What are the origins of the cottage loaf

Bread is made and baked in a variety of shapes and sizes, one of these being the 'cottage' loaf. Its origins are not known for certain. There would not seem to be any particular reason why a loaf should be made from two moulded dough pieces and then assembled one on top of the other before baking. Loaves made in this fashion have been known for hundreds of years. In ancient times a loaf called a nastus, was made in this form and Nicostratus, an ancient poet, wrote of it as follows:

Such was the size, O Master, of the Nastus, A large white loaf. It was so deep; its top Rose like a tower quite above its basket; Its smell when that the top was lifted up, Rose up, a fragrance not unmixed with honey.

Although there would not seem to be any misunderstanding nowadays as to what is meant by a cottage loaf, there seems little available information as to how it has obtained and retained its name. It is possible that many years ago, when baking was largely done at home, and where accommodation was limited and family sizes larger than today, the housewife had to invent some means of

Side view before joining

Side view before joining

Side view after joining and cutting

Top view after joining and cutting Fig. 33 Cottage loaf cutting.

getting sufficient bread baked to satisfy the demands of the family. By placing one 'cake' of bread on top of another, keeping the top smaller than the bottom so that it would not topple over in the oven or come into contact with the walls of the oven the housewife created a single loaf composed of two ' cakes' of bread. The two 'cakes' were held together by a deep indentation (perhaps by the baker' s elbow) made vertically downwards from the upper into the lower portion.

This, of course, is supposition but in all probability it was lack of space in the oven that first made the cottager experiment with one loaf on top of another and so evolved what easily might be called the 'cottager's' loaf, which has now become a cottage loaf. A variation of the loaf is one called a 'cottage brick' where two brick-shaped dough pieces were baked on top of the other.

Both versions of cottage loaf are notoriously difficult to make. Each part is proved separately and then combined before final proving is reached. Care has to be taken that the two surfaces which are to be joined are flat and that the lower dough piece does not collapse under the weight of the upper one. The cutting or 'notching' of the product is as much about controlling loaf shape as it is about providing a distinctive appearance (see Fig. 33).

Further reading

DAVID, E. (1977) English Bread and Yeast Cookery, Allen Lane, London, UK, pp. 203-204.

Continue reading here: What is micronised wheat

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