The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Cromarty Cob from Andrew Whitley's Bread Matters

pmccool's picture

Cromarty Cob from Andrew Whitley's Bread Matters

While perusing the cookbook section in a local second-hand bookstore, I came across several copies of Andrew Whitley's Bread Matters in like-new condition.  Despite having a number of bread books already, this one somehow followed me home.  Mr. Whitley's writing style is engaging.  Although he is appalled by the state of British factory breads, he doesn't come across as shrill or vindictive or holier-than-thou.  Rather, he takes a more measured approach in describing what he sees as the problem, how it came to be, the consequences, and some solid recommendations for improving the situation.  (None of which require dough improvers.)  That is not to say that he doesn't employ some well-turned phrases which made me laugh outright in a few instances.  

Having dealt with the deplorable state of the baking industry (emphasis on industry), he turns his attention to providing a tutorial for the home baker who wants to produce healthy and tasty breads.  While I wouldn't necessarily recommend this as a first book for a new baker, Mr. Whitley does take some pains to describe not just what to do but how it works, as well.  He includes a number of bread formulae, including some for gluten-free breads.

One that looked attractive to me was his Cromarty Cob.  It is a lean hearth bread made with a 50/50 blend of white and whole wheat flours, with a rye sour providing the leavening.  

I used a bit of my wheat-based starter to inoculate the rye sour on Friday morning.  On Friday night, I built the production leaven from the rye sour, white flour, whole wheat flour and water, per instructions.  (Note that Whitley's directions assume warm temperatures, since he mentions an approximate time of 4 hours for the leaven to double.  With kitchen temperatures in the 65-67F range, my leaven took about 12 hours to double.)  

On Saturday morning, I mixed and kneaded the wheat flours, water and salt to develop a sticky dough, as directed.  Then I worked in the production leaven.  Whitley only calls for part of the leaven, with no mention of what to do with the excess.  Since I had gone to the effort of making it, I put the entire leaven into the dough.  The weight differential isn't significant, so I wasn't concerned with upsetting hydration levels or dough characteristics.  I then fermented the dough in my proofer at 85F, with one stretch and fold at the 1-hour mark, per instructions.

This formula is sized to produce one loaf weighing approximately 1kg.  When the dough was ready for shaping, I elected to form two smaller boules, since that better fit my needs.  The bannetons went back into the proofer, although only just barely, for the final ferment.  Following Whitley's instructions, the breads were baked with steam at 425F for 10 minutes, then at 400F for the remainder.  And this is what I got:

And the crumb:

Whenever I get around to baking this bread again, I think I will experiment with bumping the temperatures up by 25F or so.  Even with the smaller loaves, I went nearly the entire recommended bake time before the interior temperature was north of 200F and you can see that the color is not particularly dark.

To my chagrin, the bread wasn't entirely cooled when I cut it in preparation for taking to the Kansas City TFL meetup.  Nevertheless, off it went.  In spite of the indignities it suffered, it arrived in fairly good condition.  The crust was still crisp and the crumb still moist.  I especially like the flavor.  While not sour, it is definitely more layered and more complex than a commercially yeasted loaf would have been even with the same fermentation schedule.

A good book and a good bread.  Both speak well of Mr. Whitley's capabilities.



ananda's picture

Hi Paul,

How good to see Andrew Whitley's book featured on TFL, and especially his Cromarty Cob.   There is quite a story attached to this loaf, when he turned up on the Black Isle in Easter Ross to do a baking course and found he'd brought his rye sourdough but left his French Levain back in Cumbria!

If you look over the subsequent pages, especially pp.205, [mine is the hardback first edition], an explanation of how he refreshes his sours and leavens is provided.   It is a simple approach and one I have obviously been groomed on as I worked at Village Bakery, Melmerby from 1994.

The excess leaven you have goes back in the fridge and is used to make your next leaven.   The idea is that there is no need to keep a pot of old and struggling "mother" slowly dying in the back of the chiller.   Today, I maintain 40g of wheat levain and 40g of rye sourdough in the chiller.   When I come to bake, I do as Andrew and plan how much of each culture I need for the baking, add in the 40g of stock to that and get on with the build.   At the end of baking I am then left with 40g of stock which is in good enough condition to retard in the fridge for a few days and still expect it to perform well when it comes to the next bake.   My thought on Andrew's recipe here is that there is little need to produce so much leaven as he does in this instance.   But that is the rationale explained.

Andrew really only bakes on wood-fired ovens, so it is understandable that you will have to adjust your baking profile for your own oven.   It's a great looking bread you have made, and I'm sure Andrew's right about the different flavours which come through from using rye sour as the base to start what becomes a mainly wheat-based leaven.

Best wishes


pmccool's picture

if I may mangle a phrase.  Having absent-mindedly mixed the "excess" into a dough and then baked it on one occasion, I'm a bit gun-shy about reserving some for later use.  I much prefer building the amount required for the bake as a standalone item and keeping my stock starter and refreshments as a completely separate item.  More work, maybe, but it protects me from myself.  Although I follow Whitley's (and your) logic, the other way works better for me.

I enjoyed his story about forgetting to bring his wheat leaven.  You can see from the above why that might resonate with me.

Thanks for your comments, Andy.


Mebake's picture

Very handsome looking loaf, Paul!

Isn't that Rye sourdough Versatile! It can leaven almost any bread, while a White Starter suffers trouble in leavening Rye doughs.

pmccool's picture

And it brings some special fragrance and flavor notes with it, as well.

Thank you,


varda's picture

Paul,  I also have Whitley's book but so far have only used it to develop a rye sour (not sure how I lived without it) and to make Russian Rye.   Wasn't sure what to make next from it.  Great to see this bread and the notes you include will be very helpful.    Looks like you had terrific results.  -Varda

pmccool's picture

in the freezer, I'd be strongly tempted to try Whitley's Russian Rye, Varda.  That and several other formulae look very appealing. 

If you are casting about for something to bake next, I can heartily recommend the Cromarty Cob.  While it shares some similarities with a pain de campagne, the higher WW percentage makes the flavor and texture more muscular.  Seeing the other breads that you like, I think that this is one you would enjoy.