A rather plain and flat looking disc of bread, and yet to many people in the North East of England the Stotty Bread is an important and potent symbol of their identity and region. It’s basically made from ordinary white bread dough, but due to the one rise and a slow bake, it creates a chewy bread reminiscent of sour dough, which makes a fabulous vehicle for butter, jam, treacle and cheese. It’s the bread of my childhood, linked forever in my memory to my grandmother’s old stone cottage and warm, happy days sitting around a big old kitchen table with a flickering fire and the wind howling outside.
Stotties, as they are called in the plural, are born of thrift and frugality; at the end of a long day of baking, as most bread was made at home until quite recently, any excess white bread dough that was left over was simply shaped and rolled into a large disc, and thrown on to the bottom of the oven, where it baked in an initial burst of heat before continuing to cook as the oven cooled. This baking method is what gives the Stotty Cake it’s crusty but soft exterior and yet a rather pleasant chewy crumb, and that unique “Stotty” taste too. A cake it is not, but a simple and homely regional loaf of bread.
My mother still talks about my grandmother’s Stotty Cakes……she remembers sitting at the kitchen table as a child and tearing chunks from the freshly baked loaf, then spreading butter on to the warm pieces of bread before adding crumbly Cheshire cheese. My grandmother’s recipe remained a secret for many years after her death, and then one day my mum found an old hand-written recipe in the back of a Be-Ro cookbook, where she had written down the principals of how to make a Stotty, and so the secret family recipe was released! She and I are regular bakers of this secret family recipe now, much to the delight of our families.
Once you have tasted one of these flat loaves of bread, you will wonder how you managed to live without them; they maybe be plain to look at with none of the fancy decorations, glazes and cuts that other bread loaves have, but as soon as you tear a piece of bread off, all warm and crusty, and then spread some butter on it so it melts into golden pools of saltiness, you will understand the alchemy of this slow-baked bread, as how it is inextricably linked to happy childhood days and simple suppers at an old cottage table.
As well as cheese, and jam and treacle (golden syrup), a Stotty Bread is the perfect bread for sandwiches, and if you have ever visited the North East of England, or if you live there, you will know that the classic sandwich of choice made with Stotty Cake is ham and Pease pudding. My grandmother was an excellent Pease pudding maker, as is my mum, but I have to admit to resorting to the ready-made tinned version sometimes, when time is short, although it is still delicious when spread onto warm bread with a slice of home-cooked ham.
Our family recipe is always better if made with the remnants of some basic white bread dough, and cooked on the bottom of a hot oven that has been turned off to cool, but you can replicate the method for today with the recipe I am about to share below. Don’t forget to serve it on a wooden bread board in the middle of the table, with salted butter, cheese and Pease pudding and ham too, if you like. Although this bread is perfect for all year around, it always seems to taste better when eaten on a cold winter’s evening with the hiss of a log fire and the warm glow of oil lights flickering……or is that just in my memory, maybe!
Makes 2 large Stotty Cakes
- Pre-heat oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Butter or grease some large baking sheets.
- If using fresh yeast crumble it into a jug and then add the white pepper, sugar and a little tepid water to mix. Place somewhere warm for 10 to 15 minutes so it can start to “work” it is ready to use when it becomes frothy.
- Put the bread flour and salt into a large mixing bowl and make a well in the centre, pour in the yeast mixture and the remaining water. If using dried yeast, just sprinkle the yeast in to the flour at this stage, with the sugar and white pepper and add the water as before.
- Mix and then knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic. (The word stotty is believed to be derived from the local word of “stotting” which means to bounce, and I remember my grandmother “bouncing” her bread on the kitchen table for ages! So, don’t be shy when kneading.) This bread needs to be well kneaded for at least ten minutes.
- Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and set to one side, somewhere warm, to allow the dough to rise. This will take about an hour, and the dough should have doubled in size before you can use it.
- Put the dough onto a floured board and divide it into two equal pieces; roll the dough out to make two large flat discs, about 1” (2/5cms) thick and then stick the end of a rolling pin in the middle of the dough to make an indentation. You can also prick the top of the bread with a fork too.
- Place the Stotty Cakes onto the prepared baking sheets and bake in the pre-heated oven for 15 minutes, before turning the oven off and leaving them in there for up to half an hour to continue to bake.
- Serve warm with butter, jam, treacle, honey or cheese, ham and Pease pudding.
* The blogger contributing to this site has received a Kenwood Kitchen Machine to use as part of the recipe creation, any opinion stated by the blogger and their content is the bloggers own.