The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Nancy Silverton's Breads from La Brea Bakery

bakerincanada's picture

Nancy Silverton's Breads from La Brea Bakery

Hi I have been watching this site for a few months now and making notes of all of the excellent tips.  I am dabbling in sourdough with some success.  Just finished the Norwich Sourdough from wildyeastblog.  It is great.  I am interested in a book on sourdough but wanted to make sure that Nancy Silverton's book used weight and not volume.  I find my recipes work much better with weights.  It seems it will be a toss up between that and Maggie Gleezer's book.  Any feedback on how to spend my dollar would be appreciated.  Thanks.


bshuval's picture

I find Silverton's recipes to be insanely complicated and involved.

Glezer's recipes are more "user friendly". Glezer's book Artisan Baking is also much more beautiful than Silverton's book. Glezer's other book, A Blessing of Bread, is also excellent and highly recommended. I have learnt a lot from both books. 

My bread blog:

Trishinomaha's picture

much more user friendly and not so imtimidating for those of us who haven't been baking bread for years...



staff of life's picture
staff of life

Although I have Silverton's book, her techniques on sourdough is why I got off to a rocky start. For an all-around good book, I'd go with either Peter Reinhart (either one) or Jeffrey Hamelman's book.  Maggie Glezer is good too, but I don't find hers as useful as these other two.


Floydm's picture

I concur on the vote for Reinhart or Hamelman.

buns of steel's picture
buns of steel

I have baked extensively from Silverton, Dan Leader's book Local Breads, All Peter Reinhart books, and many other bread books.  I have just ordered Glezer, and it hasn't arrived yet.


First off, Silverton's recipes are in "Imperial" measurements, meaning ounces, pounds, etc. (and in very small italic type that is difficult to read).  She gives no bakers percentages, and without them in metric, it doesn't give you an immediate appreciation for ratios, etc., if you're trying to gain a better understanding of bread.  That said, there are some fantastic breads in there, although no pictures of the final breads other than on the front cover, and one black and white pic of decorated bread (no color photos whatsoever).  I would say get something else as a first book, then if you want to add that book later, do.  It is not as well explained as some, however some of the breads are outstanding. 


I hate to say anything negative about Reinhart as he has made such a contribution to so many bread bakers, but I find a number of his recipes to be quite mediocre.  (I don't know how his Volkornbrot in his WW book got past the bazillion recipe testers he used, it is absurd to boil your rye berries to a mush, but I digress...)  The Bread Bakers Apprentice is probably a good book to have when you want to learn a wide range of breadbaking techniques.  But for sourdough there are other books that are more involved.


A book I would strongly recommend is Dan Leader's Local Breads.  It has a lot of teaching information in it, great color photos, he has metric measurements by weight, and it's a pleasure to bake from.  He has lots of FAQ and what to do if you screw up sort of information, how to know if you're doing it right, etc...  Just bake from the metric with that one, as there have been some errors noted in some of the conversions.  I also like its full color photos of many of the breads, so you know what the final result is supposed to look like.  La Brea is all B&W, and almost all plain text.


What I love about Breads from La Brea is that there really are some great breads in there, and recipes that don't just add commercial yeast after going to all that trouble to make a natural yeast starter.  But for most people, it's not a good choice for a first book to learn about sourdough. 

zolablue's picture

I only started baking a year ago December and I remember the near panic at needing to find good and accurate information to get off to a great start. That's important or else you can become extremely frustrated. So to begin with this site is an invaluable source.


I bought every book I could get my hands on to begin with and it was interesting that the one that helped me the most, and I think helped me form a solid foundation of beginning techniques, was Maggie Glezer's, Artisan Baking Across America. I'm very visual so it was important to me that the book I started with was very well illustrated and her book, both hardcover and paperback versions, contains absolutely stunning photos. She explains the basic techniques of mixing (kneading), turning the dough (stretch and fold), fermentation, and shaping plus has tips on equipment used and so many other things.


Her sourdough recipes are out of this world. In addition, I could not find any information on creating and maintaining a firm sourdough starter any place I looked at that time but in her book. Because I loved her book so much and she seemed to cut through the haze that is the method I adopted and I'm very happy I started that way because it was so easy and still is.


I love Hamelman's book, Bread, although it is frustrating at times because it almost feels like a certain arrogance was written in by not addressing the home baker more while still pretending like it is meant for the home baker. He also doesn't weigh in grams but he does weigh in pounds and ounces. He does have some great information however and some wonderful recipes but if you get his book just make sure it isn't the only one or I think a beginner will be very lost.


