Boston Brown Bread, AKA New England Brown Bread, is traditionally cooked in a can and comes out round, but this recipe uses a regular loaf pan. It’s packed with hearty, nutritious ingredients, with 100% whole grains and no refined sugar. It steams as it bakes, resulting in a super moist, soft bread. It’s great slathered with butter for a healthy breakfast or snack, and for a true New England experience you can serve it with baked beans for dinner on a cold winter’s night.
Boston Brown Bread is probably the easiest (and cheapest!) bread you’ll ever make. It’s a no-knead, yeast-free quick bread, everything is mixed up in one bowl for easy clean-up, and it’s healthy and nutritious.
It’s also egg-free, and easy to adapt to be vegan if you use a plant-based milk.
Most New England brown bread recipes require setting the bread in a baking dish of water to steam it, and baking it or steaming on the stovetop. This version is a bit easier and instead covers the loaf pan tightly with foil to trap the steam inside, so you don’t need to worry about giving it a steam bath.
And this recipe is made from scratch as an alternative to canned brown bread (yes, it’s a thing!), and from scratch is always better.
Ingredients in Brown Bread
- Cornmeal – I prefer stone ground because it has a great texture.
- Rye Flour
- Whole Wheat Flour
- Baking Powder, Baking Soda, and Kosher Salt
- Maple Syrup – can be omitted if you like, or substituted with another sweetener like sugar, brown sugar, or honey.
- Whole Milk – this can be substituted with plant-based milk, buttermilk, or low-fat milk.
- Vanilla Extract
- Raisins – these are optional. You can also use currants or another dried fruit. I used a mix of dark and golden raisins.
How to make Boston Brown Bread
- GREASE a loaf pan (or coffee can, if you like!) with a generous amount of butter (about 1/2 to 1 tablespoon).
- PREHEAT the oven to 350 degrees F.
- MIX the dry ingredients – whole wheat flour, cornmeal, rye flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- MIX IN the wet ingredients – add the milk, molasses, maple syrup, and vanilla extract to the bowl with the dry ingredients and mix until it’s all incorporated.
- FOLD in the raisins.
- POUR batter into prepared baking dish and COVER TIGHTLY with foil. This will seal the top and keep all the steam in, creating that steamed texture and moisture without actually steaming anything.
- BAKE for about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- COOL for about 10 minutes at least before dislodging it from the pan and cool even longer before slicing.
Can I bake this in a can if I prefer?
Yes! For the purists out there, feel free to use a 29 oz. coffee can (or something similar) to bake this instead of a loaf pan.
How is this different from Irish Brown Bread?
Irish brown bread uses a mixture of white and whole wheat flours, rather than using rye and cornmeal, and is baked in a round loaf similar to soda bread. Here’s a great recipe for Irish Brown Bread if you want to give it a try!
My bread collapsed in the center- help!
This batter is quite wet and since the steam gets trapped in, don’t worry if it collapses a little bit in the center as long as it’s cooked all the way through! If this happens, you can just slice it upside down (which gives it more of that out-of-a-can authentic look anyway). Truth be told, this happened to me and I took these photos anyway!
Can I use sourdough starter in this recipe?
I’ve never tried it, but this sourdough brown bread recipe might be a good place to start.
What should I serve with New England Brown Bread?
Boston Brown Bread is often served with baked beans. I served mine with some BBQ baked beans from a local food truck here in Austin (Crimson Creek BBQ). Here’s a classic New England Baked Beans recipe you can try at home.
Hot dogs sans buns also make a great, authentic accompaniment to the beans and bread.
I also love the brown bread heated in the microwave and served with butter or cream cheese for breakfast or a snack.
Other New England Inspired Recipes
Other quick bread recipes
- Olive Oil Banana Bread
- Pumpkin Chai Bread
- Whole Grain Lemon Poppyseed Bread
- Jalapeño Cornbread
- Chocolate Banana Bread
Boston Brown Bread (New England Brown Bread)
- butter or cooking spray for greasing the pan
- 1/2 cup cornmeal
- 1/2 cup rye flour
- 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1/3 cup dark molasses
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup raisins golden or regular, or a mix
- salted butter and baked beans for serving, optional
- Grease a 9×5 loaf pan (or for a more authentic version, a 29 oz. coffee can) with a generous amount of butter. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
- Whisk or stir together the cornmeal (1/2 cup), rye flour (1/2 cup), whole wheat flour (1/2 cup), baking powder (1 teaspoon), baking soda (1 teaspoon), and kosher salt (1 teaspoon) in a large mixing bowl.
- Add the maple syrup (2 tablespoons), molasses (1/3 cup), milk (1 cup), and vanilla extract (1 teaspoon) to the batter and whisk or stir together until everything is combined.
- Add the raisins to the batter and fold in.
- Pour batter in prepared baking dish. Cover tightly with foil (so the steam doesn't escape to keep the bread moist).
- Bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before running a knife around the edge and gently removing it. Cool for 5-10 minutes longer, slice into 10 pieces, and serve slathered with butter with a side of baked beans.
- Ingredient substitutions: plant-based milk (for a vegan version), buttermilk, or low-fat milk can be substituted for the whole milk, white flour can be substituted for whole wheat, sugar or honey may be substituted for maple syrup (or syrup omitted), raisins may be omitted or substituted with another dried fruit of choice, such as currants.
- Brown bread mix may be available in your grocery store- it’s rye flour, whole wheat flour, and cornmeal pre-mixed for convenience. You can use 1.5 heaping cups of that if you like instead of the individual flours.
- Don’t be alarmed if the bread collapses in the center. If you use a loaf pan, this might happen, since the batter is very wet and it’s steamed while baking. Honestly, it happened to me but I took photos anyway… I just flipped it upside down! It gave it a more authentic “out of a can” look anyway :-)
- This recipe is adapted from Erin French’s New England Brown Bread in The Lost Kitchen cookbook, page 219.
- 9×5 Loaf Pan
- Aluminum Foil
- Large Mixing Bowl