Posts Tagged ‘cottage loaf’

Photo: telegraph.co.uk

Imagine how chuffed I was to see my photo of cottage loaves (duly credited) appear in Lucy Jones’ article in the Telegraph UK!

Poor old Princess Anne – I hope she wasn’t too upset by the comparison of her hairstyle to an old style bread – but I guess if it helps to bring cottage loaves back into the public eye, then that can only be a good thing.

One of the theories behind the origin of the cottage loaf was given to me by UK based Peter May, who believes it originated hundreds of years ago when it was illegal to sell underweight bread in England:

The reason for the top (the same reason as for the ‘bakers dozen’ , which means 13) was the extremely severe penalties suffered by bakers who gave short measure.  Loaves had to be sold by standard weight, thus to ensure the baker didn’t sell underweight he’d add a small dough ball on top.

Incidentally the bread laws which date from 1266 have been law right up to 2009 when the EU overruled them in the name of so called competition. Loaves had to be a full 800g (2lb) or half 400g (1lb)sizes.

I have baker friends who don’t see the sense in this, because the dough weight could be adjusted with water – why waste the extra flour?  But I do think there is some merit in Peter’s argument – the finished weight of a loaf can vary quite a lot depending on baking conditions, and if I was at risk of being flogged for a light loaf, I’d be inclined to add a little to the top as well.

Don’t forget we’re having a cottage loaf bake-off – if or when you’ve baked a loaf, please send me a photo and I’ll upload it here!

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I’m feeling a tad guilty.

I was so excited about having a cottage loaf bake-off, that I forgot to mention how tricky the little buggers are to make.  I’ve managed to occasionally produce a passable sourdough loaf, but prior to today, all my attempts with commercial yeast have yielded amorphous blobs.  Like this one..

Since most people don’t use sourdough starters, I’ve been experimenting to find a yeasted version that would work in this unusual shape.

Tah-dah!  This wonderful recipe, from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, produces a full-flavoured, well-defined cottage loaf.  It requires some preparation the night before, but this extra step infuses the dough with a delicious complexity lacking in most commercial yeast breads.

I’ve also picked up a very clever trick from Mr Reinhart.  By brushing the bottom layer with a little oil before joining the top layer on, it’s easier to achieve a clear separation of storeys, rather than the spaceship-shaped lump above.

Without further ado, here is my pain de campagne de cottage loaf

Preferment (made the night before):

  • 140g (5oz)  plain (all purpose) flour
  • 140g (5oz) bread or bakers flour
  • ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon instant (dried) yeast
  • 170g (6oz) water, at room temperature

1. In a mixing bowl, stir together the flours, salt and yeast.  Add the water and mix to a sticky dough.   Scrape off your fingers and cover the dough, letting it rest briefly (about 10 minutes).

2.  On a lightly oiled bench, knead the dough briefly.  As the dough is quite sticky, it’s best to use the lift, slap and fold method (see video below) rather than pummeling the dough with the heel of your hand.

3. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let it rest at room temperature for about 1 hour, or until it swells to about 1½ times its original size.

4. Knock the air out of the dough, then place the preferment into an oiled container and cover with cling film (or a lid) and store in the fridge overnight.

Pain de Campagne:

  • All the preferment prepared above
  • 225g (8oz) bread or bakers flour
  • 45g (1.5oz) rye or whole-wheat flour (I used rye)
  • ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon instant (dried yeast)
  • 170g (6oz) water, at room temperature

1.  Remove the preferment from the fridge 1 hour before making the dough.  Cut it into pieces with a knife or pastry cutter, and place them in a large mixing bowl.

2. Add the water and yeast, and stir together.  Now add the flours and salt.  Mix together with a spatula initially, then get your hand into the dough and squelch it all together, until well combined.  Scrape off your hands,  cover the dough and let it rest for 10 minutes.

3.  Turn the rested dough onto a lightly oiled bench and knead briefly, until smooth.  It shouldn’t take too long if you’ve let it rest first.  I use the lift and slap French method of kneading, as described in the basic bread tutorial.

4. Oil the scraped out mixing bowl, and return the dough to it.  Cover with cling film and allow the dough to rise for about 1½ hours at room temperature. If it rises too fast, knock the air out of the dough halfway through.  Reinhart’s recipe specifies letting the dough prove for 2 hours, but mine was rising too quickly for that.  Once the final dough is double its original size, it’s good to go.

5.  Preheat the oven to maximum, and place a pizza stone in to heat up, if you’re using one. Turn the dough onto a lightly oiled bench, and divide it into two pieces – one approximately 600g and the other 300g.  Shape both of these into tight balls.

6.  Place each ball on a sheet of parchment paper, cover  loosely (I use a large plastic cake box) and allow to rise for about 15 minutes.  Brush the bottom layer with a little oil, then cut a cross in the top of the dough.  Cut a similar cross on the bottom of the smaller ball, and place it on the top of the larger one.  Now push your index finger or a chopstick into the middle of the loaf, working all the way down to the bottom and pushing outwards to “weld” the two layers together.  Cover again and allow the dough to prove for another 10 minutes or so, or until nearly double in size (be careful not to overprove).

7.  Slash the dough all around, cutting through both levels.  Mist the dough with water, then slide it into the oven (either on a tray, or with a pizza peel).  Turn the oven down to 220C (with fan), and bake for 20 minutes.

