A loaf of bread with a C on it in flour surrounded by a towel, cookbook, oven mitt, and bowl of flour

Classic ‘Cornell Bread’ Is Still a Favorite of Health-Conscious Bakers

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Since the 1940s, Professor Clive McCay’s recipe has been a nutritious alternative to the typical white stuff

By Beth Saulnier

“In these days of concern over exactly what, for heaven’s sake, we are eating, there’s a yearning for unadulterated basics,” a New York Times food columnist wrote nearly half a century ago. “And what could be more basic than bread? Nothing. Unless it’s the loaf with the university education known as Cornell bread.”

By the time that story was published in February 1972 under the headline “The Do-Good Loaf”—with an accompanying recipe that would be among the year’s most requested by Times readers—the marvels of “Cornell bread” had been touted by three decades’ worth of home bakers and proponents of healthy eating.

“How does it differ from the standard homemade loaf?” the Times article asked rhetorically. “It has added protein, calcium, and riboflavin (which keeps you younger longer). Some New York bakeries sell the Cornell loaf, but there’s no reason why concerned cooks can’t make it themselves.”

Baking Professor Clive McCay's classic loaf is fun and easy. Learn how in this instructional video!

Since the coronavirus pandemic began in early 2020, there’s been an increased focus on home cooking in general and on baking in particular, to the extent that the nation briefly saw widespread shortages of flour and yeast. So it’s an apt time to reflect on Cornell’s eponymous loaf—one that may not have the cachet of an Instagram-ready sourdough boule crafted from artisanal grain, but which in its heyday was hailed as a healthful answer to mass-produced white bread.

And in fact, the formulation for Cornell bread is still in circulation in the Internet age, appearing in baking blogs and on recipe aggregation websites like cooks.com.

The recipe was developed in the 1940s by Clive McCay, a professor of animal nutrition whose studies of the effect of diet on the longevity of white rats made him an early proponent of the value of caloric restriction (in the context of sufficient nutrition) in extending lifespans.

“His experiments showed that by cutting down on calories but providing plenty of minerals, vitamins, and protein in their diets, he could slow their growth and retard the onset of old-age diseases and death,” Jeanette Beyer McCay, PhD ’39, wrote in her introduction to The Cornell Bread Book, co-written with her husband and published by Dover in 1980.

A photo of Dr. Clive McCay in a lab coat weighing a rat on a scale
Clive McCay in the lab, weighing a study subject. (Photo courtesy of Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library)

Cornell bread traces its origin to a request from the organization that ran New York State’s psychiatric hospitals, which asked Clive for help in improving the nutritional quality of the food they served. He decided the most beneficial and economical target was bread, a staple popular among patients; tapping his previous research, he developed a recipe that included dry milk, soy flour, and wheat germ.

“Though Cornell bread has only a little more protein than the usual white bread, it is the quality of the combined proteins that [is particularly beneficial],” the McCays wrote. “You may not plan to live on bread and butter alone, but it is good to know that Cornell bread can contribute to your health with its protein, its calcium, and B vitamins—all needed by young and old alike.”

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In the wake of World War II-era meat rationing, which had spurred interest in alternative sources of protein, the Cornell bread recipe spread to school lunch programs, home bakers, organizations promoting sound household management, and more—eventually appearing in popular guides like The Joy of Cooking.

It was sold commercially starting in the Fifties, including at an Ithaca food co-op that marketed it under the name “Golden Triple Rich.” (As the Bread Book notes, the finished loaf “is not actually white, but a pleasing creamy color.”)

You may not plan to live on bread and butter alone, but it is good to know that Cornell bread can contribute to your health.

The Cornell Bread Book

The bread even became the focus of a 1954 court case—subsequently cited in other lawsuits alleging trademark violation—in which the University successfully sued a bakery in Brooklyn for selling Cornell bread in, as the Sun reported, “a wrapper containing the school’s colors, name, and banner.”

After Clive passed away in 1967, Jeanette—who had studied human development and nutrition as a grad student in the College of Home Economics (now Human Ecology)—continued promoting the health benefits of Cornell bread. (She later endowed a lectureship in her husband’s memory in the Division of Nutritional Sciences.) The 1980 booksubtitled 54 Recipes for Nutritious Loaves, Rolls, and Coffee Cakes—was an expanded version of a booklet first published in 1955 in response to myriad inquiries for the recipe and its variations.

