In the centre of the dinner-table, just below the cruet stand, stood an enormous loaf of bread. Mr. Harding, the baker, cooked one for Father every Saturday. It was four loaves baked in one so that it did not get as stale as four small loaves would have. It was made cottage-loaf-shape–two storeys high with a dimple in the top.
– Emily Carr, The Book of Small, p17
[I]f there is anything quite as good as the soft part of the crust from an English cottage loaf (how soon shall we be seeing cottage loaves again?) I do not know of it.
– George Orwell, In Defence of English Cooking, 1945
The closures and confinements are wearing, aren’t they? But once again the BBBabes have helped to ease the pain!
Cathy chose to make cottage loaf. Now that we are being discouraged from going to the cottage, what could be better than bringing the cottage to us?
By far the most characteristic and distinctive shape among English breads, one now unique I think to this country, is the cottage loaf, two round loaves baked one on top of the other, the top one always being smaller than the bottom one. This loaf, like all our hand-moulded bread, was baked on the floor of the old brick oven of the cottage, the farmhouse or the village bakery.
[A]lthough the true cottage loaf has all but disappeared, and efforts made in modern bakeries to reproduce it result in futile travesties, to the English the cottage loaf remains the basic symbol of homely, wholesome bread. The shape would still be instantly recognized by any Englishman anywhere, even had he never set eyes on the real thing.
Elizabeth David, English Bread and Yeast Cookery, p.203-204
The common shape of bakers’ loaves is given by dividing the portion of dough intended for one loaf into two parts of unequal size, the smaller one being little more than a third of the whole. These are made into the form of very thick cakes, and then placed one on the other, care being taken that there should be no flour between them, and then pressed together, and a deep indentation made inthe centre of the upper one, sometimes by the baker’s elbow.
The loaves technically called “bricks,” which are baked in tins, are of convenient form for making toast or for slicing bread and butter.
Eliza Acton, The English Bread Book, p.184
[T]here was one thing in the kitchen that Mrs Woolf was very good at doing; she could make beautiful bread. The first question she asked me when I went to Monks House was if I knew how to make it. I told her that I had made some for my family, but I was no expert at it. ‘I will come into the kitchen Louie’ she said, ‘and show you how to do it. We have always made our own bread.’ I was surprised how complicated the process was and how accurately Mrs Woolf carried it out. She showed me how to make the dough with the right quantities of yeast and flour, and then how to knead it. She returned three or four times during the morning to knead it again. Finally, she made the dough into the shape of a cottage loaf and baked it at just the right temperature. […] It took me many weeks to be as good as Mrs Woolf at making bread
– Louie Mayer, Recollections of Virginia Woolf, edited by Joan Russel Noble, p. 157
Pioneers blended grains available to produce breads with interesting texture. These wholesome, unusual[sic] shaped loaves were baked in cast iron pots in the cottage fireplace.
-Red Star Yeast, Early American Cottage Loaf
Here is how things went with making Cottage Loaf:
BBB Early American Cottage Loaf diary:
9 April 2020, 09:32 I love the shape! I also love that an “early American” loaf recipe calls for yeast, when commercial yeast wasn’t introduced until the late 1800s…. Perhaps by “early”, Red Star means early 20th century….
21 April 2020, 16:23 I must say that I’m really looking forward to seeing Cathy’s sourdough version! It will be great to have a choice between using sourdough or commercial yeast. Because our starter is so active right now (I have no idea what we’re doing to make this so), I’m really glad to be using it instead of commercial yeast (the dough smells so much better – it doesn’t have that slightly artificial apple juice smell that the dough gets with commercial yeast.)
AND commercial yeast is still pretty much impossible to find. (We do still have some in the fridge… I don’t know what the expiry date is though.)
In the meantime – because I’m a freak – here are the weights for the ingredients that didn’t have weight equivalents.
