Monday, January 16, 2012

Recipe: Maritime Molasses Brown Bread

Man does not live by bread alone, even pre-sliced bread. – D.W. Brogan

Real Maritime Brown Bread – the yeast-risen variety!
This recipe is very difficult to find, if you've ever tried. The entire world thinks that brown bread is supposed to be steamed. Well not where I come from… the Maritimes. The steamed variety is called Boston Brown Bread.

If your yeast doesn't get creamy throw it out and start again.
Boston Brown Bread is, despite its name, more of a pudding. It is a dough (often with raisins) that is moulded and steamed – much like Christmas pudding. Many recipes call for a large juice tin as the "pan." Many people love it.

I am not deriding Boston Brown Bread at all. It's just the one I remember from my youth was always yeast risen and baked. This recipe is often called Oatmeal Brown Bread and I have to admit they are very similar. 

"A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose," said Gertrude Stein. So let's just call it Brown Bread and be done with it. The "brown" and its innate sweetness come from the presence of a great deal of molasses. Mmmmm...

Brown Bread is the love interest of the Baked Beans that I posted yesterday. They are inseparable in many people's minds – mine included. Brown Bread is wonderful while still warm from the oven, and it also toasts extremely well.

This bread is very easy to make and will soon become a family favorite. I can guarantee it. Don't be intimidated by the braid on top of the bread in the photo. It was a snap to do, and traditionally it is never there. That's just me "gilding the lily" again…

This is the dough after everything has been added, but before kneading.

Maritime Molasses Brown Bread
Prep: 20 min |  Rise: 3 hours  |  Bake: 45+ min  |  Yield: 1 loaf
3 tsp active dry yeast
1-1/2 cup warm water (110°F to 115°F)
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp of salt
1/2 cup molasses
1 cup “quick” rolled oats
4 to 5 cups of flour

Melt the butter and let cool slightly. Proof the yeast in the warm water until creamy. Add the butter, sugar, molasses and salt and mix well. 

Place the liquid in a large mixing bowl. Then add 3 cups of the flour and 1 cup of rolled oats and mix well. Add only enough of the remaining flour to make a soft dough. This may take the additional two, it may not. It depends on the moisture content in the flour.

Knead the dough until smooth and then place in a greased bowl.

Knead until smooth, about 5-10 minutes. The dough should be soft and still feel “moist” but doesn’t stick to your hands. Kneading develops the gluten so don’t do this step half heartedly.

Place the dough in a greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel and place in a warm spot. Let rise until the dough doubles in size, about 2 hours.

Let the dough rise, covered with plastic wrap and a towel, until doubled.
I use my hot water radiator for a heat source. It's perfect.
Grease a 6x10 loaf pan with shortening or butter.

Traditionally the dough would be divided into 2 or 3 balls and placed side by side in the pan and allowed to rise. Do so if you wish. I’m going to do something different that will let you bring the loaf to the table with a flourish – a braided top!

Top do the braid, remove 1/4 of the dough and subdivide into 3 pieces.
Roll each into a long cylinder and braid them.
Place the braid in top of the remaining dough. No need to "join" them.
They will automatically join when going through the second raise.
Remove 1/4 of the dough and divide into three pieces. Shape the remainder into a cylinder with your hands. Place that dough in the prepared pan.

Roll each of the 3 remaining pieces of dough into 12” strands and braid them together. Place the braid on top top of the dough in the pan. Let rise for a further 45 minutes to 1 hour.

This is the risen loaf just before baking. The bottom has filled the pan
and all is very puffed up.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Just before putting the loaf in the oven throw 1/2 cup of water on the bottom of the hot oven and close the door. This makes the moist environment necessary to help the bread rise in the oven.

Bake the loaf in the centre of the oven until it sounds hollow when tapped with your fingers. For me that was 50 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let sit in the pan 10 minutes. Then remove the loaf to a rack to finish cooling.

Fresh from the oven. Rub the top with butter if you wish. I did.

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Questions? Comments? Derogatory remarks?


  1. I have not made your recipe ,but having had oatmeal brown bread I know that it is very good ! I immediately thought I using this recipe in my bread maker , lot less fuss, and can even be baked in the bread maker or removed at the dough stage and you can let it rise and bake it the traditional way . I like your fancy braid on top :-)

  2. If my wife sees this she will do it , she already makes her own bread .

  3. I made this today and it turned out great! I make bread regularily, so I was able to follow your directions, but for the newcomers I thought I would point out that you forgot to mention what to do with the rolled oats :) I made it in my kitchenaid mixer and the dough worked up wonderfully! My hubby says it is his new favourite

  4. Yes I noticed my "oversight." It's in the directions in the right place now. I was actually debating whether or not to use them actually. That's how it was missed. It was a late addition... :-)

  5. Just tried this recipe (I am originally from Nova Scotia so I was happy to find the recipe). This recipe is a dream - so delicious! I made it into 2 loaves and brushed beaten egg with a little milk on the top before baking and sprinkled some of the rolled oats on top as this is the way I remembered it! So moist! I will be making this again for sure! Thanks!

