Sunday, April 12, 2009

Why Nancy Silverton Should Rock Your World (or how not to cheat on your Mother Sponge)

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I ran a marathon in Hawaii once. Now, before you think to yourself “Lordy, what an accomplishment” or alternatively “Lordy, what a self-referential narcissist,” I’ll just write for the record that I was lucky that I finished before nightfall. I spent half of my running time trailing a pocket-sized octogenarian, my legs as long as her entire body, using her as a reminder that I’d already let a guy in a bear suit and a man in full Darth Vader regalia pass me, so I’d better stick with grandma to inspire me to finish or face utter humiliation.

Why was I telling this story again? Oh yeah, Hawaii. So my husband, my sister, our friend Jonathon and I were staying in a lovely hotel in Oahu and one evening we had dinner outside by the water. And since I was going to be running a stupid number of miles the next day, my pit crew and I carbo-loaded on the breadbasket. And we proceeded to have that dialogue we all have when we’re eating great bread:

“Delicious. Why can’t we get this at home. It must be the local water.”

So we asked the waiter, “Who makes your bread here?”

“We get it from La Brea Bakery. It comes par-baked.”

GAH! La Brea Bakery! That Nancy Silverton is an evil genius. Back in the day in Southern California, she was a one woman American bread revolution. Working on her artisanal starter and breads until they suited her rarified palette, she then went on to build a bread empire around her genius loaves. And to get the same quality bread in Hawaii as you’d get in L.A., the breads are par-baked or partially baked so the remainder of the browning takes place on site and you can sit on the beach in Oahu and suck down a loaf of crusty just-baked blessedness.
But you want to share in her invention, not just the finished loaves. And you want to make a starter as she would and then create loaves that satisfy your rarified palette. And you’re not buying into my “cheater’s” sourdough starter wherein I have you add instant yeast to get your bubbly bacteria jump-started. Fine. Be that way.

I’ll give you a running start and share her natural starter recipe. To proceed any farther into her world, I urge you to buy her book Nancy Silverton’s Breads from La Brea Bakery.

For the starter you’ll need:

2 cups organic bread flour
2 cups spring/filtered water
½ pound organic stemmed red grapes
1 large piece of cheesecloth. Preferably made from organic materials.

Mix the flour and water together in a large bowl.
Place grapes into a neat bundle inside your cheesecloth and tie it off to keep the grapes contained. Crush the grapes gently to release some of the juices/sugars. You’ll notice that on many fruits, there’s a slight film. That’s a naturally occurring yeast. That along with the fructose are going to give you a gorgeous starter.

Submerge your grape sachet into the flour slurry. Leave, covered, at room temperature for about 6 days, stirring every few days. After the 6 days, take out the grapes and feed as you would any other starter. If you’re keeping it out of the fridge, feed a cup of flour every day along with a splash of water. If you’re keeping in the fridge, feed the same amount every 3 to 4 days. What next? Buy her book!