I'm as comfortable making bread as I am breaking it, and if I had my way, you would be, too.
I got an early start, having set up housekeeping at 18, delving into the kitchen arts as a way of killing time during the cold winter months, when -- in the East Coast resort town where I lived -- winter work was scarce and bread bakeries nonexistent. In my well-worn book of handwritten recipes, the earliest entries recall those days.
That's when I taught myself to be unafraid of yeast and to revel in the silky texture of a properly kneaded dough: proof there was something to be said for loafing around.
Paging through that recipe book today, I can practically taste the first cinnamon raisin bread I baked (a marvel fresh out of the oven, even better the next day as French toast). And the high-rising beer-herb bread infused with thyme, sage and Rolling Rock.
Time-traveling through that little book recently, I came across another cherished bread recipe, penned for posterity after I landed in Seattle. The irony is that I had to move to the Northwest before making the acquaintance of that quintessential New England loaf that's perfect for sandwiches and for toasting: anadama bread.
Look through any classic American cookbook and you'll likely find a recipe for anadama. "The New England Cookbook" (1936) and my "Early American Recipes" (1953) call for "Indian meal," molasses and shortening. More contemporary tomes ("The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook") ditch the shortening, use the politically correct name for the grain, cornmeal, and encourage the use of a standing mixer. I prefer a sturdy spoon and my hands.
Most give a nod to the far-fetched story behind the bread's name, the tale of a Massachusetts fisherman, his wife, Anna, and an unfortunate incident involving cornmeal, molasses and the angry epithet, "Anna, damn her!"
Me? I love her, sliced thick and slathered with butter.
Which is why I pulled out my favorite earthenware bread pan and got to work, making a loaf that stands as sweet and tall — in my memory and my kitchen — as it did the first time I baked it.
Makes 1 loaf
1 package (or 1 scant tablespoon) yeast
½ cup warm water (110-115 degrees)
4 to 6 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal
¼ cup dried polenta (I use Bob's Red Mill)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1½ cups water
⅓ cup dark molasses
Vegetable or canola oil for oiling bowl, pan
In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in ½ cup warm water. Let stand until foamy (about 5 minutes).
In a large bowl, whisk together 4 cups flour, the cornmeal, polenta and salt. Add the water, molasses and yeast mixture, and stir until combined. Add flour as necessary to maintain a dough that is sticky but doesn't stick to your fingers.
Turn dough out on a lightly floured board (or counter) and knead until smooth and elastic.
Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turning once. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about an hour.
Punch down and knead again, briefly. Shape into a ball and place, seam side down, into a lightly oiled (or nonstick) 9-inch loaf pan. Cover with plastic wrap (or a clean kitchen towel) and let rise in a warm place until doubled (about an hour).
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes, or until dark golden brown.
Remove from pan and cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.