An old New England favorite with a twist or two!
This traditional New England yeasted bread was commonly baked throughout the region for at least a couple hundred years. It was even baked and sold commercially in Rockport, Mass. –– where some say it originated –– well into the 20th century. This delightfully flavored bread always includes both cornmeal and molasses, common ingredients that were often added to breads and other baked goods. The molasses lends a pleasant but light sweetness and flavor to this bread, as well as a slight bitter edge. The cornmeal adds delightful texture.
As many recipes as there were bakers
There are countless versions of this bread and differing techniques! Some call for boiling the cornmeal before adding it to the rest of the ingredients. Others used rye flour in addition to the white, and still others used a bit of graham flour. Some included milk, others just water.
My mom’s recipe was simple and used white flour and the cornmeal, and water was the liquid. I wanted to add more whole grain to the bread, so I used part whole grain spelt flour, and swapped out white spelt flour for the all-purpose. The original recipe used white sugar as a sweetener, I used maple syrup. It is enough to cut a bit of the bitterness of the molasses, but not enough to lend a maple flavor. Mom baked hers in a loaf pan, but I chose to form a boule and bake it in my Dutch oven. Of course, you can always bake it as a loaf if you like.
An ancient grain, spelt (Triticum spelta) has been cultivated for over 5,000 years around the world, and is considered by some people to be easier to digest than our common wheat, it’s close relative. We are very lucky to have a local farm that grows and mills the grain, so I sourced it there. I used cornmeal from another Vermont farm, a five-pound bag of which I accidentally ordered and am working my way through!
The story of the unusual name, maybe…
The name? According to many sources, including Yankee Magazine, the legend overwhelmingly credits a Gloucester fisherman with naming this bread in exasperation with his wife. It is said that Anna was not much of a housekeeper, and served her hungry husband a few too many bowls of cornmeal mush and molasses for his supper. Annoyed with her, one evening, the angered fisherman tossed some flour and yeast into his mush and threw the concoction in the oven. Apparently, he muttered “Anna, damn her” frequently while the bread was baking, and the name stuck.
I have no idea if there is any truth to this, but never let the facts get in the way of a good story!
Spelt Anadama Bread
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 1 tbsp. maple syrup
- 1 ¼ cups warm water, divided
- 4 tbsp. unsalted butter
- ¼ cup unsulphured molasses
- 1 tbsp. sea salt
- ½ cup coarse cornmeal
- 2 cups all-purpose spelt flour, or so
- 2 cups whole grain spelt flour
Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of the water (110 degrees) in a large bowl. Sprinkle in the yeast, whisk it up, and set aside for 10 minutes or so. In that time, the mixture should start producing bubbles and foam if it is active.
Combine the rest of the water, maple syrup, butter, molasses, and salt, and place on a low burner until the butter melts. Let cool to lukewarm, aim for no more than 110 degrees.
Add one cup of the all-purpose spelt to the yeast mixture and mix well. To this, add the cooled molasses mixture and stir up again, followed by the cornmeal and the rest of the flours, a cup at a time.
Once the mixture has mostly come together, turn it out onto a floured board and start kneading it together. You want the dough to be soft, but not too sticky. Add a bit more flour if you need to, and continue kneading for 8 to 10 minutes.
Place in a greased bowl, turn the ball of dough over to grease the top, and cover with a cloth. Set in a warm place for about an hour, or until double in bulk.
Form into a boule. Turn the dough back onto the board and form into a ball. You want to keep the surface of the dough tight as you shape. Place in a floured proofing basket or bowl. Cover and let rise again for another hour or so.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and pop in a sturdy, covered Dutch oven to heat. Once preheated, remove the Dutch oven, flour the inside, and gently turn out the boule into it. Slash the top to allow steam to escape. Cover, and place in the oven for 15 minutes, then remove the cover and reduce the heat to 350.
Bake for another 30 minutes or so, until the bread is browned, and hollow sounding when you thump the bottom. The internal temperature should be around 200 degrees F.
Turn out onto a cooking rack and resist the temptation to cut into it before it is just barely warm. You don’t want to ruin the texture of the bread!
This is delicious served with orange marmalade.
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