Bread-o-lution - January Cottage Loaf

January here we come – this is the first month of my Bread-o-lution project as committed in December last year.

I decided to start with something nice and simple – and what could be simpler that a good English loaf. Mind you, it’s a fancy shape one, but at the end of the day its just a plain white loaf. Being a sourdough freak I wanted to see if I can make a sourdough version of Cottage Loaf, and was surprised to find virtually so sourdough versions of this recipe.

I did find some very useful advice on a number of sites – “Fig Jam and Lime Cordial” (cool name by the way) has a lot of good tips on hydration and shaping. “Signor Biscotti” is full of wonderful pictures and a commercial yeast recipe. “Carmella Cooks” and “The Nourishing Gourmet” are the only recipes I could find that use sourdough instead of commercial yeast. I researched for the last three days and discarded any recipes that used any type of sweetener - sugar or honey, and any recipes that gave directions to apply an egg glaze – I believe that only sweet enriches dough should have a glaze – but that’s just me.

Read on to see how I got on

Sourdough Cottage Loaf
200g 100% white sourdough starter 

400g white bread flour 
100g wholemeal flour 
242g mineral water 
1 heaped tsp salt 
30g unsalted butter, melted 

Everything that I read about Cottage Loaf has convinced me that I should be looking to make a lower hydration dough than what I am used to. Ideally it should be 57-60% hydration.

Don’t get scared away by bakers hydration terms – it literally means expressing weight of all the different ingredients as a percentage of recipe total flour weight. Similarly, hydration of sourdough starter indicates weight of water over flour in the starter. 100% starter means you have equal amount of flour and water, 50% hydration means you have half the amount of water to flour – the lower hydration the firmer the starter is, the higher hydration, the more liquid it is.

So, lets work out bakers percentage for the recipe above : Lets find out total flour amount, beginning with the starter. My starter is 100% hydration, which means its 100g water and 100g flour. Add to that the rest of flours and total flour weight is 600g – 100g from starter, 400g white and 100g wholemeal. I want the dough to be 57% hydration, so how much water should I add? Multiplying 600 by 57% I get 342g. My starter already accounts for 100g water, meaning that I need to add 242g water to get to the desired hydration. Salt should account for 1-2% of flour weight, and a heaped tsp is about 7-8g – perfect. I want the dough to have a slight creamy taste without brioche-like feel, so I butter is only 2% of flour – anything over 5% and it becomes an enriched dough, which is not what I am after. See, easy as – you are now a pro at understanding baking percentage! For comparison purposes, a typical French bread is 55-60% hydration, everyday sourdough is 60-70% hydration, and something like ciabatta is 80-90% hydration. The higher hydration, the more large irregular holes you get, the lower the hydration, the more regular crumb.

Another tip I picked up from my research is how to handle lower hydration dough – preferably mixing by hand and resting a lot. Its been ages since I mixed my bread by hand – I love my KitchenAid and use it pretty much for all my dough mixing. This time I decided to mix it by hand and use Dan Lepard’s bread mixing technique, which you could read more on here.

To the actual mixing. Measure out starter, water, flours, salt and butter in a large bowl. Mix everything roughly together with one hand. I had to keep one hand clean for taking photos :) Don’t worry about proper mixing it just yet, just get all the ingredients into a messy lump. 

Tip the dough out on a workbench – you don’t need to flour or oil the bench, it’s a reasonably dry dough so it won’t stick to anything. Start kneading your dough – you only need to do it for 10 seconds, yes, I said 10 seconds – trust me on this. Cover the dough – I just put the dough bowl over it to stop it from drying out – and leave for 10 minutes. Uncover the dough, knead it for 10 seconds and leave for further 10 minutes. Repeat once more – 3 kneads over 30 minutes. Each time you come back to the dough you should see it becoming smoother and more “relaxed”.

Place the dough into a large bowl, cover wit clingfilm to prevent it from drying out and leave for 5 hours at room temperature

Once the dough has proven long enough – mine hasn’t quite doubled but was close enough, split the dough into two pieces, 1/3 and 2/3 of the weight.

Roll each piece into a ball and press down on the dough balls to flatten them a bit. 

Place the smaller ball on top of the larger one. Flour your index and middle finger and put them through the middle of the two balls, almost piercing them together. You’d have to press down quite hard, and might need to do it a couple of times to make sure that the balls have properly fused together. That’s where floured fingers help – the dough won’t stick to your fingers and tear as you sticking the balls together (this whole paragraph feels very rude for some reason :) Some of the blogs I’ve read advise you to prove the balls before sticking them together. I decided against it, as didn’t think I would manage to arrange the loaf without deflating individual balls too much.

It makes it easier if you start the whole loaf arrangement on a baking sheet, as moving this ball construction might be a bit tricky. Slash the loaf using either a lame or a very sharp bread knife – break knife works better than a regular knife as it doesn’t tear dough as much when is slices through it. Some people don’t slash cottage loaves, leave them as they are, but I wanted to try out my lame slashing. I did the slashing from bottom up in a straight line, trying to keep the slashes at about same distance. 

Cover the loaf with a large bowl – turned upside down – to prevent it from drying out. And leave for further 1 – 1 ½ to prove some more.

Bake for 25 minutes in a preheated oven at 200C fan oven. Cool on a rack before slicing.

As you can see the loaf has gone a bit wonky during the second proving, but I kind of like it – makes it look rustic :) The loaf if not as big as I thought it might be, but its nicely baked, and it’s a fun shape. The flavour developed really well after 24 hours – it has a nice soft crumb with a slight sourdough tang. It toasts well, and goes well with butter and jam. My kids love dipping it into soups – the texture stands up to soup really well – doesn’t go too soggy.

Would I make it again? Probably not as an every day bread, but perhaps for a party.


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