Mini Ploughmans Cottage Rolls to celebrate Plough Monday

Mini Cottage Rolls featured in Target column January 15th 2015 to celebrate Plough Monday (Plough Monday falls on 11th January in 2016).

Well we seem to have nearly got half way through the first month of the year already. The Twelfth Night has been and gone, the “decs” are down (apart from the outside lights – hint to Husband!) and we are all getting back to normal – thank goodness.  You can hear the collective sigh of relief; I think fundamentally most of us are creatures of habit.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas and all of the traditions and feasting it brings.  It’s just that by New Year’s Day I’ve had enough. After the big day, the “decs” just seem to lose their charm and sparkle and morph from something magical into a bit of a nuisance. So the seasonal cake tins, cookery books and all other festive paraphernalia (except outside lights) gets packed away for the next eleven months, with a mixture of a little bit of sadness and a lot of relief.

The 5th January marks The Twelfth Night after Christmas and it is now mainly associated in this country with the day you should have your Christmas Decorations down. Not so much now, but this would also have involved burning your Christmas tree and removing all traces of holly from your house, lest the sprigs and berries turn into troublesome spirits! I guess with so many of us having artificial trees that this would be a costly practice these days.

Back in Tudor times there would often be a play such as Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night for entertainment and it was a big night of celebration and revelry to mark the end of the Chrismas period. There is a reference in royal accounts of the court of Edward 11, over seven hundred years ago of a Twelfth Night Cake. Each country still has its own version and recipes for this cake  and  within the cake there would be a dry bean placed within it and whoever got the bean in their slice of cake would be crowned king or queen for the Twelfth night feast. Most English recipes I have found are for a fruit cake, the same as we would now have for Christmas just with the addition of either a dried pea or a bean.

The day after Twelfth Night is the 6th January which is in the Church the start of Epiphany which means “manifestation” representing when Christ showed himself to the Three Wise Men. We are all familiar with the story of the long journey to take their gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. There is still a ceremony which takes place at St James Palace on this date every year where appointed representatives of the monarchy place 25 gold sovereigns on the altar of the Chapel Royal along with frankincense and myrrh and then blessed by the Bishop of London. In Victorian times there was a very elaborate Jam Tart that used to be made with short crust pastry using as many different designs and coloured jams as you could manage. Competition was allegedly quite fierce as to who could make the best “Epiphany Tart”.

The Monday which falls after Twelfth Night is known as Plough Monday, for many farm labourers the date marked the end of what was normally their only annual holiday of the year. In many parts of Britain it used to be a day of feasting a bit like our Harvest Festivals now. It signified when the start of the ploughing would begin for the next crop. Leaping dances were held in villages and the young men of their community were chosen to see how high they could leap, whatever height was achieved was supposed to be the height of the next corn harvest. In some areas men would disguise themselves and pull a decorated  “fool” plough around the streets and anyone who upset them or didn’t offer up a donation might see their garden ploughed up!

I thought it would be apt as we live in such a rural agricultural county to acknowledge this old tradition and that’s why my recipe this month is for my Ploughman’s Mini Cottage Loaves. These are perfect warm out of the oven, served with a Ploughman’s lunch made with a good wedge of Lincolnshire Poacher Cheese, a generous spoonful of Saints and Sinners Chutney and a thick slice of roasted ham. I’ll leave it up to you on the cider and ale.

I like to use fresh yeast in my bread; it’s easy enough to get hold of on the internet these days. I just prefer working with it and the edge it gives to the flavour. If you can’t get hold of fresh, then the results are good using the little 7g sachets of dried yeast. Either way I’m sure your efforts will be appreciated as fresh bread from the oven just can’t be beaten.  You will get about 12 Cottage shaped rolls, which are quite substantial. It’s a “squidgy” roll with a soft texture, not a crusty roll. They are best eaten on the day they are made, but if stored in a bread bag they are ok the next day. If it’s like our household they evaporate within half an hour anyway. They all come out a bit different and are very rustic and they are perfect with a bowl of soup too.

Milk Pan, whisk, scales, measuring jug, freestanding mixer with dough hook if you have one, if by hand a big bowl for mixing and proving, knife or dough cutter, scissors, pastry brush, mug for water, wooden spoon, baking tray, flour shaker, cling film, cooling rack, baking parchment.

