This soft, comfortingly sweet, cornmeal-and-molasses bread has a colorful history. For years, New Englanders have passed down two stories that attempt to explain the meaning of this bread’s unique name. Both revolve around a fishing village household. The first tells of a Gloucester, Massachusetts, fisherman, whose wife, Anna, prepared nothing for him to eat but a bowl of cornmeal and molasses. Desirous of something different to eat, one day he added yeast and flour to his daily gruel, in an attempt to create a tasteful bread. So frustrated was he in this endeavor that he grumbled, “Anna, damn her!”
A similar but more endearing story tells of a sea captain whose wife, Anna, was quite a good baker and renowned for her cornmeal and molasses bread. New England lore suggests that upon her death her gravestone read, “Anna was a lovely bride, but Anna, damn ’er, up and died.”
Makes 2 loaves
- 2 (1/4-ounce) packages active dry yeast
- 2 cups warm water (110° to 115°F)
- 3/4 cup coarse yellow cornmeal, plus extra for coating pan
- 1/2 cup dark molasses
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 51/2 cups bread flour
In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together the yeast and the warm water. Let stand about 10 minutes, until foamy.
Fit the mixer with the dough hook attachment, and beat in the cornmeal, molasses, butter, and salt. Mix in the flour, 1 cup at a time, to make a moderately stiff dough.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface, and knead for 6 to 8 minutes, until smooth and elastic, adding only enough flour to prevent sticking.
Transfer the dough to a large bowl coated with vegetable oil, and turn the dough to coat all surfaces. Cover with a slightly damp towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 1 to 11/2 hours, until doubled in size.
Punch the dough down. Turn out onto a lightly-floured work surface, and divide it in half. Cover, and let rest for 10 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease a large baking pan with butter, and sprinkle with cornmeal.
Shape each half of the dough into a ball. Place the balls, smooth sides up, on the prepared baking pan. Flatten each ball into a 6-inch round loaf. Cover and let rise for 30 to 45 minutes, until almost doubled in size.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until almost doubled in size.
Remove the bread from the baking pans. Serve warm, or cooled and toasted.