The other book I can't do without is Daniel Leader's, Local Breads. It is simply full of delicious and unique recipes and wonderful photography as well as very helpful tips as mentioned above. Beware, there are many errors that we are noting on another thread on this site but that is to be expected in any book and I would not let that stop me getting it. I reach for his book and Glezer's book more often than any others.


I have Silverton's book and I try to get interested in it but I don't like her layout and she doesn't use weights. I made her Basic Country White and it was just ok. In my opinion, her instructions for making a sourdough starter are insane. There is simply no reason to make vats of the stuff and I think it starts a beginner down the wrong path with completely unnecessary instructions. I'm still trying to force myself to make more of her recipes but her book is just not comfortable for me to use.


bshuval's picture

Zolablue, what are your secrets? From the looks of the loaves you produce, I would have thought you were a master baker!

I'd love to be as good a baker as you are. Please, share with us the secrets to your success and meteoric improvement as a baker.  


My bread blog:

zolablue's picture

bshuval - You are very sweet to say that but most people here know of the myriad struggles I have had and still do. I'm so far from perfect as a baker! I get so excited when I have a success but they aren't all like that, trust me. I will say I'm never afraid to admit I have a problem or to discuss it and I do think that helps one learn. With everything I do I've always believed the more I learn the more I don't know so I feel very fortunate to have these great sources, as in the wonderful books available and in all the incredible bakers on The Fresh Loaf for help. Buy lots of flour and bake often!

TRK's picture

I agree that Silverton's book is not the book to learn from. I learned to bake from Peter Reinhart's BBA (I baked my way through it). I agree that some of the recipes in there are not great (the ciabatta being my biggest frustration), but I like his explicit background section and his basic sourdough is my go-to for sourdough. I recently was given Silverton's book for Christmas and have been making some recipes out of there. The Rosemary Olive Oil bread was, I thought, mediocre. The whole wheat sandwich bread is my new favorite weekly bread. One thing I find with her recipes is that she keeps her starter at 200% hydration which is really thin. I think that explains why she says you have to refresh it so often. I use my 100% hydration starter and change the amount of water in the first build to compensate for the reduced water in my starter.


I think Reinhart is a good introduction, Hamelman is an excellent resource after you have a little experience, and Silverton is a good place to get variations on sourdough recipes after you get comfortable.


edit:  I have to disagree zolablue, Silverton does give measurements for most stuff (water, flour, etc. in weight).  Some of the smaller ingredients (salt, commercial yeast) are only listed in volume. 

Aussiebaker's picture

Hi TRK and others

This is my first post on The Fresh Loaf - I've been quietly learning a lot from all of you in the last few months. Thanks everyone!

I was interested in the thread on books, and some of the discussion related to the starter advocated by Nancy Silverton in her book. It's a book I've owned for a while and never used. I pick it up sometimes, and then head for something that's less daunting.

I was heartened TRK to hear you say that you use a 100% hydration starter for Silverton's breads and change the amount of water in the first build to compensate for the reduced water in your starter.

So here's the question that will show that I prefer getting myself floury to being involved in mental gymnastics about changing hydration and how that affects the quantity of water in the next build. It's not clear to me how to do that. It's not made easier by trying to think in pounds and ounces either, so the whole thing looks rather opaque and a long way from intuitive from here. Help! TRK, what principle do you follow in making those changes? I'm sure it's clear to lots of folks out there, but I'd very much appreciate some insight and clarity on that.

Thank you very much.

bwraith's picture


I've only used Nancy Silverton's book a couple of times, but here's one way to think about converting recipes from using her starter to using a 100% hydration starter.

She feeds in a ratio of 16 parts water to 11 parts flour by weight. To make things simple, consider that to be around 3 parts water to 2 parts flour by weight. If you think of a 100% hydration starter as 2 parts water and 2 parts flour by weight, then you can easily see that there is a missing 1 part of water in the 100% hydration starter. In other words, the Silverton starter has the same 2 parts water and 2 parts flour as the 100% hydration starter plus one more part of water.

So, to convert the Nancy Silverton starter to use a 100% hydration starter you could do something like:

Divide the weight of the Silverton starter required by 5 to know what "1 part" is. Use 4 times the "1 part" weight of your 100% hydration starter and add 1 part water to it.

