Boston Brown BreadDo you know Boston brown bread? It’s a quick bread, colored by a mix of flours and molasses and sweetened by raisins, that’s steamed (in a cylindrical can). I’ve tackled it and it’s lovely: soft and warm; not quite bread, not quite cake.

Boston Brown Bread
Cook’s Illustrated, January/February 2017
Makes 2 small loaves,
serves 6 to 8

This recipe requires two empty 28-oz. cans. Use cans that are labeled “BPA-free.” Any style of molasses will work except for blackstrap. This recipe requires a 10-qt. or larger stockpot that is at least 7 inches deep. Brown bread is traditionally served with baked beans, but is also good toasted and buttered.

3/4 cup rye flour
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
3/4 cup fine white cornmeal
1 3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 2/3 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup molasses
3 Tbsp. butter, melted and cooled slightly
3/4 cup raisins

Bring enough water to simmer in a large stockpot that will reach halfway up the sides of the 28oz. cans. Fold two 16x12-inch pieces of aluminum foil in half to yield two rectangles that measure 8x12 inches. Spray 4-inch circle in center of each rectangle with vegetable oil spray. Spray insides of two clean 28oz. cans with vegetable oil spray.

Whisk rye flour, whole-wheat flour, cornmeal, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in large bowl. Whisk buttermilk, molasses, and melted butter together in second bowl. Stir raisins into buttermilk mixture. Add buttermilk mixture to flour mixture and stir until combined and no dry flour remains. Evenly divide batter between cans. Wrap tops of cans tightly with prepared foil, positioning sprayed side of foil over can openings.

Place cans in stockpot (water should come about halfway up sides of cans). Cover pot and cook, maintaining gentle simmer, until skewer inserted in center of loaves comes out clean, about 2 hours. Check pot occasionally and add hot water as needed to maintain water level.

Using jar lifter, carefully transfer cans to wire rack wet in rimmed baking sheet and let cool for 20 minutes. Slide loaves from cans onto rack and let cool completely, about 1 hour. Slice and serve. (Bread can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 weeks.)

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Read through this recipe and follow the rules. Ready the two empty cans, cut and fold the aluminum foil, mix the batter by hand (nice!). These filled cans then simmer for 2 hours. After that, they need to cool for 1 hour 20 minutes. Yes, it’s a lot of time. It’s a lazy afternoon, folks.

Once you turn these loaves out of the cans, you’ll smell that warm molasses/raisin scent. Slices taste so great with baked beans, so here’s what I made:

New England Baked BeansNew England Baked Beans
Cook’s Illustrated, January/February 2017
Serves 4 to 6
Soak the beans overnight, for fewer “blowouts.”

1 lb. (2 1/2 cups) dried navy beans, picked over and rinsed
6 oz. pancetta, torn into pieces
1 onion, halved
1/2 cup molasses
2 Tbsp. packed dark brown sugar
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 bay leaf

Dissolve 1 1/2 Tbsp. salt in 2 quarts cold water in large container. Add beans and let soak at room temperature for at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours. Drain and rinse well.

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees F. Combine beans, pancetta, onion, molasses, sugar, soy sauce, mustard, pepper, bay leaf, 1/4 tsp. salt, and 4 cups water in large Dutch oven. (Liquid should cover beans by about 1/2 inch. Add more water if necessary.) Bring to boil over high heat. Cover pot, transfer to oven, and cook until beans are softened and bean skins curl up and split when you blow on them, about 2 hours. (After 1 hour, stir beans and check amount of liquid. Liquid should just cover beans. Add water if necessary.)

Remove lid and continue to cook until beans are fully tender, browned, and slightly crusty on top, about 1 hour longer. (Liquid will reduce slightly below top layer of beans.)

Remove pot from oven, cover, and let stand for 5 minutes. Using wooden spoon or rubber spatula, scrape any browned bits from sides of pot and stir into beans. Discard bay leaf. Let beans stand, uncovered, until liquid has thickened slightly and clings to beans, 10 to 15 minutes, stirring once halfway through. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve. (Beans can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.)

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Since I’ve set aside a whole afternoon to steam the brown bread, I used that same amount of time to bake these beans. Make sure to soak the beans overnight, first.

See the short ingredient list. Knowing the efficiency of Cook’s Illustrated and its test kitchen, appreciate the necessary impact of each ingredient. This pot of beans bakes for a total of 3 hours. The pancetta and onion melt in. The beans are wonderfully thick and enriched by the molasses. There’s no real “artistry,” here. Time = victory.

PREP TIMES: bread steams in 2 hours, cools in 1 hour 20 minutes; beans soak overnight, boil, bake for 3 hours
TASTES: molasses and raisins sweeten the warm bread; salty/sweet molasses dress the beans

Now that I’m in this warm and snuggly mood, next time I want to cook the “Baked Balsamic Lentil Stew with Mushrooms & Rosemary Potatoes,” from The First Mess. Come back to my site next week, to share this with me.