A photo of a stencil with a C decorating a bread loaf with flour
To give your finished loaf a touch of Big Red spirit, make a simple cardboard stencil and dust with flour. (Photo by Ryan Young / Cornell University)

Cornell bread has since made numerous appearances in print and online media; in 1987 the Chicago Tribune called the finished product “delicious and easy to make,” while in 2005 Mother Earth News dubbed it “Dr. McCay’s Miracle Loaf” and observed that it had “attracted a wide following among bakers who praised the recipe for its delicious taste and extraordinary nutritional qualities.”

A slim volume that originally retailed for about $3, the Cornell Bread Book is long out of print, but used copies are findable online. (Prices can vary widely, though, from under $10 to more than $100.)

In addition to Professor McCay’s original recipe—which produces a whopping three loaves, or “two loaves and a pan of rolls”—it includes instructions for pizza dough, pita, sourdough waffles, yeasted doughnuts, hamburger buns, and much more. “Each time you bake is a new adventure,” the book observes, “and each time your judgment improves along with your bread.”

Cornell Bread

Yield: One loaf


1½ cup warm water (105–115 °F)

1 package (2¼ tsp.) active dry yeast

1 tbsp. vegetable oil

1 tbsp. honey or brown sugar

¼ cup soy flour

⅓ cup nonfat dry milk

2 tbsp. wheat germ

1 tsp. salt

3 to 3½ cups all-purpose flour

The cover of the "Cornell Bread Book"


Combine the water, yeast, oil, and honey or brown sugar in a large bowl and let stand for five minutes. In a separate bowl, combine soy flour, dry milk, wheat germ, salt, and 1½ cups of the all-purpose flour. Add flour mixture to yeast mixture and stir until smooth. Add another 1½ cups of all-purpose flour, then continue adding as much of the additional half-cup as needed to form a dough stiff enough to knead.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes by hand (or 5 minutes in a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook). Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl and turn to oil top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about an hour.

Punch dough down and turn onto a clean surface. Shape into a loaf by flattening into a rectangle, then rolling up (starting from a short side) and pinching seam to seal. Place, seam-side down, in an oiled 9 x 5-inch pan; cover (or put into a proofing bag) and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about an hour.

Toward the end of the rising time, preheat oven to 350 °F. Bake for about 50 minutes (tenting with foil after the first 30 minutes) or until bread sounds hollow when tapped or the center reaches 190 °F on an instant-read thermometer. Turn out loaf from pan and cool on wire rack.

Note: This recipe also works well in a 9-inch, covered Pullman (pain de mie) pan. To use one, rise formed dough with the pan’s lid on until it reaches a half-inch below the top edge. Remove lid after first 30 minutes of baking; if desired color has been achieved, tent with foil for remainder of baking time.

Adapted from various sources including The Cornell Bread Book and the Cornell Cooperative Extension pamphlet Yeast Breads.

Top image: Photo by Ryan Young / Cornell University

Published November 23, 2021


  1. Shalaine McLaughlin, Class of 1995

    Is there a dairy free alternative?

    • Tommy

      When recipes call for dry milk, I’ve had success substituting some plant-based milk for the dry milk and some of the water. To reconstitute 1/4 cup of dry milk, you would typically add 1 cup of water to get 1 cup of milk. The numbers don’t work so well in this example, but I bet you would be safe substituting all of the powdered milk and 1 cup of the water with 1 cup of your favorite plant-based milk.


  2. David Steward, Class of 1979

    Fascinating story and a great instructional video. Thanks for posting.

  3. TP Enders, Class of 1990

    What the world needs during these trying times is a bread machine version of this interesting-sounding recipe.

  4. Daniel Coates, MS, PhD, Class of 1973

    Why not WHOLE GRAIN flour? Would that not be more nutritious? With all respect and affection for the late Professor McCay, could current Cornell experts review the recipe for the most nutritious bread to update his version of Cornell Bread. Dan Coates

    • I believe most whole grain flours are exactly what the above recipe above recommends: white flour with the wheat germ mixed back in. Just like brown sugar, with modern machinery it’s easier to highly process something and then add some parts of it back in than to stop the refining process part way through. So unless your whole wheat flour is stone ground it’s almost certainly white flour with the germ added back in. In the 40s when this recipe was made I imagine there was plenty of white flour available and less health food grocery producers so it was easier to include wheat germ as its own ingredient than ask for whole grain flour.