1¼ cups water [280 grams]
2 TBSP oil (I used coconut oil) [27 grams]
3 TBSP honey [63 grams]
2¼ cups (286 grams) bread flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill AP flour)
1 cup (120 grams) whole wheat flour (I used graham flour)
1½ tsp salt [9 grams]
2 TBSP wheat germ [14 grams]
¼ cup (30 grams) oat or wheat bran (I used einkorn bran which was sifted out from home-milled flour)
¼ cup (30 grams) oatmeal
2 TBSP corn meal [15 grams]
1-½ tsp instant dried yeast (original recipe called for 2-¼ tsp active dried yeast) [6 grams]
4 May 2020, 16:30 May the 4th be with you!!
Oh oh. I’ve only just managed to comprehend that we’re now four days into May, which means that I haven’t even begun to think about Cottage Loafing.
Both T and I are on learning overload – his sister sent us her old iPad and my sister sent us her old iPhone. Suddenly, we have been pushed into the 21st century! I must say that the iPad and iPhone have been remarkably helpful for the videos I’ve had to make for 2 of the orchestras I play in. For the first video I made, before the iDevices arrrived, I used my computer’s webcam and Zoom video – not the best definition…. It really didn’t help that my speakers weren’t working properly on that 1st video either. (It turned out that our fiendish cat had eaten half way through the wires – it’s amazing the speakers worked at all!)
It also didn’t help when my computer suddenly and seemingly irrevokably crashed.
But the good news is that the computer is fixed. And the new speakers are WAY better than the old ones (they were from our first Win95 computer)! Life, in spite of having to stay at home, is pretty good.
The forsythia is in full bloom and the mock Japanese cherry (we actually have no idea what it really is) is just leafing and will be blossoming in a few weeks. All the garlic I planted is thriving. Additionally, several of our outdoor herbs survived the winter – not just the chives and oregano, but sage, tarragon AND the lovage that I thought had died last August! Even the thyme survived this year! As has the potted rosemary that is in the basement because our winters are too cold. This has to be a first that so many things in our garden are flourishing. Do you think this means that my thumb is turning from black to green?
9 May 2020, 13:56 What on earth is that white stuff driving down outside?!!
10 May 2020, 13:10 We decided that going to the supermarket just before lunch on Mothers’ Day would be our best bet for short lines. We were right! Sure, it was cold (it was dropped down to around -5C last night…). Happily, we only had to wait for about 15 minutes. We were able to get everything we wanted EXCEPT yeast to give to our neighbours – they are using their bread machine for their daily bread. (Is it even possible to make wild bread in a bread machine??)
There were a reasonable number of bags of flour on the shelves, and the baking powder has also been replenished. But no yeast. I saw a store employee and asked if yeast might appear; he proudly said it was there on the shelves in Aisle 8. He warned me that they couldn’t get Fleischmann’s so they’d brought in another brand. Ha. Clearly, the man doesn’t do any yeasted bread baking…. All of the containers of leaveners on the shelf contained baking powder. There was still zero yeast. (Perhaps it had already sold out.)
11 May 2020, 10:28 Again? Snow?? It’s well after Easter!
14 May 2020, 16:34 Ooops!!! With so much time on my hands, I can’t seem to keep any sort of schedule. I’d better go and see if it’s time to shape the bread.
Because, yes. I put together the starter last night and mixed the dough this morning. Stiff, isn’t it?!
I added salt at around 11am, then folded around noon. Suddenly at 14:00, I remembered to fold again, just before heading out to Canadian Tire to get charcoal and get soil mix from the newly re-opened garden centre. Things take so much longer to do when wearing masks!!
17:39 I preshaped the dough – which still seems on the stiff side – about half an hour ago. Aside from the stiffness, it’s quite lovely. Then, before actual shaping, I went to re-read Cathy’s notes.
Shape each section into a round ball. Place larger ball in greased 2 ½ -quart casserole or soufflé dish. Using a sharp knife or lame, cut a cross, about 1 ½ inches across, in the top of the larger piece of dough. Brush the surface with water and then place the smaller piece of dough on top. Press through the center of both pieces of dough using the handle of a wooden spoon or your finger. Cover; let rise until indentation remains after lightly touching dough.
Just before baking, stick handle of wooden spoon or finger into hole again. And, using a sharp knife or lame, make 8 long slashes around the top and 12 smaller slashes around the bottom of the loaf.
– BBB May 2020 recipe
READ THE RECIPE: Before you begin, read the entire recipe. Some recipes are multiple-day processes; others can be completed in less than an hour. Some contain pointers to other sections that will provide important tips, techniques, or methods for baking your best. Trust me, it’s worth the five minutes it will take.