600g Strong white bread flour
15g salt
15g caster sugar
380 ml milk (doesn’t matter which)
30g butter
30g fresh yeast or 2 x 7g sachets of dry yeast
Veg oil for greasing your proving bowl
Flour to shake on your baking tray and tops of rolls
Water to stick your bottom and top roll together

Line your baking tray with parchment and lightly flour it.
Put your flour, sugar and salt in your bowl. If using a freestanding mixer, put it in to your mixer bowl and attach your dough hook.  If you are using dried yeast, pour your two sachets of yeast on top of the flour.

Put your milk and butter in the milk pan and gently warm. If using fresh yeast it is at this point that you put your fresh yeast into the milk and whisk up well to wake it up and to dissolve it. Make sure you have checked the temperature of your milk before you do this though, if it’s too hot you will kill the yeast. It should just be blood temperature.

Once it has dissolved, there is no need to let the yeast froth up, the yeast can get going just fine on the flour, so pour it straight onto the flour mixture and start kneading with your mixer. If you are doing by hand then knead it for about ten minutes until the dough is silky and feels nice and smooth. If you have used dried yeast, it’s exactly the same but of course you a just pouring your milk and butter onto your dried ingredients which already has your yeast in.

If using your mixer to knead, I let it do its thing for about 5 minutes, leave it for 5 minutes and then knead for another five.

Once the dough is kneaded then lightly grease a big bowl with vegetable oil, round your dough into a nice neat ball and pop him in the bowl. Cover with a tea towel or clingilm and put it somewhere draught free for an hour or so. You want it to be double in size.

When you are happy that your dough has risen by double, gently tip it out of your bowl.

You are aiming for 12 bigger rolls on the bottom and 12 smaller rolls (roughly half the size of your bigger ones) to sit on top of the big rolls to give you that classic cottage loaf shape. So all you need to do is roll your dough into the shape and width of a rolling pin. Cut it into thirds. Two thirds are for your 12 fat bottoms and one third is for the little rolls that sit on top.

So you should now have three fat sausage shapes of dough. Divide the first two thirds of dough equally into six giving you 12 big lumps of dough in total.

Divide the one remaining third of dough equally into twelve half size lumps of dough.

Then roll the big ones out and pop them onto your baking tray, leaving as much of a gap in between as you can fit.

When all the large rolls are on your tray, dampen the top with a little bit of water that is in your mug with your pastry brush.

Roll out your little top rolls and stick them to the top of your big rolls. Dip the end of your wooden spoon in flour and then with the end of a wooden spoon push right the way down through the top roll into the bottom.

Now with your scissors snip around the edge that’s sticking out on the bottom roll in 1 cm gaps, this gives you your classic cottage loaf shape and it looks really pretty when they have baked. In the time it has taken you to shape your rolls and snip them they will already be starting to prove or puff up again.

We like ours dusted with flour as it gives a wonderful finish and very rustic, so give a light dusting over the top before proving. If you do it now it stops the clingfilm sticking.

Cover loosely with clingfilm and preheat your oven has high as it will go.

Leave the rolls for about 30 minutes to prove. What will happen is they puff up again so that the rolls with have filled much of that gap you left in between them.

When they have filled in the gaps, take your cling film off. If you prefer a glaze rather than flour to make your rolls shiny, this is the time to do but they will be a much darker colour.

Put the tray gently into your hot oven, the oven shelf wants to be next run up from the centre. Leave them at this temperature for five minutes, then turn down to 190c fan for ten to twelve minutes. Keep an eye on that last ten minutes because every oven is different and you may need a little bit more or less time. Enjoy the wonderful baking bread aroma wafting around your home. When done the rolls should be a lovely golden brown.

Take out of the oven and slide all of the rolls onto a cooling rack and let them cool down. They will have stuck together as a batch, which I like. If you don’t like them like that and want individual rolls, then it’s probably best to put six on two trays so they bake separately.

Don’t give in to the temptation to eat one straight away, they taste much better warm rather than red hot.

I wish you all an exceedingly Happy, Healthy and Prosperous 2015.

Sadie Hirst is a multi-award winning artisan baker and is a member of the British Society of Baking and Select Lincolnshire.  She is passionate about our local food history and is often asked to speak at local organisations about it.  If you would like to contact Sadie she would love to hear from you at or for her previous Target recipes see



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