Why have these delightful, quintessentially English loaves gone out of favour? I think they take too much skill and patience for the industrial bread processors? Skill and patience and industrial processes in the same sentence – there’s an oxymoron for you!
I remember being very excited when my grandmother bought a cottage loaf at the village bakery. The bakers, Mr and Mrs Vining, never announced in advance that they were going to bake a batch, and great excitement broke out when they were spotted in the window. Word spread quickly and they sold like hot cakes! They were so romantic – two round loaves, one on top of the other, the top one being smaller that the bottom one – giving an impression of an old English country cottage. Very often, the topknot would slide a little to one side during baking, giving it a charming, lopsided appearance.
It is thought that the cottage loaf is unique to this country, although a similar bread was recorded in Roman times. A loaf of two halves probably existed so that it could be torn easily and shared – ‘tear and share’ – see, nothing new! A theory put forward by Elizabeth David in her definitive tome ‘English Bread and Yeast Cookery’, which seems more likely, was that the loaves were placed on the floor of brick ovens in cottages, farmhouses and bakeries. The joining together of the two loaves was an improvised way of economising space..