For example, the rustic dough bread recipe on  page 106 requires 1 pound 3 ounces of white starter. 1 pound 3 ounces is 19 ounces. One fifth of the 19 ounces is 3.8 ounces. You would use 4 time 3.8 ounces, or 15.2 ounces of 100% hydration starter and add 3.8 ounces of water to it to get the equivalent of the 19 ounces of Silverton white starter.

The thing that may not come out the same is the exact flavor. Silverton maintains her starter at high hydration and with fairly low feeding ratios. It will therefore have a more acidic environment on average than a typical 100% hydration starter fed 1:2:2 (starter:water:flour by weight) twice per day. My starter would be even more different, since it is maintained closer to a firm starter and is fed about 1:4:5 once or twice per day and so lives a good part of the time at a higher pH than would be the case with the Silverton method. It is possible that different organisms will prevail in the Silverton starter than in a 100% hydration starter maintained with a higher feeding ratio, since more acid tolerant organisms will be favored, which may have different flavors. Even if it is the same organisms, the population ratios should be more in favor of the yeast, which can tolerate lower pH, over the Lactobacillus bacteria.

The difference in flavor will probably be subtle, but different starters will result in somewhat different bread flavors. In fact, just by luck of the draw starters maintained the same way may have somewhat different flavors, so who knows about all that.

You can use pretty much any starter to make pretty much any bread. You don't have to use the starter method from the book to make the recipe in the book. However, the rise times and consistencies at each stage will be closer to what was intended in the recipe if you contribute the same amount of flour and water in each stage of the recipe.


Aussiebaker's picture


Thanks very much for that information, I do appreciate it. You've encouraged me to give the Silverton breads a try and experiment with different starter hydrations. 


zolablue's picture

TRK - Thank you for correcting me on the weights in Silverton's book. You are right that she gives them for most ingredients and my error speaks to the amount of time I've spent (or haven't spent) with her book. Appreciated.

bwraith's picture

Maggie Glezer's Artisan Baking is a great book and covers sourdough in a friendly way.

Nancy Silverton's method for starting a starter seems so unnecessarily complicated as well as using gigantic amounts of flour and water, while Glezer's approach is straightforward, neat, and uses only small amounts of flour and water. On the other hand, the sourdough bagels in Silverton's book are very good, and I know others have said they like her recipes.

The BBA is excellent and could be the only book you need at first. However, I found the treatment of sourdough and many of the recipes were better in Artisan Baking.

Hamelman's book, Bread, is a superb reference source and includes information on many subtle issues, like mixing, folding, autolyse, and scoring, and will carry you forward to a more advanced level of baking.

Leader's book is great because of his travel diary and collection of great recipes from all around the world. However, his book has many recipe errors, as noted on the site. I also encountered cases where the timing of fermentations just seems off, and the recipes are sometimes a little hard to follow.

I used to say BBA was the one book to have, and I still think it is an excellent book to learn from. Now, I'd say get Maggie Glezer's book first, and maybe get BBA second. Bread would be a must-have reference book, and Leader's book is just a gem because of all the interesting recipes you won't find elsewhere easily. 


Paddyscake's picture

for finding the cornerstone recipes of my baking repetoire. My first book was BBA and then Artisan Baking. BBA was great "go to" guide for shaping, mix/kneading, learning  terminology. My real successes came from trying the recipes posted by TFLers that caught my eye. You will find that a TFLer has done the experimental work for you and offers you a fairly safe road to success. The fine tweaking to your tastes comes with time and practice, practice, practice!

ehanner's picture

I have been baking about a year and a half. I had a number of cookbooks and Julia Childs baking with Julia. I've been trying to teach myself french cuisine for a number of years and have gone to her books often. I was floundering around with baking trying to use King Arthur's Mixes made for bread machines in the oven. One day I found TFL while looking for a recipe and life hasn't been the same since. I bought BBA almost immediately and started to learn about bread from the ground up.

Truth be told, I now have a few books mentioned above but for me at least, the images of others baking is what motivates me to try something I haven't made. Seeing the same bread in a book somehow is not as stimulating for me. I love seeing the same bread attempted by several members. They are all slightly distinct and beautiful in their own right.

So I guess my advice concerning books is to take the advice above about Glezer and the BBA and such and start a library for a reference when the Internet goes down. There is so much good info here you don't really need a book. If you are a new baker or haven't started baking but are interested in trying, you are in luck! Check out the lessons Floyd has posted on the front and dive in. There is nothing like practice.