Cottage Loaves

July 7th, 2012

A few years ago, while I was researching the shape and size of mid-19th century bread loaves for a museum display, my grandmother sent me her own mother’s (my great-grandmother’s) bread pans.

Great-Grandmother's Bread Pans

They’re tin, and liable to rust if not dried properly after washing. Notice how they are formed from sheets of metal folded over a rectangle of thick wire — you can really see it at the corners where the wire is uncovered. If my great-grandmother got them new, they’re about 100 years old. But of course, she may have inherited them herself!

My Bread Pans

I prefer to bake in my own modern pans. They’re some sort of base metal covered in a smooth no-stick coating. Much easier to wash. And the museum professional in me feels better using “reproductions” and keeping the originals for display or study…

Comparing Bread Pans

Notice the difference in pan size though! My modern pan (on the right) isn’t small by today’s standards. They weren’t kidding about their bread back then.

Cottage Loaves Unbaked

Of course, you don’t need pans at all to bake a beautiful loaf. In the middle of the 19th century, when baking implements were still prohibitively expensive or simply unavailable, many housewives made “cottage loaves.”

“…Divide it [the twice-risen bread dough] into two portions, one larger than the other, and make each into a smooth ball without cracks, placing the smaller on top of the other, and pressing the forefinger into the centre on the top…”

The St. James’s Cookery Book, Louisa Rochfort, 1894

Baked Cottage Loaves

I made these loaves for Christmas brunch last year. I was staying at my mother’s house and didn’t have any bread pans…

Fresh from the Oven

July 2nd, 2012

I’ve been baking a lot of bread lately. I’m not sure why, but I’ve made a half dozen loaves in the past few weeks — more than I made in a year while living in New York. Of course it’s easier to bake when you have an immense kitchen and an oven that actually works…

Recent loaves have included pumpkin, plain white, and:

Cinnamon Raisin Bread

Today’s creation was light whole wheat with cinnamon, sugar, nutmeg, raisin swirl.

Hungry? It’s easy to make at home. Just prepare any standard bread recipe and let it rise twice. When the time comes to make your loaves, pull the dough like a pizza to make a flat rectangle, about 15 by 12 inches. Spread a layer of brown sugar, cinnamon, and any other spices that strike your fancy over the dough. Follow with a layer of raisins (and nuts if you like). Add a few dabs of butter for extra richness. Then roll it up and nestle it into your greased loaf pan — I had to squish a little to make it fit. Let the loaves rise once more, and bake as usual.