– Martin Philip, Breaking Bread, Note: Part Two: Method | Reading Recipes
Good thing I read the recipe again! Because Martin Philip is right. There were some important tips. I don’t think I would have thought to grease the casserole dish…. (Hmmm… shouldn’t Martin Philip have said “read and re-read”? Surely he must be aware of our short attention spans.)
18:59 Way to plan ahead! The bread is ready to bake; I’m preheating the oven now and I just comprehended that I won’t be available to take it out of the oven when it’s finished baking. I have a Zoom meeting in about half an hour. Duh.
Mercifully, T is here to monitor the kitchen!
19:12 Scoring was easy as pie for the top layer. But not quite so easy for the bottom. I have no idea if the slashes will work or not – I couldn’t really see if the knife was really going through the dough. Into the oven it went, with a stainless steel mixing bowl as a hat.
19:29 I just took the hat off and set the alarm to go off in 20 minutes. Fingers crossed that a.) I haven’t miscalculated, and b.) the bread comes out of the casserole dish cleanly.
21:03 Wow!!! The house smells fabulous! My meeting went about 30 minutes longer than I expected. T reported that he had no difficulty removing the bread from the dish.
Ooops!!! It’s a little lop-sided, isn’t it? And. I completely forgot that I was going to brush the crust with butter just after the bread came out of the oven.
Next time…. Meanwhile, I can’t wait until tomorrow morning when we can taste the bread!
Cathy wrote that she was “not really sure how you are supposed to slice it”. Neither were we. So we decided to simply cut it in slices – straight down, as if it were a regular loaf.
Delicious!! It’s just like the best brown bread that I remember from my childhood – when brown bread tasted like actual bread.
We tried it as it is – with just butter: delicious.
We toasted it: equally delicious.
We turned it into cheese snacks: sublime (only way to improve it would be to have a bowl of tomato soup at the same time…).
But, I have to confess that as interesting as the stacked look of this bread is, I’m not sure that I’ll bother with this shaping method again (not to mention that I’m afraid I may never achieve a non-lopsided result). However, the recipe itself is definitely a keeper. It will be perfect for sandwiches!
We love this bread, Cathy! Many thanks for a great choice.
Here is the May 2020 BBB recipe that we were given. And here is what I did to it:
Wild Cottage Loaf
adapted from a recipe for “early American Cottage Loaf” on the Red Star Yeast Website, and Cathy’s sourdough version of the recipe
makes 1 loaf
- dessert spoon whole wheat (100% hydration) Jane Mason starter from fridge
- 60gm 100% whole wheat flour
- 60gm water
- 220g boiling water, divided (hold back 10gm for when adding the salt)
- 27g sunflower oil
- 45g honey [the BBB recipe calls for “63 grams honey”]
- flour [the BBB recipe calls for “226 grams all-purpose or bread flour, 120 grams whole wheat flour, 14 grams wheat germ, 30 grams rolled oats (old fashioned), 30 grams oat or wheat bran, 15 grams corn meal”]
» 30g rolled oats
» 15g cornmeal, coarsely ground
» 10g flax seed, finely ground
» 285g unbleached “no additives” all-purpose flour
» 70g “no additives” 100% whole wheat flour
» 10g buckwheat flour
» 14g wheat germ
- all of the leavener from above [the BBB recipe calls for “120 grams sourdough starter, fed & active (or create a levain the night before with a tablespoon of starter + 50 grams flour and and 50 grams water to equal 120 grams and let it ferment overnight)”]
- 9gm seasalt
- Leavener: In the evening of the day before making the bread: Put the starter, whole wheat flour and water into a smallish bowl. Mix with a wooden spoon until the flour is stirred in well. Cover the bowl with a plate and set aside to sit overnight in the oven with only the light turned on.
- Pre-soak the rolled oats, cornmeal, and flaxseed: In the morning of the day you will be making the bread: Pour boiling water into a large mixing bowl. Add oil, honeyk oatmeal, cornmeal and flax. Set aside to cool.
- Mix the dough When a small forkful of the leavener floats in a small bowl of room temperature water, you can go ahead and mix the dough. If the leavener does not float, stir in a little more whole wheat flour and water – even amounts by weight – cover with a plate and leave for about 30 minutes more. Chances are that it will now float.
