Having done a Showstopper and a Signature Challenge, week three brings my first Technical Challenge — a cottage loaf. Lucky for me, it’s Bread Week and I’ve made tons of cob loaves/plain ole white bread. Only difference is getting the shape right.
A cottage loaf looks like a snowman that’s been scored vertically all around. The challenge is making sure the smaller round stays on top of the base and doesn’t go tumbling off during the bake. Bakers also couldn’t use a stand-up mixer as these were originally made all by hand. Watch the video on But First, Dessert’s Facebook page to see how to work the dough and what it looks like after kneading.
I pretty much used the recipe on The Great British Bake Off with some very slight modifications, namely using shortening instead of lard so I don’t need to wait for it to soften and adding an extra gram each of yeast and salt.
Cottage Loaf Recipe
- 500g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
- 8g instant dried yeast
- 8g fine salt
- 50g shortening (butter-flavored shortening works fine, too)
- 300 – 350ml water
- oil for greasing
- kitchen scale
- large bowl
- small bowl (for measuring shortening)
- roasting pan
- baking tray
- tea towel
- large plastic bag
- After the first prove, fold the dough inwards repeatedly to knock the air out. This will ensure your freestanding loaf rises up, not spread out.
- Make sure to push two fingers from the top of the top ball down to the center of the base to ensure the two portions stick together. This will prevent the top portion from rolling off whilst the bread bakes.
- After the second prove, you can test readiness by prodding the dough lightly with your finger. The dough should spring back quickly.
- Creating steam in the oven helps make a crispy crust.
- Put flour into a large bowl and add the yeast to one side and the salt to the other. Add the shortening and about 225 ml of water. Combine with the fingers of one hand and use the other hand to add more water, a little at a time, until all the flour is incorporated. The dough needs to be soft but not soggy. (Add water until you get the soft dough, which may be more or less than the listed amount.)
- Tip the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and silky, about 10 minutes. Watch this video on kneading.
- Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel. Let prove for about 2 hours, until doubled in size.
- Line a baking tray with parchment paper and set aside. Take dough out of the bowl and fold inwards until the air is knocked out.
- Tear off a third and set aside. Take the rest of the dough and shape it into a rough rectangle, then roll it into a thick oblong. Fold the two ends towards the center and press down to make a square. Turn the dough over so the non-seamed side faces up.
- Shape the square into a ball by tucking the dough under itself until the top is smooth and taut, and the underside is rough. Place on the baking tray. Repeat steps 5 and 6 for the remaining dough.
- Place the smaller ball on top of the larger one and drive two floured fingers down the middle from the top to the center of the bottom dough. Make eight vertical slashes evenly around the dough. Cover the whole thing with a large plastic bag and let prove for another hour or until quite risen.
- Place a roasting tray at the bottom-most rack (I’m able to slide a rack to just above the bottom of the oven) and preheat the oven to 450 deg. F.
- Dust dough with flour then fill heated pan with cold water to create steam. Put dough in the oven and bake for 15 minutes.
- Lower the temperature to 375 deg. F and bake for another 20 – 25 minutes. The bread is done when you knock on the bottom and it sounds hollow.
Enjoy warm with some butter and jam.