butter-bran bread
Breads,  Breakfast,  Other

Butter-Bran Bread from Uncle John’s Original Bread Book

Braué’s Butter-Bran Bread. Say that three times fast. A bit tough to say, but easy—and rewarding—to make. Tender-crusted and fluffy, this no-knead loaf dates back to Prussia in the 1800s, according to the late actor/baker/author John Rahn Braué, AKA Uncle John.

Bread-Bakers’ Gold

Braué came from a long line of German master bread bakers. He wrote Uncle John’s Original Bread Book (published in 1961) to pass on “priceless recipes…handed down family to family, baker to baker, friend to friend, tested and retested by my father and thousands of unknowns.”

I stumbled upon Uncle John’s book in the cookbook room of the legendary New England Mobile Book Fair discount bookstore, a now-closed Boston institution. What a find. A gift tied up in ribbon from the Rahn-Braué family to ours. Generations of bakers’ greatest hits.

As the saying goes, “Nostalgia is the best seasoning.” And Uncle John marinated the book in it. Every recipe drips with fond reminiscences.

Uncle John’s Stories

For instance, he introduced this recipe for “Grossmutter’s Butter-Bran Bread” with a terse yet powerful story of how his grandmother came to the US. “To escape the Prussianism of the nineteenth century, Grandmother Rahn brought nine children over in steerage, plus several tantalizing recipes, this being one.” 

The book pays tribute to his dad, a prizewinning baker who sold his wares on the streets of Hamburg. His dad came to America to be with his girlfriend, one of those nine Rahn children. And he brought along a jar of his starter mixture. The couple married, settled in Iowa, and started a family and a bread-baking business. Just in time for the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.

His dad’s recipes changed with the times. “Just before Dad passed away, Christmas, 1940,” Uncle John wrote, “the new enriched flour came into being. Dad’s New-Era White Bread is the result, after many nights of work and experimentation. A one-pound loaf sold for five cents!”

These days, the hardest part of this recipe might be finding wheat bran. Even our Whole Foods doesn’t have it, although they get requests. Maybe it’s a casualty of a global wheat shortage. In any event, whenever we spot Bob’s Red Mill wheat bran we snap it up and stash it in the freezer. There it stays perpetually fresh and ready any time for making Grossmutter’s “tantalizing” Butter-Bran bread.

Bran is also the secret ingredient in wheaty, delicious Matt Murphy’s Irish Brown Bread.

Grossmutter’s Butter-Bran Bread

Adapted from Uncle John’s Bread Book (1961, 1965)

Makes two lofty 9” x 5” loaves, or more smaller loaves

  • 1 cup wheat bran
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 2 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast (SAF Instant Yeast or Red Star Quick-Rise Yeast)
  • 2 cups water
  • 8 cups all-purpose flour
  1. In a large bowl, thoroughly mix bran, butter, sugar, molasses, and salt with 2 cups boiling water. Cool to lukewarm.
  2. Add 1 cup of flour, yeast, and 2 cups of water and vigorously beat until satiny-smooth. (We use a dough whisk, but a wooden spoon or stand mixer should also work.)
  3. Gradually add the remaining flour and beat until the mixture reaches a doughy smoothness, both soft and light.
  4. Turn twice in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a clean cloth, and let rise until doubled, about 1 to 2 hours, depending upon the warmth of the room.
  5. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Cut into two portions for large loaves, or more for smaller loaves. Shape dough into loaves and place into lightly greased loaf pans. Let rise until doubled and crowned about an inch above the rim of the pan.
  6. While dough rises, preheat the oven to 325°.
  7. Bake about an hour (for large loaves), or until the internal temperature reaches 200° on an instant-read thermometer.
  8. Remove loaves, lightly brush with melted butter or your favorite topping, and cool on a rack. “Now stand off a bit and marvel at your handiwork!” wrote Uncle John.
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