Add flours and wheat germ to the now cooled rolled oats mixture (check the temperature of the water against the inside of your wrist to make sure it is around body temperature). Add the leavener and use a dough whisk (or wooden spoon) to mix everything together to make a rough dough. If it seems impossible to mix in all the flour, dribble in a little bit of water. The dough will be quite stiff…. Cover the bowl with a plate and leave on the counter for about 40 minutes.
- Adding the salt: In a small bowl, whisk the salt into the final 10 grams water. Pour the salt mixture over the dough.
- Kneading: Use one of your hands to squoosh the salt and water into the dough; use the other hand to steady the bowl – this way you always have a clean hand. At first the dough might be a bit messy and seem like it’s coming apart. Persevere. Suddenly, it will seem more like dough than a horrible separated glop. Keep folding it over onto itself until it is relatively smooth. Cover with a plate and leave to rest for about 30 minutes.
- Stretching and folding the dough: Turn the bowl as you fold and re-fold the dough into the center. Cover the bowl with a plate and leave on the counter (or if the kitchen is cool like ours in winter and spring, into the oven with only the light turned on). Repeat the folding step about 3 times in all at 30 minute intervals. You’ll notice that after each time, the dough will feel significantly smoother (in spite of the grains from the multi-grain cereal). After the final time of folding, the dough is ready to pre-shape.
- Pre-shaping: Scatter a dusting of all-purpose flour on the board and gently place the dough on the flour. Cut the dough into two unevenly sized pieces: the smaller one being about a third of the total. Fold each piece of dough over in half, gently patting off any extra flour that might be there. Continue folding in half until each one is shaped into a ball. Cover with a tea towel and let rest for about 30 minutes.
- Prepare the casserole dish: Butter (or oil) a pyrex casserole dish. Cathy suggests the alternative of using a soufflé dish.
- Shaping: Without breaking the skin, use the dough scraper on the sides to tighten the larger dough ball further. Do the same with the smaller dough ball. Once they have been tightened, place the larger dough ball seam side down into the buttered casserole dish. Run your hands under the cold water tap and gently rub the top of the ball to wet it thoroughly. Use a very sharp paring knife to cut a cross in the center.
Press the smaller dough ball on top of the cross. Center it… (do as I say, not as I did). Press it down further by inserting the handle of a wooden spoon (run it under the cold water tap first) straight down through both layers. Cover the dish with an overturned stainless steel bowl and put it in the oven with only the light turned on to rise until an indentation remains after lightly touching dough Here’s what to do: Run your index finger under water and gently but firmly press it on the side of the bread. If the dough springs back immediately, recover the bread with the overturned bowl and leave it in the oven with only the light turned on. If the dough gradually returns back after being pressed, leave the covered dish on the counter.
- Preheating the Oven and Scoring: Turn the oven to 400F – don’t forget to take the rising bread out of the oven first. Just before baking the bread, push the handle of the wooden spoon (again: run it under the cold water tap before) into the hole in the center once more. Using your sharp paring knife, cut 8 slashes straight down on the top, and 12 slashes around the bottom layer.
- Put the casserole dish – with its overturned stainless steel bowl still on top – onto the center rack and immediately turn the oven down to 375F. Bake for 20 minutes.
- After 20 minutes, remove the lid and, without stopping to stare in amazement at the fantastic oven spring and/or the fact that the top layer is decidedly off to one side, close the oven door to continue baking the bread for another 20 minutes or so, until the crust is a lovely deep gold and the bread sounds hollow when knuckle-rapped on the bottom.
- Cooling: When the bread has finished baking, remove it from the oven and its dish – it should slip right out. Allow the bread to cool on a footed rack before slicing and eating; the bread is still cooking internally when first removed from the oven! If you wish to serve warm bread (of course you do), reheat it after it has cooled completely: To reheat any uncut bread, turn the oven to 400F for 5 minutes or so. Turn the oven OFF. Put the bread into the hot oven for about ten minutes. This will rejuvenate the crust and warm the crumb perfectly.
This bread is excellent as sandwich bread as well as for toast.
Leavener: The leavener is made with a 100% hydration whole wheat starter. It takes about 5 days to create. (Please see our take on Jane Mason’s Natural Starter made with Wheat Flour.)
