice is similar to a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.
    • It gives this traditional brown bread warm and sweet notes and a beautiful aroma.
  • Buttermilk

    • Buttermilk helps with the bread’s rise and tenderizes the gluten strands, making the crumb softer.
    • Buttermilk’s tangy taste adds another flavorful dimension to the bread.
  • Molasses

    • Molasses gives this bread its signature mellow-sweet taste, pleasantly moist, slightly sticky texture, and deep brown color.
    • Out of molasses? You can make your own Molasses Substitute!

How to Make Boston Brown Bread in a Can

  • Prep:
    • Fill a tall stockpot with two inches of water and put in the steamer insert.
    • Butter the inside of the can and place a circle of buttered parchment paper on the bottom.
    • Heat the water in the stockpot to a boil. Boil a kettle of water as well.
  • Make the bread dough: 
    • Whisk the all-purpose flour, rye flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, allspice, and salt.
    • Add the buttermilk and molasses to the dry ingredients and stir to combine.

Step-by-step instructions on how to make Boston Brown Bread in a can: mix dry ingredients first then add in the wet ingredient mixture until well combined.

  • Steam the bread: 
    • Spoon the batter into the prepared can and cover with a buttered piece of aluminum foil.
    • Make sure the water is at a gentle boil, place the can in the stockpot, and cover it with a lid.
    • Steam for two hours. Check the water level every 20 minutes, and add water from the kettle if necessary.
    • Check the bread with a skewer when it’s been steaming for 1 hour and 45 minutes. The bread is ready when the skewer comes out clean.

Spoon the batter into the prepared can and cover with a buttered piece of aluminum foil. Make sure the water is at a gentle boil, place the can in the stockpot, and cover it with a lid. Steam for two hours until the skewer comes out clean.

  • Cool and serve:
    • Remove from heat, take the foil off the can, and let the bread cool in the pan for 10 minutes.
    • Finish cooling on a wire rack before turning the bread out of the can.

Can I Make Boston Brown Bread in a Can in Advance?

Yes, you can make Boston Brown Bread in a Can in advance.

  • Boston Brown Bread tastes even better after resting for a day.
  • Wrap it well, store at room temperature, and when ready to serve, slice and toast it or pan-fry it in butter.

Can I Cook Boston Brown Bread in an Instant Pot or a Pressure Cooker?

Yes, you can steam the Boston Brown Bread in an Instant Pot or a pressure cooker.

  • Prepare the batter per this recipe.
  • Add 2 cups (480ml) of hot water and a trivet in the insert pot of the 6qt/8qt Instant Pot or pressure cooker. Put the baking dish or the can filled with the bread batter on the trivet.
  • Close the lid, cook on HIGH for 45 minutes then quickly release the pressure, or cook on HIGH for 30 minutes and naturally release the pressure.

How to Store Boston Brown Bread

Store leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days.

FAQs

  • What kind of can should I use to make this bread?

    • Use a 28-ounce can, or steam the bread in two 14.5 or 15-ounce cans (if using the smaller cans, start checking for doneness at 30 minutes).
    • Use a clean, non-BPA can (BPA is a type of non-stick coating in the lining of some cans. The label will tell you if the can contains BPA).
    • Remove the label from the can before using.
    • Butter the can and place a circle of buttered parchment on the bottom before filling. You can also rub cornmeal around the inside of the can as an extra precaution against sticking.
  • Can I make Boston Brown Bread vegan?

    • Yes, you can make Boston Brown Bread vegan.
    • Use our Buttermilk Substitute recipe and substitute a plant milk like almond or soy milk for the dairy milk.
    • Note that this may result in bread with a slightly different flavor and texture than bread made with the original recipe.

Soft, moist, sweet Boston Brown Bread is sliced and served with butter.

Gemma’s Pro Chef Tips

  • The cornmeal must be finely ground, or the bread’s texture will be a bit too coarse.
  • The can will fit better on a steamer insert or trivet rather than a steamer basket.
  • Before starting this recipe, make sure that you have a pot large enough to accommodate the can and the steamer insert and that the lid will fit snuggly. The bread won’t steam properly if the lid isn’t firmly in place.
  • If you like, you can add a half-cup of raisins or chopped dates to the batter.
  • If you don’t want to steam the bread, you can bake it in a water bath in the oven: preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C). Place the batter in a buttered loaf pan and place the loaf pan in a large roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with boiling water, then bake and check the bread for doneness after 1½ hours.
  • This bread is absolutely perfect slathered with butter. You can make it either sweet or savory by serving it with either my Blue Cheese Compound Butter or Maple Pecan Compound Butter.
  • If your pot is big enough, you can steam multiple cans at once.

More Traditional American Recipes

Watch The Recipe Video!