  6. I have been in a very long search for a molasses brown bread and this is perfect! I am from nova scotias south shore and I didn't realize why it was so difficult to find a recipe until I came across yours and you had mebtioned the difference between what I call molasses bread and what the rest of the world apparently calls it:)
    I have made this bread a few times now and I have been substituting the flour for three cups of whole wheat bread flour and a little less than a cup of white and it turns out amazing! It has gotten our family approval and it is my new favorite bread!!

  7. I am from Nova Scotia's South Shore too. This recipe is absolutely what we remember buying in Bridgewater or Liverpool. Thanks so much for the endorsement. It really does mean a lot to me. All the best! - Docaitta

  8. Thank you! I've been dying for a brown bread recipe for ages. I'm a total bread baking newbie, but your instructions were so clear, the bread came out perfectly! I'm another from the South Shore of Nova Scotia and at Christmas and Thanksgiving and Easter, we always had my great aunt's brown bread (but of course in the tradition of rural little old ladies, she doesn't have a recipe, she just makes it!). I was amazed when I found out that brown bread in other parts of the world was something completely different.

  9. New Brunswicker here, and this bread is just like my grandmother's. After she passed, I didn't have the recipe, and I'm so glad to have something like this that tastes just like hers. I've added it into my closely guarded recipe notebook so that I always have it!
    Mmmm tastes like home <3

    1. Jillby, I'm so glad that the recipe helps you remember happy times. That's what good food is all about.

  10. I've had Maritime Bread in Westport, Ontario, and remember it having seeds, maybe sunflower? Does this sound like a variation of maritime bread?

    1. Sometimes people put rolled oats on top. I've never heard of sunflower seeds but it isn't out of the realm of possibility. Someone could have been on a "fancy" kick – like my braid!

  11. Thanks for your recipe. My mother made this and all us kids did for years, but we have all lost the recipe now that we are old, ha, ha. So thanks so much for this. I miss this bread and when I go to New Brunswick to visit, I buy it in the stores there. Not as good as home made but still good. I also miss maple sugar and dulse from the Maritimes.

  12. I too come from Sable River Nova Scotia in Shelburne County. I have the recipe used by my grandmother and mother. It is very similar to this except it calls for the rolled oats to be first added to boiling water. I found using the Blackstrap Molasses instead of the Fancy really kicks it up a notch. My family loves it including grand children. Usually we have baked beans, again an old family recipe. I've even written a song about making brown bread. Beans and Brown Bread are great ways to keep my South Shore Heritage alive and well.

  13. My husband has asked me to make this bread, seems like there are a lot of Nova Scotian's here, hence a Maritime recipe. My husband is from SW Nova Scotia, Yarmouth to be exact. We are now in SW Indiana, US, and his mother use to make what he calls Molasses bread. It reminds him of home, so if l can pull this off, he will also be revisiting his childhood with memories of warm fresh Molasses bread. Wish me luck! Only made bread a couple of times in my life, but with this bread recipe, it sounds fairly easy.

  14. Another South Shore girl here....Yes Saturday was always Homemade beans and brown bread... Same recipe but I make as my mother and hers before did... stirring molasses and butter into boiling water with salt then over the oats and allowing it to cool before proceeding with rest... was shaped into the tradition 2 or 3 balls and went for second rise....Sometimes my mother made extra white bread and one loaf was used for what we called Polly Joes or what Newfoundlanders call toutons. I have also on occasion used brown bread or raisin bread dough to make my Polly Joes ....

  15. Man does not live by bread alone, even pre-sliced bread. – D.W. Brogan, I like saying like this, when I was a child, my mom always made a cake for me when it was my birthday, of course, she sometimes made bread, I really enjoyed it, thanks for all

  16. I'm so excited I found this recipe. I grew up in Kentville,Nova Scotia. This bread was a staple in our home. When I moved to Ontario I was disappointed that the locals conside whole wheat tp be Brown bread. I haven't been able to find it anywhere. So to find the recipe is awesome. Thank you

  17. Do you have to use Quick cooking oats? is it OK to use the Old fashioned oats in this recipe?

  18. Hi. No, just regular steel cut oats work. I've never tried it with quick oats. But those would work as well I assume. Hope you like the recipe.

  19. My mom used to make brown bread in coffee tins in the oven to go with baked parents being from Nova Scotia...of course I do not have a recipe, and she hasn't made it in ages, nor have i the coffee tins she used to have....but I will give this a try tonight, thanks, as I am soaking the beans right now....

  20. And I should add....I knew it as molasses bread, not brown bread...

  21. Post-baking follow up - Wow - that does take me back to the bread my mum made...thank you for the recipe, super easy, appreciate your effort!