Gluten-Free Brown Bread

October 17, 2012

Each Halloween, before I went out to trick-or-treat, my mother always made the same meal: hot dogs, baked beans, and Boston brown bread. It was tradition. Today, as soon as fall arrives, I start making this bread. It's too good to only eat on Halloween. This traditional New England bread is steamed, giving you a sturdy, dense loaf. Made with a combination of whole wheat flour, rye flour, and cornmeal, plus a little molasses for sweetness, brown bread has an earthy, almost bitter flavor. To mimic this, I replaced the whole wheat and rye flours with brown rice and sorghum flour. This flour combination made a loaf nearly identical to the bread I enjoyed as a child. In fact, if I hadn't made it myself, I would have questioned whether or not the loaf was gluten-free. The biggest difference between the gluten-free loaf and a wheat-based loaf, was the color. The bread baked up a few shades lighter than traditional brown bread, especially when I tested the loaf with regular, unsulfured molasses and not dark molasses.

Although brown bread is usually steamed in empty cans, I never seem to have empty cans around when I want to make this bread. During development, I tested the recipe in two 28-ounce cans and again in a 9x5-inch loaf pan. Both variations worked. Since brown bread is naturally egg-free, it doesn't rise as high as, say, pumpkin bread. The loaf baked in the pan looked a little funny, sort of like a dense and squat quick bread, but the flavor was fine.

The bread is often served along with a savory main course. If you have any bread left after dinner, enjoy it in the morning. For a slightly rich treat, butter a slice or two and fry in non-stick skillet until golden brown and toasted. The very mild sweetness makes the bread good for both breakfast and dinner!

Nonstick cooking spray
4 ounces (3/4 cup) gluten-free cornmeal
3 ounces (3/4 cup) sorghum flour
3 ounces (3/4 cup) brown rice flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup dark (robust) or regular molasses
1/2 cup raisins, optional

  1. Adjust oven rack to lower postion. Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease two 28-ounce cans or one 9- by 5-inch loaf pan. Fill a Dutch oven or roasting pan large enough to fir the cans with enough water to reach halfway up the sides of the cans, about two inches. (If using a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan, heat about four cups of water.) Bring water to a simmer.
  2. While water heats, whisk together cornmeal, sorghum flour, brown rice flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and xanthan gum. Add buttermilk and molasses. Whisk until smooth. If using raisins, gently stir into the batter. Divide batter evenly among the two cans or spread batter evenly into loaf pan. Cover cans or loaf pan with a piece of parchment paper. Secure parchment with a large rubber pan. If you don't have parchment paper, use a piece of greased foil.
  3. Carefully transfer the cans to the simmering water. Cover the Dutch oven with the lid. If using loaf pan, nest the loaf pan in a 13- by 9-inch pan. Carefully pour simmering water into the 13- by 9-inch pan. Water should reach halfway up the loaf pan. Cover 13- by 9-inch pan with foil. Transfer to oven and bake until a skewer inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean, about 90 minutes.
  4. Remove the pan from the oven. Carefully remove lid or foil (steam will escape as you do this.) Remove cans or pan from the water. Allow bread to cool in the can or pan for about five minutes. Turn bread out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

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