Boston Brown Bread Recipe in a Can (New England Brown Bread)

4.78 from 9 votes
Try our Boston Brown Bread Recipe and learn how to steam the nostalgic, moist, and sweet bread effortlessly in a can on the stove.
Author: Gemma Stafford
Servings: 8 servings
Prep Time 15 minutes
Steam Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Try our Boston Brown Bread Recipe and learn how to steam the nostalgic, moist, and sweet bread effortlessly in a can on the stove.
Author: Gemma Stafford
Servings: 8 servings

Ingredients

  • ½ cup (2½ oz/71 g) all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup (2½ oz/71 g) rye flour
  • ½ cup (3 oz/85 g) finely ground cornmeal
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • teaspoon allspice (optional)
  • 1 ¼ cup (10 fl oz/300 ml) buttermilk
  • ¼ cup (2½ oz/71 g) molasses

Instructions

  • Fill a tall, lidded stockpot with 2 inches (5 cm) of water, insert the steamer basket and bring to a boil over medium heat. Butter the inside of the can and set aside. Finally, fill a kettle with water and bring to a boil as well.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the all-purpose, rye flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt and allspice (if using).
  • To the bowl, add the buttermilk and molasses and stir to combine.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared can, then cover the top of the can with buttered aluminum foil. Carefully place it on the steamer basket in the stockpot. Check that the water is at a gentle, steady boil and place a lid on the stockpot.
  • Steam the bread for about 1 hour, checking the water level every 20 minutes. If the water is low, replenish it with the hot water from the kettle.
  • Begin to check the bread after 45 minutes by inserting a long wooden skewer into the center. When it comes out clean, the bread is done.
  • Turn off the heat, remove the lid and foil and let the bread cool for about 10 minutes before transferring it to a wire rack to cool completely before turning it out of the can.
  • Slice and serve with butter. Store leftovers wrapped well, in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

 

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Barbara McNamara
Barbara McNamara
2 months ago

Planning to make this to mail to my aunt and uncle for St Patrick’s Day – I guess I’ll call it Irish Brown Bread! Can I add some walnuts and raisins? I made a steamed pudding at Christmas – this seems somewhat similar…..

Judi
Judi
4 months ago

As I grew up eating the commercial brown bread in the can, I have obtained a recipe for brown bread from a friend whose mother made it for him, it is baked. As I like that recipe, I would very much love to try your recipe. My question is, could this be baked in loaf pan with a water bath, Your thoughts on this process. Thanks in advance.

Marj
Marj
4 months ago

Can I use coconut flour as no rye flour?

Last edited 4 months ago by Marj
John Long
John Long
4 months ago

kind of can? Any size? I remember making brown bread years ago, and baking it in a coffee can.

Anita
Anita
4 months ago

I have not made this recipe yet but was wondering if I could make it in the Ninja Foodi (steam function)?

Carla
Carla
4 months ago

Hi Gemma,

You’ve unlocked a happy memory for me! I live in New England, and when I was young, we went camping every summer. As you can imagine, my parents always packed the brown bread in a can, as it was easy to dish out alongside camping meals. I can’t wait to try this and see how it compares to the memory of brown bread around the campfire. I’m also excited that I get to use my molasses, typically bought around Christmas and then it just sits lonely in the cooking cabinet for the rest of the year! Thank you!

David
David
4 months ago

This idea would be perfect for spiced breads

Michele
Michele
4 months ago

I think the canned Boston Brown Bread sold in stores (some still have it!) has chopped raisins or another similar fruit (currants? prunes?) added. I think the color is darker too. My friends thought it was weird that bread came from a can and that it was dark brown! I prefer mine with plain cream cheese!
Can’t wait to try this recipe! Wonder if it can be canned in mason jars in a pressure canner? And if so, what the shelf life would be…🤔🤔🤔

Emmet O'Donoghue
Emmet O'Donoghue
4 months ago

Hi Gemma I want to try this bread but I’ll have to wait until I buy a 28 ounce can of something. In the recipe you say 11/2 hrs but in the video you say 45 mins to 1 hour. What is cornmeal over here in Ireland. Thanks Emmet O’Donoghue

Amita Nayyar
Amita Nayyar
4 months ago

Can we use whole wheat flour instead of all purpose flour ?

About Us

Meet Gemma

About Us

Meet Gemma

Hi Bold Bakers! I’m Gemma Stafford, a professional chef originally from Ireland, a cookbook author, and the creator of Bigger Bolder Baking. I want to help you bake with confidence anytime, anywhere with my trusted and tested recipes and baking tips. You may have seen one of my 500+ videos on YouTube & TikTok or as a guest judge on Nailed It! on Netflix or the Best Baker in America on Food Network. No matter your skills, my Bold Baking Team & I want to be your #1 go-to baking authority.

 

Weeknight Family Favorites Chapter from the Bigger Bolder Baking Every Day Cookbook