Easy Boston Brown Bread Recipe

Moist and sweet with molasses, this steamed quick bread is easier than you think.

A loaf of Boston brown bread is sliced and shingled out on a cutting surface, ready to be spread with cream cheese.

Serious Eats / Yvonne Ruperti

Why It Works

  • Steaming batter in a can results in a very tender and moist bread that holds its shape without the help of eggs or white flour.
  • Steaming the brown bread in relatively small 14-ounce cans shortens their cooking time to 35 minutes.

I have many fond memories of "bread in a can." Yes, a can. It's called Boston brown bread, and it's a colonial New England classic made with cornmeal, rye or whole wheat flour, and enriched with molasses. As a kid, it was a treat to pluck a can of this dark, moist, mysterious bread from the grocery store shelf, slide it out, and slice it up. It's especially good when spread with cream cheese and served alongside a big ole pot of baked beans.

This bread is still sold in a can and the reason is simple. Boston brown bread, essentially a baking soda-leavened "quick bread," has an unusual cooking method: It's steamed. To cook, the batter is poured into greased cans (often a coffee can), covered with parchment or foil and secured with string, and then set in a pot with a few inches of water. The steamy heat gently cooks the batter into a cylindrical loaf with a wonderful texture that is sliceable but unbelievably moist. Because the batter lacks any real structure (no eggs, no gluten-producing flour), the can is there to hold it all together until the starches gelatinize and set.

If only my family knew then what I know now: This bread is incredibly easy to make. There is no reason to ever, ever pop it out of a supermarket can. Whisk up all of the ingredients and you're done. It's that simple. And by choosing smaller cans to bake the batter in, the bread (I got 3 small loaves) takes about 30 minutes to cook on the stovetop.

If you can, try to resist the urge to eat them right away. This bread is even better toasted up the next day.

February 2014

Recipe Facts



Active: 5 mins
Total: 40 mins
Serves: 12 to 14 servings
Makes: 3 loaves

Rate & Comment


  • 2/3 cup regular or blackstrap molasses (see notes)

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 1 cup buttermilk

  • 1/4 cup cornmeal

  • 1 cup rye flour (or whole wheat)

  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/2 cup raisins

  • Cream cheese to serve on the side


  1. Grease three 14-ounce cans and place a round piece of parchment paper in the bottom of each can. Whisk all ingredients in a large bowl until smooth.

  2. Divide batter between cans. Place a piece of foil over the top of each can and secure with a string. Set cans in a pot that is at least 2 inches taller than cans and fill with hot water to halfway up sides of cans.

  3. Set lid on pot and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and gently simmer until bread is set and gently pulling away from sides of can, about 35 minutes. A skewer inserted into the center should come out with moist crumbs.

  4. Remove cans from pot, set on cooling rack, and remove foil. Let bread cool in can. Run a knife along inside of can to loosen, then remove bread by turning can upside down and knocking it onto work surface. Serve plain or toasted with cream cheese, preferably the next day (the flavor improves significantly).

Special Equipment

Three 14-ounce cans, foil, string


The brand of molasses that I used was not labeled "blackstrap" but it was so dark and contributed such a deep flavor that I'm assuming that it was. So, I'm going to say that blackstrap will work as well as regular molasses.

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
110 Calories
1g Fat
25g Carbs
2g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 12 to 14
Amount per serving
Calories 110
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 1g 1%
Saturated Fat 1g 3%
Cholesterol 3mg 1%
Sodium 152mg 7%
Total Carbohydrate 25g 9%
Dietary Fiber 1g 4%
Total Sugars 16g
Protein 2g
Vitamin C 0mg 2%
Calcium 60mg 5%
Iron 1mg 6%
Potassium 340mg 7%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)