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Jun 15, 2011 08:33 AM

(New England-style) Brown Bread Cooked in a Coffee Can - Safe?

I know there is an older thread on the general topic of cooking bread in a can, but I thought I'd start a new one, regarding brown bread.

Those of us who grew up in New England probably grew up eating B&M Brown Bread, a moist, subtley sweet bread made with wheat and rye flours, cornmeal, and molasses (among other ingredients.) It comes in a can, and the canned version to me, has always been "authentic" New England fare. (B&M in Portland has been making it since the late 1800s.) But, I know that it can also be homemade and is often a staple at traditional "Ham and Bean Suppers" which are still hosted in many New England towns.

It is generally cooked in an old coffee can, which is placed in boiling water to "steam" for several hours. As with the B&M version, the bottom of the can is then removed, and the bread is pushed out the top for slicing. I've been dying to make this myself, but suddenly realized that it may be unsafe. Tin cans are not what they used to be, and many are lined with BPA. I'm not a fanatic about BPA in my cans, although I know it can be unsafe, but I'm very worried when it comes to heating such a can at high heat for cooking purposes. The other thread also said that some cans are aluminum and lined with a polymer which would also be unsafe at high heat. (And the bread can take up to 4 hours to steam... that's a long time for it to be sitting in hot BPA or synthetic polymer.)

Has anyone made brown bread, or another bread, in a can? Have you thought of this issue? Is there a source for plain old tin cans or steel cans lined with tin? Alternatively, does anyone have a source for some other mold which is similar to a coffee can but made for cooking?


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  1. no idea about the aluminum/tin can bpa & etc issues, however i often make brown bread in an old fashioned straight sided steaming can (think christmas pudding), and i know those are very much available new at any cooking goods store or used at many antiques shops. you do end up w/ a hole in the middle, so a little different than the shape you are used to, but it taste just fine!

    2 Replies
    1. re: qianning

      Hmm... good idea, but do these have bottoms on them? How do you remove the bread? Just pull it out like you'd do with anything else (as opposed to pushing it up and out)? I found an all-clad "asparagus steamer" which is a tall cylinder with a separate insert basket... proper proportions but since it has a fixed bottom I dismissed it. (I'm somewhat obsessed with making brown bread the "right way" which seems to be with good old Yankee frugality - old can. Maybe I should just go for it since no one else seems to be thinking about the lining of the cans they're cooking in.)

      1. re: NEChef

        as long as the steaming container a) has a top that affixes securely and b) has straight edges, and c) i usually butter the sides, no problems that i can think of, the bread slips right out. i think it is the ridges in the coffee can (B&M too?) that require you to cut off the bottom and push the bread out.

    2. We don't have large coffee cans lying around, so I've always made brown bread in a regular loaf pan. I halve my grandmother's recipe and just do a flatter version. I wonder if you could also use an angel food cake pan.

      1 Reply
      1. re: odkaty

        Hi, was planning to make it in a loaf pan as well, but wondering if you bake them in a water bath for the brown bread? Thanks

      2. I use empty baked bean cans to steam the brown bread in. If you grease them well, you can turn the cans upside down and tap the bread out. I don't make it often enough to worry about the chemicals. There are chemical residues in everything, most are harmless if exposure is limited.

        1. I use a replacement glass liner for a French press coffee maker.

          You can't take off the bottom and push it through, but the bread shrinks as it bakes so it's not difficult to shake it out if the container is well buttered before the batter is poured in.