Cottage Loaf

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A cottage loaf is a traditional type of bread originating in South England. This characteristic bread is first mentioned in the first half of the 19th century, but it is not sure since when it has been made. Until the Second World War, cottage loaves were one of the most popular types of bread. What makes them special would first of all be their shape: it is a circular loaf with a large topknot. It resembles a French brioche and the “pain chapeau” found in the Finistère department of Brittany.

The preparation of this bread is known to be time-consuming, and rather difficult: the dough should be stiff in texture but not too heavy so that the top loaf should not sink into the bottom one. In order to link the loaves, the top loaf, a third to a half smaller, should be joined with the bottom loaf through the center of the top with the fingers.

The famous British writer Virginia Woolf was prouder of her cooking skills than of her writing, and was said to be an excellent baker, mostly when it came to baking cottage loaves. In “Recollections of Virginia Woolf” is quoted her cook Louie Mayer who were taught by the writer how to bake the bread: “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.”

Another great British writer, George Orwell, would later write about the cottage loaf, along with other traditional English food, in his article “In defence of English Cooking”(1945): “Still, if 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.”

As emphasized by George Orwell, cottage loaves began to progressively disappear during the second half of the twentieth century. The bread, having too much crust, is for example not suited for preparing sandwiches, and its preparation is too difficult, which can explain how it slowly went out of fashion. Nowadays, it is difficult to find cottage loaves in bakeries.

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Bread and baked goods

Nominated by:Annalisa Vercelli