  5. Lisa Fernow

    I used to make this bread all the time at Cornell and am delighted to see the recipe again. Somehow I’d lost my cookbook – my favorite part is how they show the rats gaining weight.

    • Amy Bell, Class of 1982

      My mother used to make this bread when my siblings and I were young! I loved it. Very tasty and definitely a better bread (with more texture and taste) than what is on the shelves today!

  6. Viviana Holmes, Class of 1971

    I was in a work-study program at Letchworth Village State School in Theills ,New York in the late ’60’s. They baked Cornell bread every day for all the residents. When the patients would not eat anything else, they would eat the bread. It was delicious! Thanks for the recipe

  7. Edie Marshall, Class of 1996

    How much would the nutritional impact be if a gluten-free AP flour substitute (usually a mix of GF flours + leavening agent) were used instead of AP wheat flour? I might just give it a try… Thanks for the article and recipe!

    • Kelly Soukup ONeal, Class of 1985

      I’d love to receive your gluten free Celiac friendly adaptation if you can post. Not sure how to substitute the wheat germ.

  8. Mary Ames, Class of 1969

    When I was a kid in the 1950s, my mom made a point of feeding the family what we called “Cornell Formula Bread.” I didn’t know at the time that the word, Cornell, referred to a university. But I’ve often wondered since how much that name, rattling around in my subconscious mind, influenced my later choice.

  9. Judy Goldhaft, Class of 1961

    I ran into “Cornell formula” baked goods in the Fanny Farmer Cookbook in the late 60s. But have you tried buying soy flour lately? It no longer seems to be available, though instructions for making it are online.

    • Patricia, Class of 1988

      Soy flour is often available in Indian grocery stores or Bob’s Red Mill.

  10. I make Cornell with half white bread flour and half home ground whole wheat. Could I use spelt or kamut flour for the whole wheat portion?

  11. Eileen Smyth

    We made Cornell bread for years until our bread machine broke. It’s quite yummy, actually.

    Come to think of it, maybe I’ll get myself another bread machine.

  12. kathy bowlin

    the recipe in Mother Earth Nees 1987 added a lot of ingredients to this recipe including nutritional yeast, nuts, molasses, and brown sugar and raisins. i substituted a cup of white flour with the two cups of whole wheat. i cut recipe in half. this recipe in ME News was for 2 loaves but 4 and a half cups of flour is not enough for 2 loaves.

  13. Robert Cole, Class of 1969

    I attended elementary, junior high, and high school in N. Syracuse,NY, in the 1950’s and 60’s. I remember seeing Cornell bread on the school menus, and remember enjoying the bread. Sixty years later I wondered “What the heck was that Cornell bread?”. Thanks to the internet I finally found out, and am now baking a weekly batch in Florida!

  14. Lynn, Class of 1964

    I am celiac but I remember Cornell Formula bread and loved it. I am learning to use a Zojurshi bread machine and would love to adapt a recipe for it that is health and gluten free. Can anyone help me with recipe and the process.

    • Christine O’Connell

      I just made this in a Zojirushi machine, using a recipe from Beth Hensperger’s book, “The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook”. Like every other recipe in the book, it was out of this world delicious. I always use SAF yeast which I think is marvelous.

  15. Mary Nesgoda

    Due to wheat flour being a raw agricultural product are you concerned with putting the C on top of the loaf after baking? I don’t think everyone understands the potential pathogen concerns with raw flour. I’ve made the Cornell bread since the 70’s. I love it.

  16. Patricia, Class of 1988

    Here’s a bread machine version that I’ve used with success (1 1/2 lb loaf):
    1 ½ lb

    2 cups high-gluten flour*
    ¾ cup whole wheat flour
    ¼ cup soy flour
    1 ¼ cup water**
    3 tablespoons dry milk solids**
    1 ½ tablespoons wheat germ
    2 tablespoons honey
    1 ½ teaspoons salt
    2 teaspoon yeast

    *Add 1 tablespoon to 1 ½ tablespoon gluten and complete the measurement with bread flour if
    no high-gluten flour is available.
    **You can use fruit juice. Or, instead of the liquid and dry milk, you can substitute whole or 2%
    2% milk.

    Load and bake, using the whole wheat cycle if your machine has it, or the regular cycle if not. This one doesn’t work well on the rapid cycle.

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