The Cottage Loaf: my attempt at being a Great British Bake Off Contestant

10 mins read

It is once again Great British Bake-Off time for all contestants and avid viewers this week!

After a tough baking challenge in last week’s Biscuit Week episode and a sad goodbye to 60-year-old baker Keith, this week brings a new challenge set to test the bakers.

British Bake Off Season 14, Episode 3

That’s right– if you guessed Bread Week, you’d be correct!

This week’s Signature Bake challenge was to make a classic cottage loaf led by Celebrity Chef, Paul Hollywood: the essence of what bread is stripped down to its most basic components.

Each baker was tasked to create their own twist on their cottage loaf in an attempt to impress the judges with their bread-making skills.

Bread week is an important one in the GBBO kitchen. Sending each baker back to the basics of food-making, this challenge is fundamental to test everyone’s skills before progressing to the more difficult stages in the competition.

Understanding how to knead and prove a dough, then subsequently baking it to perfection is a sure way of impressing the judges and ensuring your spot as a valuable contestant on the show.

Without the possibility of fixing one’s errors with amazing icing on a cake, or a delicious filling for a cookie, the bread-test is essentially one that either will run smoothly for a baker, or go very wrong.

An Introduction to my Baking Skills

Although growing up I had always watched both my mother and grandmother making their own bread, I have never attempted to bake a loaf of my own.

I too, have become a ‘contestant’ now, battling between me and myself on creating something I have never tried before.

To make this a little easier for myself and recreate the contestant’s loaves to the best of my abilities, I followed Paul Hollywood’s recipe precisely, hoping to bake bread that is up to the judge’s standards.

In an attempt to create my own version, I chose to make an Italian-styled cottage loaf, topped with cherry tomatoes, garlic and rosemary oil, and salt. It may not be a focaccia like I’m used to, but it’s hopefully going to be just as good.

27-year-old contestant Tasha Stones did a very similar recipe, although she added sunflower, pumpkin, and poppy seeds inside, which I opted to keep plain.

Tasha’s Cottage Loaf creation, Image credits: Channel 4, British Bake Off

Preparing the Dough

I started off my bread-making journey with a trip to the grocery store, buying a total of six ingredients for the low price of under £5. This makes the recipe very cost-efficient and more accessible to fans like myself, and for that I applaud it.

My ingredients: Very strong white bread flour, lard, Piccobella tomatoes, fast action dried yeast, rosemary, salt, and garlic. Image Credit: Emanuela Scalia
Paul Hollywood’s ingredient list for the recipe, Image credits: Paul Hollywood, The Great British Bake Off

I started my bread dough by following the first recipe step, which called for 500g of flour to be added to a large bowl, alongside 7g of fast-action dried yeast, 7g of salt, and 50g of softened lard (pictured).

I then mixed the ingredients together on a lightly floured surface by kneading it together slowly. The result at first was a slightly sticky dough ball, and if you’re planning on trying this recipe it should look something like this, before again kneading for another five minutes:

Once the dough has been kneaded to a smooth consistency, I placed it into a lightly-oiled bowl, covered it with a clean dish towel, and allowed it to rise for 1-3 hours. It was here where I realised my big mistake of starting the bread baking process at 9:30 p.m.

Paul Hollywood’s recipe stated that the hands on time is 20 minutes for the recipe, but it took about three hours in total for the preparation. In hindsight it would have been helpful to read the full recipe before starting but I was too excited.

For my bread, it luckily only took one hour for the dough to double in size. I removed it from the bowl and started to knead it again to release the air bubbles, allowing the bread to rise in height rather than in width.

Creating the ‘Cottage Loaf’

To create the well-known shape of the cottage loaf, I removed a third of the dough and had two separate dough balls, kneading both pieces to make them round. I placed the smaller dough ball onto the larger one, cutting through the dough lightly with a knife to create indents.

As the clock continued to tick, I truly felt like a Bake Off participant, racing against the clock to put my bread in the oven. This was of course, until I saw I had to let the dough rest for another hour…

To do so, I placed the stacked dough onto a baking tray with parchment paper, covered it with a large, clean plastic bag, and let it rise for an hour to activate the yeast before removing it once again:

The dough once risen in size after step eight.

For my specialty, I made a garlic and rosemary oil by scratch, dicing up both ingredients very finely and adding them to olive oil. I then cut a few cherry tomatoes and decorated my loaf to make it look visually pleasing (so I hoped!).

Adding the garlic and rosemary oil and tomatoes to the dough.

Baking in the Oven

Sadly the tomatoes fell off during baking time but the bread came out better than I expected! After cooking it for about 45 minutes in total, the bread was well-baked and crisp on the outside– just the look I was going for.

My final bread plating!

I had a slice of the loaf first thing the next morning and it was absolutely delicious! After a long four-hour process, I was very proud of how it turned out: soft, tasty, and of course, bread-like!

Thoughts and Opinions

Needless to say, would I have won the Signature Bake Challenge for Bread Week? Probably not. But would I make this recipe again? Yes! It tastes so much better than store-bought bread, and I can definitely see myself remaking this bread for special occasions, and preferably before five p.m.

With its cost-efficiency and taste, I would rate this recipe a 9/10, with the only exception being that it takes longer than most other recipes. However, if you have the time and patience to wait for bread to rise, then I would definitely reccommend it.

For the second time in a row this season, star baker, announced by Alison Hammond, was Tasha. She was the top baker, winning thanks to her ornate Showstopper creation, securing her spot as the competitor to beat.

Though sadly, it was 27-year-old Abbi who left the GBBO kitchen this week after her creations failed to meet the standards.

After her elimination, she said: “I am really proud of myself. I never thought I would be able to do this, it has given me such a massive confidence boost and I have met such amazing people.

“I am going to remember it every day for the rest of my life, honestly! Although I am quite looking forward to getting back to my vegetables.”

You can attempt the delicious bread recipe right at home with just a few ingredients, a baking tray, and an oven!

You can also re-watch this episode or catch the next episode of the Great British Bake-Off on Channel 4.

Featured image credits: Emanuela Scalia

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Aspiring Journalist
Fourth-year Journalism Student and Sports Editor of BRIG Newspaper at Stirling University

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