The most widespread form of bread today is the Bloomer and the Tin loaf. Both can be made from the same dough, but the Tin loaf is made in a loaf tin. Another older form of bread is the Cottage loaf. This bread is made by stacking two balls of dough, one on top of the other, and perforating the top one, which is smaller, with a stick the width of a thumb to attach it to the larger ball below. According to historians, it’s possible that this form became popular because the bakers saved space in their ovens by making higher loaves. In those days, people did not yet have loaf tins that could make it even easier to bake the bread.
The Cottage loaf is an old-fashioned shape of bread that fell out of favour with the advent of bread tins, but also because people prefer a loaf that creates tidy, even slices for sandwiches. Slow Food UK reports that this shape of bread was the most popular until the Second World War. In pictures of Victorian and Edwardian bakeries, you’ll spot the cottage loaves stacked high in the shop window.
Victorian recipes always call for creating a ‘sponge’ dough with brewer’s yeast, water and flour to ferment before the bread dough is made. This was because the brewer’s yeast was much weaker than the commercial yeast strains we know today, and it had to rest for longer in order to do its work properly.
Follow the preparation for the Classic white tin loaf until after the first rise.
Briefly knead the dough by pulling it from the outside inwards; this will encourage the dough to rise higher instead of expanding wider.
Keep one-third of the dough aside. Shape the rest of the dough into a ball and place it on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Now shape the smaller dough portion into a ball and place it on top of the larger ball.
Dust the dough all over with flour. Use a stick the thickness of your thumb to push a hole down through the upper ball, pressing all the way through the two balls until you feel the tray underneath.
Cover the bread with a light cotton cloth and wrap it in a large plastic bag (I keep one especially for this purpose). Rest the dough for 1 hour. Towards the end of the resting time,
Leave the top ball as it is or make eight slashes with a sharp knife (this does take some practice). For a nice crust, you can put a heatproof bowl with water in the oven to create steam during baking.
Place the bread in the lower part of the oven.
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