When this book was written, in 1996, La Brea Bakery was a small store attached to the now-closed Campanile restaurant in Los Angeles which pastry chef Nancy Silverton ran with her then-husband, Mark Peel.
Silverton subsequently sold La Brea Bakery, then lost most of the proceeds in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme.
Breads from the La Brea Bakery is a fantastic book, which I still use today. The sourdough starter might seem daunting: it begins with pesticide-free grapes and cannot be baked into bread for 15 days, as the culture is fermented then fed three times a day. If you have a sourdough starter of your own, you can skip this process. Silverton goes into detail about ingredients and techniques and, apart from the starter, takes 60 pages before she begins to give recipes.
In the introduction, she writes, "We've all been fed images of fresh-baked bread, usually a fragrant mom-made pan loaf pale gold and soft and squishy, hot from the oven and ready to be slathered with butter. This is what bread companies hope we think of when we buy their supermarket loaves, but this isn't what we get. Their loaves are pale, soft and squishy all right, but you'll need that butter if you want any flavour at all.
"My ideal loaf is neither squishy nor pale. It is a sourdough loaf that earns its character and its beauty. Natural leavening, slow by nature, gives this more rustic loaf the time it needs to develop texture and flavour. And while no two naturally leavened loaves are alike this bread has a standard of its own."
She warns that the process of baking a good loaf isn't easy.
"Sourdough is temperamental, and it reacts to its environment in ways you'd expect of a human. If the air is too cold, the sourdough's 'metabolism' slows down in an attempt to conserve warmth; too hot or humid, and the metabolism speeds up. A starter needs to be fed a steady diet of flour and water to stay alive. If it's given too much, it binges, then gets lazy, not enough and it literally starves to death …
"And if you're not careful, the bread can take over your life. When I started baking every day, the relationship was completely out of balance. The bread essentially ruled me. If I wanted the dough to be ready to put in the oven after four hours of rising, it wouldn't be ready for six. Or worse, it would be ready too soon. The bread seemed to need attention as much as it needed flour, even more than my husband or kids.
"It takes time. It takes patience. But the rewards are great. Every loaf you bake is slightly different, but most of all, it is uniquely your own. Nothing you can buy at a store will give you as much satisfaction."
Even after making the starter, these aren't breads that you'll be able to mix and bake within a few hours - most of them need two days or more. They include baguettes, rosemary-olive oil bread, fougasse, parmesan cheese bread, focaccia, Italian bread sticks, hamburger buns, sesame-semolina sandwich rolls, pain de mie, New York rye bread, pretzels, bagels and English muffins.
Breads from the La Brea Bakery by Nancy Silverton