Zombie post today while I am in San Francisco looking at old books!
I am subject to many food cravings. Sauerkraut. Pretzels covered with the strange white coating they call “yogurt.” Doritos (once in a blue moon). Dill pickles. Coconut macaroons. Only once before can I remember craving Boston Brown Bread. When I was little, we used to buy cans of it from the grocery store, and slice them to eat with tangy cream cheese from a silver foil-wrapped block.
It is dangerous to revisit favorite foods from childhood, because they often disappoint. The last time I bought B&M Brown Bread in a can, it didn’t taste the way I remembered. And looking it up on Amazon, I saw that the reviews were mixed. Some were delighted with it, while others complained that it was dry and stale. That’s when I decided to try making my own.
Boston brown bread should be moist. Unlike most breads, it is steamed. I suspect that it descends from English steamed puddings, but it uses New World ingredients which were available to the New England colonists: cornmeal and molasses. Rye flour was used in preference to scarcer wheat flour, though whole wheat flour often makes up part of modern recipes. The taste is strong, especially if you use blackstrap molasses. There is no fat, except for a small amount from the buttermilk (I used soy milk with a teaspoon of vinegar). Yet the bread is delightfully moist.
Alton Brown’s recipe is fairly traditional, although it has a few extra touches, like orange zest (I doubt this was readily available to the colonists). It produces a raisin-studded bread that tastes mainly of molasses but has subtle notes of allspice and rye. I was a bit worried about using cans (who knows what strange chemicals might lurk in their linings these days?), so I tried a couple of glass jars instead, and they worked beautifully.
On a second try, I substituted orange marmalade for half the molasses and was very pleased with the result–a lighter flavor with more evident notes of orange.