GREAT BRITISH FOOD HOME Snacks Traditional Food

Use Your Loaf!

Use your loaf!” – an imperative form used in frustration to tell someone not to be so stupid, and to think more carefully. 

But we need to point something out. When you say this, you must put the emphasis on use. Putting it on loaf sounds all wrong, and might make people start looking about for bread.

If you are feeling particularly annoyed, then “Use your bloody loaf!” has a lovely, British feel to it, and strengthens it all rather nicely.


I heard a wonderful story the other day. One of my university students was telling me, very seriously, that the expression use your loaf came out of the trenches in the First World War. It was, she said in great excitement, a favourite way to test whether German snipers were waiting to shoot your head off. Instead of risking your actual head by taking a quick look over the top of the trench, British soldiers used to (stay with me) “get a lovely fresh loaf of bread, put it on a long stick, put their helmet on top, and poke it up in the air to see if anyone fired at it”.

It was, she insisted, a perfectly true story because she’d heard it on the BBC.

Nicer Kate and I are dying to know whether she really did hear this on the BBC because then we would ask the BBC which First World War trench it was that had so many lovely fresh loaves of bread lying about that the soldiers were happy to see them blown to pieces. Because, frankly, we had thought that most of the soldiers at that time were actually existing on a diet of rats and shoe leather.

A quick look online and you find this story offered about with alarming regularity. It’s not always World War I; sometimes it’s a Napoleonic Battle, sometimes the American Civil War…but whatever the battle, we can’t help thinking it’s all a pile of bunkum¹.

“Use your loaf!” – surely – is Cockney Rhyming Slang. Look at the Rhyming Slang Maths here:

Loaf of bread     –     bread rhymes with head     –     loaf = head

Simple, hey?  We will do a Cockney post soon because people keep asking.



The Cottage Loaf is rather an old-fashioned style of loaf, but since artisan bakers are popping up on well-heeled³ high streets across the land now, I suspect we will be seeing a lot more of the cottage loaf. It always looked to me like an old lady’s hair in a bun – like Sylvester and Tweetie’s owner from the Loony Tunes cartoon. I imagined her pottering around in her cottage, baking and humming to herself. How very quaint.

The truth of the matter is probably less about cute little cottages and more about efficiency and profit margins. Bakers could simply fit more loaves in the oven if they made two balls, and stick one on top of the other.

In order to make it a proper Cottage Loaf, you then need to stick one (clean) finger straight through the top of both loaves until you hit the work surface. This is Kayte’s favourite part and gets Very Cross Indeed if you do it instead of her.




  • 500g strong white bread flour
  • 2teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon caster sugar
  • 2 teaspoons fast-rising active dry yeast
  • 325ml lukewarm milk, and water mixture
  • 1 egg
  • salt, poppy seeds or sesame seeds, for glaze




  1. Sift flour and salt into a bowl, stir in sugar and yeast. Make a well in the centre, stir in the milk and water to make the dough.
  2. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10  minutes until smooth and elastic.
  3. Put the dough in a large, clean, oiled bowl. Cover with oiled clingfilm and leave in a warm place until it has doubled in size. (Usually about an hour, depending on how warm your house is)
  4. Tip the dough back out onto a floured surface and squish the big bubbles out. Flatten the dough and divide it into two-thirds and a third. Shape the pieces into rounds. Cover them and leave for 5 minutes.
  5. Put the smaller round on top of the larger one. Push a floured wooden spoon (or your finger) through the centre of both rounds, to join them together. Take a very sharp knife and make cuts all around the top round and the bottom round. (Unless you forget to. Like I did.)
  6. Put the cottage loaf on a lightly floured baking tray, cover and leave for about 45 minutes, or until it has doubled in size. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 220C/440F/Gas 7.
  7. Beat the egg with a tablespoon of water and a pinch of salt. Brush the glaze over the cottage loaf and sprinkle with seeds if you like.
  8. Bake for about 35 to 45 minutes, until dark golden brown and hollow sounding when tapped beneath.
  9. Cool before slicing. If you can wait.


(1). bunkum  – rubbish; something invented or untrue

And in informal language? Crap. Bollocks. Bullshit. Horseshit. Shite. And so on.

(2) cracking (adj) – awesome, excellent


(c) Kayte & Nicer Kate 2017. Authors assert moral rights.


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