Cottage loaf - about this recipe
This recipe is based on one by Elizabeth David in English Bread and Yeast Cookery (ISBN 1906502870) but I have made it using an overnight sponge method. Yes, you will need to start this the evening before!
Also please read Chef's Notes below, before attempting to make this bread.
Makes 1 large loaf or 2 small ones
- 550ml sparkling water at room temperature
- 14g fresh yeast
- 675g strong white bread flour
- 225g strong wholemeal bread flour
- 10g salt or less
- Place the water in a jug and add the yeast.
- Weigh out half quantiies of each of the flours and place in a large bowl.
- Once the yeast has dissolved, empty the jug into the bowl with the flour. Do not add salt at this stage!
- Beat into a thick batter, preferably using your hand, but a whisk would be fine.
- Cover with clingfilm and keep at room temperature overnight.
- Mix the remaining flour and the salt into the sponge to form a fairly stiff, but not too stiff, dough.
- Knead for about 15 minutes or until the dough quickly springs back when poked,
- Form into a ball, place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm and allow to prove for about an hour.
- Knock back the dough, weigh it, and break off a piece which is rather under a third of the weight of the whole.
- Roll each piece into a ball, turning the folds of the bottom piece under and those of the topknot upwards.
- Leave each piece to rise seperately, covering each one with a large upturned bowl, for 45 minutes. It is better to allow the larger piece to rise on the baking tin or stone on which it will be baked.
- Carefully flatten the top of the bottom piece and using a sharp knife or grignette, cut a 4cm cross in the middle.
- Flatten the bottom of the topknot and moisten the bottom with some water.
- Place in the centre of the larger piece of dough.
- Using the handle of a wooden spoon, make a hole through the centre of the topknot down into the body of the bottom piece.
- Cover with a tea towel and leave to prove for a further 10 minutes.
- Carefully put the bread onto the lowest rack in the oven and switch it on now, settng it at 230° C (450° F - gas 8), [fan oven 210° C & reduce cooking time by 10 mins per hour].
- Bake for about 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to 200° C (400° F - gas 6), [fan oven 180°C] for the remaining 10 minutes.
- Remove from oven and allow to cool on a wire rack.
Making a sponge first encourages the yeast to act vigorously without the hindrance of salt, which is why the salt is only added at the dough stage. If you find the sponge fermenting too rapidly, refrigerate whilst you are in bed and first thing in the morning, put it back in the kitchen for a while to come back to room temperature. The process of using the end of a wooden spoon to make a hole in the bread, is known as 'bashing' and is done to join the top and bottom halves of the loaf. The reason the oven is not switched on until the loaf is in it is that it will have a chance to expand further and recover from its 'bashing'.