8. After the initial baking time, reduce the oven temperature to 175C (with fan). Remove the parchment paper, if possible (it’s not a big deal), rotating the loaf at the same time to allow it to brown evenly. Bake the loaf for a further 10 – 15 minutes, or until it’s baked through and sounds hollow when rapped on the base.  Allow to cool on a wire rack completely before slicing.

Pain de Campagne is a great recipe to have in your repertoire, and a very versatile dough for shaping.  Once you’ve got the recipe down pat, I’m sure you’ll find dozens of other bread shapes to make with it.

Your turn now – bring on the cottage loaves!

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We’ve just had a long weekend here in Sydney, and I spent most of it in the kitchen!  Great fun – although I’ve made a serious dent in the flour supplies..

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Over the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to improve my bread slashing skills, albeit with limited success.

Joanna, bless her, is doing her best to coach me via email and, whilst I’m making some progress, I’m still a long way from getting it right.  Luckily all the rejects are edible, so nothing is going to waste.

I tried again on the weekend.  The first loaf burst open – not unattractively, mind you, but not correctly.  The little cottage loaf, which I’m now pretty happy with, was just sitting there, minding her own business…


The second loaf was more successful.  I tried all of Jo’s tips – final prove in the fridge, didn’t oil my hands, didn’t spray water on the dough and put the cold loaves straight in the oven.  I also added an extra slash, as the dough seemed to need more room to expand.  I’m much happier with this one, although the loaf does remind me of a watermelon.



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Since the oven was on, I thought I’d try Dan Lepard’s latest Guardian recipe for tapenade rolls.  My version had less added salt (8g to the 500g flour), jarred olive tapenade and, because I can’t do maths on a Sunday morning, I made twelve rolls instead of the specified ten.  They were delicious, though…


…and so full of personality!  For some reason, the little one below reminded me of Groucho Marx.  I think it was the eyebrows.  They were perfect with soup for lunch.


. . . . .

We’d picked up a sheet of ameerdine (apricot paste) during our trip to Harkola and I was struggling to think of a way to use it.  In the end, I made a large apricot danish, using Richard Bertinet’s sweet dough recipe and layering it with Pete’s apricot jam, some pastry cream and the ameerdine, before rolling the whole thing up and baking it in the oven.  It was a messy process – the apricot paste was quite stiff, and the pastry cream oozed out during the rolling process.  But the end result was a big hit with Pete and the neighbours!


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Here’s some wonderful trivia from UK based Peter May on why cottage loaves came about:

The reason for the top (the same reason as for the ‘bakers dozen’ , which means 13) was the extremely severe penalties suffered by bakers who gave short measure.  Loaves had to be sold by standard weight, thus to ensure the baker didn’t sell underweight he’d add a small dough ball on top.

Incidentally the bread laws which date from 1266 have been law right up to this year when the EU overruled them in the name of so called competition. Loaves had to be a full 800g (2lb) or half 400g (1lb)sizes.

I think it’s time for a cottage loaf revival!

Incidentally, Peter thought the top ball on my loaves should be smaller, which makes sense when you understand why it was added in the first place.

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Photo from Wallace & Gromit – The Official Site

Ahh…Bristol.  Home port to Treasure Island’s Hispaniola, the starting line for numerous Top Gear challenges and of course, the birthplace of Wallace and Gromit.

Joanna, who also hails from Bristol, recently sent me a photo of a  British cottage loaf, an unusually shaped bread made by stacking a small ball of dough on top of a larger one.  As these featured so prominently in the most recent W&G film, I thought it might be fun to try and make some loaves.

Here’s how Jo described them to me:

This is a very old traditional English  bread shape – all bakeries made these when I was a kid. They don’t any more. I think the idea was that you ate the top one first and then the bottom one, so that it would keep fresher through the week.  I don’t know if they were called cottage loaves because they look like a cottage with a roof on, or because they were made at home.  I associate them with thatched cottages and so forth.

I wish one of those old English bakers could come and give me some tips, because these proved (no pun intended) to be quite fiddly!  I couldn’t use my regular bread recipe, as the high hydration made manipulating the dough very difficult.

My first attempt ended up as a spaceship, with the two storeys proving into each other.


My second attempt mushroomed and Big Boy made rude comments about it.  I made him take it to school for lunch.

CL 021

I tried a third time with a reduced hydration sourdough (60% for anyone interested in the technical details) and a smaller loaf size (600g instead of 900g). I allowed the separate storeys to rest on the bench for 20 minutes, before stacking them and giving them an additional 10 minutes proving time.

After I’d assembled the cottage, but before the final prove, I stuck my fingers into the middle of the loaf, right down to the bottom, to “weld” the two layers  of dough together.


Immediately before baking, I slashed the loaves several times, to  try and control the expansion and reduce the mushrooming effect.  It was moderately successful and I finally ended up with three cottage loaves that I’m pretty happy with.  Meet Larry, Curly and Moe…


These loaves have a different texture to the ones I normally bake, with a slightly denser, but at the same time, softer crumb.  The boys are enjoying the change.  Many thanks, Joanna!

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Edit: For anyone else who wants to give this a go, here are the quantities I used for the 60% dough:

  • 300g sourdough starter (at 166% hydration, ie. fed on one cup water to one cup flour)
  • 1kg bakers flour
  • 430g water
  • 50g oil
  • 16g fine sea salt

I bulk proved for four hours, then shaped and proved as above.  Each loaf used 600g of dough – 400g for the “bottom floor” and 200g for the “top storey”.

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