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This gorgeous, simple, golden brown bread has the crags, the holes, the moistness, the crunchy, toasty bits of cornmeal that transfer to your fingers and the incomparable ability to carry sinful amounts of butter and jam, or sauce and cheese, or egg and hot sauce just like its namesake muffins. This recipe is suitable for novice bakers and is easy on the wallet, to boot!
Note: you will also need nonstick cooking spray, plastic wrap, and cornmeal.
To prepare the dough:
Stir water, salt, sugar, yeast, and flour together by hand in a large mixing bowl (or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle) just until combined. The dough will be shaggy and very sticky.
Spray a piece of plastic wrap with nonstick cooking spray and lay it loosely over the mixing bowl. Let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free place for about 1 hour or until it looks bubbly and puffy.
Spray 3 standard loaf pans (8.5″ x 9.5″) with non-stick cooking spray and sprinkle in a fistful of cornmeal. Tilt the pans, tapping gently, until the interiors are coated with a thin layer of cornmeal. Tap out any excess cornmeal.
Spray your hands with nonstick cooking spray and use them to divide the dough evenly between the pans. The pans should be no more than halfway full. If you need to, spray and cornmeal an additional loaf pan for any excess.
Spray more pieces of plastic wrap with nonstick cooking spray and lay them loosely over each loaf pan. Let rise in a warm, draft-free place until the dough looks bubbly and puffy again, and has risen with the top of the dough dome just peeking above the edge of the pan.
While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 350°F. It is possible to let this dough rise too long, so be sure the oven is waiting for you rather than you waiting for the oven.
Evenly space the loaf pans in the oven and set the timer for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, take out one bread pan at a time and brush the tops of the loaves with melted butter. When you place the bread pans back in the oven, rotate their positions from front to back. Bake for an additional 10 minutes or until they are just lightly golden brown.
Immediately turn the loaves out onto a cooling rack and brush again with melted butter. Cool completely before slicing.
The bread can be stored, tightly wrapped, at room temperature for up to a week. If you do not think you can eat it in that time, wrap the cooled, unsliced loaves with two layers of plastic wrap and cover that with one layer of foil before storing in the freezer for up to 3 months. They can be thawed or simply sliced from their frozen state before toasting.