Salt: The BBB recipe calls “1½ tsp salt [9 grams]” I urge you to weigh the salt. For more raving about this, please see Salt is salt, right?
The bread is delicious! We were going to make sandwiches with it for a picnic today. We went for a bike ride – it’s finally a warm and sunny day!! (They claimed that it was going up to 20C so we thought we’d be able to find a spot on the grass somewhere. Park picnic tables were banned from use in March. The city website states the following:
You are allowed to bring a picnic to the park or sit on a blanket and enjoy the park setting as long as everyone present is a member of a single household, and that they remain more than two metres away from others not from their household who may also be the park […] You cannot use a picnic table at this time. Picnic tables are considered amenities under the provincial order. Much like benches, picnic tables are not sanitized and can also promote congregating.
-City of Toronto, COVID-19: Changes to City Services
But, when we were thinking about heading out, we saw that it wasn’t quite 20C. Sure, it was beautifully sunny but only about 12C! So we had lunch inside – toasting the bread to act as a base for Mock Bennies. I added some rapini to mine to turn it into Eggs Fauxrentine. We both had plenty of our garden chives scattered on top. While there is no photographic evidence, rest assured that lunch was fabulous.
Then we went out for our ride, joining the throngs of happy Torontonians out walking, running, bicycling, skate-boarding, and/or gardening now that spring appears to have sprung.
We may have to stay home, but life is still pretty darn good.
Bread Baking Babes Early American Cottage Loaf
Cathy is the host of May 2020’s Bread Baking Babes’ project. She wrote:
The original plan was to make an English-style Cottage Loaf because I just love the shape, and it’s an easy and comforting bread for such a time as this. […] Most of the cottage loaves I found in my cookbooks and online are made with a good portion (if not all) of white flour. Some include a portion of whole wheat (ex. Elizabeth David’s “English Bread and Yeast Cookery” calls for 81 [percent] wheat[meal] flour), but this recipe, found on the Red Star Yeast web site, utilizes a mixture of grains. Since white flour is in short supply in a number of places, I thought using a mixture of grains would be more appropriate. Of course, things are changing daily.
– Cathy, in message to BBBabes
We know you’ll want to make a Cottage Loaf! To receive a Baking Buddy Badge to display on your site: make the doughnuts in the next couple of weeks and post about them (we love to see how your bread turns out AND hear what you think about it – what you didn’t like and/or what you liked) before the 29 May 2020. If you do not have a blog, no problem; you can also post your picture(s) to Flickr (or any other photo sharing site) and record your thoughts about the bread there. Please remember to contact the Kitchen of the Month to say that your post is up.
For complete details about this month’s recipe, the BBB and how to become a BBBuddy, please read:
- BBB Kitchen of the month: Cathy, Bread Experience, BBB May 2020
- BBBuddy guidelines
- about the BBBabes
Please take a look at the other BBBabes’ May 2020 Cottage Loaves:
- Aparna, My Diverse Kitchen: Cottage Loaf
- Cathy, Bread Experience: Early American Cottage Loaf #BreadBakingBabes (kitchen of the month)
- Judy, Judy’s Gross Eats: Early American Cottage Loaf
- Karen K, Karen’s Kitchen Stories: Early American Cottage Bread
- Katie (BBBBB), Thyme for Cooking: Bread Baking Babes back to basics: Cottage Loaf
- Kelly, A Messy Kitchen: Early American Cottage Loaf #BBB
- Pat (aka Elle), Feeding My Enthusiasms: Bread Baking Babes Go Cottage Style
- Tanna, My Kitchen in Half Cups: BBB ~ Early American Cottage Loaf
Remember to keep washing your hands!
» Multigrain Bread that isn’t just for Sandwiches (BBB May 2019)
» Yay! Good Brown Bread at last (BBB March 2015)
» Brunkans Långa – Brunkeberg’s Bakery Long Brown Bread (BBB September 2010)
» Brunkans Långa Revisited
» Catching up: 5 Grain Bread with Walnuts (BBB February 2009)
» St. Hildegard’s Spelt Bread (BBB January 2011)
» cinnamon raisin oatmeal bread (YS, Bookmarked)
» Multigrain Bread (BBD#09)