Posts Tagged ‘cottage loaves’

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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Photos of loaves from the bake-off can be found here.

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The cottage loaf is a traditional English bread that has fallen out of favour in recent years.  I absolutely adore making them. Despite a bit of a dodgy start, my last few attempts have turned out quite well, and it’s lovely to have such an unusually shaped loaf to serve at dinner.

I’ve met several fellow bread bakers since starting this blog  (and converted a couple to the cause) – would any of you be interested in joining me in a cottage loaf bake-off?

By “bake-off”, I don’t mean to imply anything competitive.  Rather, I thought it might be fun for us all to bake a cottage loaf or two, and then I’d put pictures up as we go on the Cottage Loaves page.  And since it’s not a contest (and there aren’t any prizes – sorry), I won’t bother with rules – just bake your dough of choice in a cottage loaf shape.   Then leave a comment here with a link to your photo, or let me know and I’ll email you to get a copy if you don’t have a website to upload them to.

Here are my tips – please chime in if you have any others…

  • Use a lower hydration dough.  This is not the time for a wet 75% dough, as the two halves will fuse into each other when you join them, and you’ll end up with some weird looking spaceship.  I use a 60% dough for my sourdough cottage loaves.
  • Let the two storeys have a second rise until almost doubled, before you put them together and give them a third brief rise as a combined unit.
  • Look, I know this bit is cheating, but if you can get it right, the  oven shelf above can stop the loaf from rising too much and “popping” its top off.
  • I aim for the top layer to be half the dough weight of the bottom layer.  I find this works well.  Also, small loaves seem easier to get right than  large ones.
  • Finally, poke a hole all the way through the middle and work the dough outwards with your fingers to try and weld the two layers together.  Slash well – I find lots of cuts helps the dough to rise more evenly.

It takes a bit of practice, but don’t give up, because these are heaps of fun to make.  After all, if Wallace and Gromit can make them, how hard can it be?  (She says, in her best Jeremy Clarkson voice.) And if you’d like a good laugh, have a look at  my failed first attempts.

Edit: If you’re after a bread recipe, you might want to try this Pain de Campagne de Cottage Loaf recipe.  It uses commercial yeast rather than sourdough and works well in this shape.

Please join in – it’ll be great fun!  Let’s bring cottage loaves back into vogue!

Photo from Wallace & Gromit – The Official Site

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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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