The English Cottage Loaf

Welcome to another step-by-step recipe from BreadClub20. Why not drop by our main Facebook page by clicking here.... If you like what you see and enjoy the recipe, we hope you go on to join us by 'Liking' and 'Subscribing'.

The Cottage Loaf....an archetypal vintage classic English bread. It's formed from two cobs, one on top of the other; the top one being one-third the size of the lower cob

Although it probably predates its first recording in history, there's no mention in writing of this style of loaf until the mid-19th century. It's possible that it is this particular shape to save space on the oven floor. Social historians have recorded an oblong style being produced in London which was called the 'cottage brick'. 

You'll notice in the diagram below, Mrs Beeton (1863) always found that the top cob slipped to one side 'with a jaunty angle'. 

It's fair to assume that it originated in the South of England. Until the start of the Second World War, it was amongst the most popular of loaves bought by the housewife from the village and town bakeries. 

The Early American pioneers baked cottage loaves in their cast iron pots over a wood fire...Dutch Oven style.

In her book, Recollections of Virginia Woolf', Louise Mayer (cook to Virginia Woolf), remarks that Woolf was an excellent baker and preferred the cold oven start to encourage the dough to rise as the heat increases. Cottage loaves were very much her signature bake. 

Virginia Woolf baked on a 1920's cast iron gas stove known as 'The Florence'. 

Across the Channel, similar shapes can be found in the French brioche  and the pain chapeau of Finistère.

You'll find plenty of recipes for the Cottage Loaf in all manner of recipe books. Be careful, one very popular baker omits a second proving....it's necessary if you want to keep your bread light and airy

Anyway, this is BreadClub20's recipe. We hope you like it. 

INGREDIENTS

300 mls of tepid filtered water

500 gms of strong white bread flour

1 tablespoon of demerara / golden sugar

1 teaspoon sea salt

20 gms softened unsalted butter

1 teaspoon instant yeast

METHOD

Using a bread machine

Add the water and the salt to the pan.  Add the dry ingredients and, lastly, the yeast. Leave to autolyse for fifteen minutes. Add the remainder of the ingredients and choose a Basic Dough programme (2hrs 20 minutes). Then proceed to the next stage. 

Mixing by hand

If you're mixing by hand or using a stand mixer, add the softened butter and the salt to the flour and mix thoroughly. Then add the remainder of the dry ingredients (except the yeast). Slowly add the liquid, then the yeast until you have a sticky mix. Turn the mix out onto a floured board and knead until you have a silky and pliable dough. (There are 'Help' videos and articles in the 'Useful Web and YouTube links' on the left hand side of this page). Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover. Leave for an hour somewhere warm until the dough has doubled in size. 

Now, let's move on. 

1. Tip the dough onto a scale and weigh it. 

Mine weighs in at 864 gms. That means the bottom cob will be 576 gms and the top cob will be...er....er....288 gms. 

2. Take off ⅓ of the dough and set apart. 

3. Knock back the main piece of dough and, tucking the edges into the middle, form into a cob.

4. Drag the dough down the worktop to help create surface tension on the outside of the dough. 

5. Repeat the process with the smaller piece of dough. 

6. Place the small dough on top of the large dough and flatten lightly. 

7. With a finger or the handle of a wooden spoon, make a hole in the centre of the small boule and follow this down through both pieces until you reach the worktop. 

By the way, I made two...

8. Cover and leave somewhere warm for about 45 - 60 minutes until it has doubled in size. 

9. Preheat the oven to 190⁰C.

10. If necessary, define the hole again and, with a sharp knife or razor, score the down down the sides from top to bottom all the way around both boules. 


11. Bake at 180⁰C for 30 minutes until golden. (If you wish, you can glaze the bread before baking using an egg or milk wash)

12. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a rack. 


Postscript......next time, I think I'll glaze them and only bake one to a tray....

Happy baking...

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