Gourmet's 50 Women Game Changers in Food: #23, Nancy Silverton

Ms. Silverton, who admits she wasn't much of a student, dropped out of Sonoma State in her senior year. After studying at Cordon Bleu in London, she went to work at Michael’s in Santa Monica, in 1979. There she was inspired by Jimmy Brinkley, their pastry chef. “Unlike when I studied at Cordon Bleu and they said don’t be creative, Jimmy was a wild man, tasting, changing, and I saw how much flexibility there was in desserts,” she said. She learned fast. When Spago opened in 1982, Wolfgang Puck hired her as head pastry chef, but in the back of her mind, Nancy was giving a lot of thought to making great bread. 

After a brief stint at Maxwell’s Plum in New York, she returned to Spago while 
she and her then-husband, Mark Peel, were looking for space to open restaurant Campanile. Her mother discovered a great building for lease that was large enough to have a bakery. So La Brea Bakery opened six months before Campanile, in 1989.

To study bread baking, Ms. Silverton enrolled at Lenôtre in Paris. “I thought I’d learn some foolproof recipes,” she said. “But I don’t speak French, and I didn’t know about adapting recipes. They were all failures. I had to start from the beginning, a tablespoon of this and a teaspoon of that. It took hundreds of tries.”  Nancy immersed herself into starters, yeasts, and doughs, and quickly became L.A.'s leading lady of bread baking. 

She sold her interest in La Brea in 2001, entrusted it all to an investor and 
he, in turn, entrusted it all to Bernard Madoff. 
Nancy remained a consultant and worked at Campanile until 2005. She opened Pizzeria Mozza in 2007 and Osteria Mozza in 2008, before discovering she was broke. Because of Madoff, she lost everything. Fortunately, she still co-owns (with with Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich) those two restaurants, two of Los Angeles’s most popular restaurants. Silverton just published her eighth book, “The Mozza Cookbook” She guest chefs at two local restaurants (Jar and La Terza) for the sheer fun of it. 

Silverton's bran muffins got rave reviews from David Lebovitz so I couldn't resist trying the recipe. They are very light, full of flavor and not as sweet as most bran muffins. I raised the oven temperature to 375 degrees on the advice of another blogger who had made these. She also suggested mounding the batter into the liners, but as you can see, I filled them too full. Overflowing is good sometimes (love those tops) and these tasty muffins are pretty much guilt-free.

Nancy Silverton's Bran Muffins
From Pastries from La Brea Bakery by Nancy Silverton


2 cups wheat bran
1 cup, plus 1/2 cup dark raisins
1 cup, plus 1/2 cup water
1/2 cup buttermilk or plain low- or non-fat yogurt
a few swipes of fresh orange zest 
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt


Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin (with 1/2-cup indentations) with paper liners.
Spread the wheat bran on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for six to eight minutes, stirring a few times so it cooks evenly. Let cool.
While the bran is toasting, heat 1 cup (135g) of the raisins with 1/2 cup (120ml) of the water. Simmer for ten minutes, or until the water is all absorbed. Puree the raisins in a food processor or blender until smooth.
In a large bowl, mix together the toasted bran, buttermilk or yogurt, 1 cup (250ml) water, then mix in the raisin puree, orange zest, and brown sugar.
Stir in the oil, egg and egg white.
Mix together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and sift directly into the wet ingredients. Stir until the ingredients are just combined, then mix in the remaining 1/2 cup (55g) raisins.
Spoon the batter into the muffin tins, making sure the batter is mounded slightly in each one. Because muffin tins can very in size, if your tins are larger, make fewer muffins. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the muffins feel set in the center.

Check out my Christmas apron giveaway HERE.

Join Mary from One Perfect Bite and all the other participants in this fun series.

Val - More Than Burnt Toast
Joanne - Eats Well With Others
Taryn - Have Kitchen Will Feed
Susan - The Spice Garden
Claudia - A Seasonal Cook in Turkey
Heather - girlichef
Miranda - Mangoes and Chutney
Jeanette - Healthy Living
April - Abby Sweets 
Katie - Making Michael Pollan Proud
Mary - One Perfect Bite
Viola - The Life is Good Kitchen
Sue - The View from Great Island
Kathleen Van Bruinisse - Bake Away with Me 
Kathleen - Gonna Want Seconds
Martha - Lines from Linderhof
Amy - Beloved Green

 Ciao Chow Linda
Nancy - Picadillo
Mireya - My Healthy Eating Habits
Veronica - My Catholic Kitchen
Annie - Lovely Things

                              Happy Veterans Day!

Happy Veterans Day to each of you who have served our country. Thank you for your courage and dedication. And for our freedom.


  1. I was excited when I saw that you chose these, I love bran muffins and I'm always looking for variations. The orange flavor is this is appealing to me, I've never tried that. They look light and moist, my number one requirement for a bran muffin!

  2. This was fascinating. I knew nothing of Nancy Silverton's history. The muffins look wonderful. Thanks Barbara.

  3. I saw these on DL's blog and thought I really wanted to try them, too. They do look fantastic, I love those big, fat tops! I also like the addition of orange...seems a good fit for bran (breakfast and all...) :D

  4. They look really irresistible! Healthy too.



  5. I am always searching for an outstanding bran muffin recipes. First it was the sheet macaroni and cheese and now bran muffins that are on my list.

  6. Nice ingredients in this recipe - I really like the add of the egg whites and the orange zest to give what could be heavy a lighter touch. West coast based Silverton, is relatively new to me, so I enjoyed the bio.

  7. You know where I gasped, don't you? Glad she still has other opportunities to rebuild her portfolio.

  8. i like nancy muffins and smile !!pierre

  9. Nothing like a light bran muffins. Most of the ones I've had are so dense and heavy.

  10. I'd no idea bout the financial history of La Brea. Very interesting and a bit sad to read that Silverton went broke. That's hard for everyone but for her, after so much success, I imagine that it seemed particularly devastating. It does sound like she's in the process of overcoming it.

    The muffins look really good. I too love that "spill over" part at the top. Almost tastes like a cookie on top of a muffin.

  11. these muffins look deliicous Barbara, gloria

  12. Hi Barbara,

    Bran muffins are so good and I look forward to making them, thanks for the recipe.
    That is so awful Ms Silverton lost everything. Thanks to TV have watched Mario's cooking shows and have also been seeing Joe Bastianich on USA Masterchef which we are enjoying now.

    Happy weekend

  13. I haven't heard Maxwell's Plum in ages, my mom would take me there! Great place. The muffins look so good.

  14. I wouldn't stop just eating one for the breakfast! They look gorgeous.

  15. Barbara, forgive my late response. These look and sound wonderful. What a perfect way to start the day. I'd love to have one with my coffee. Have a great weekend. Blessings...Mary

  16. These look so gorgeous and sound delicious. What a wonderful choice to represent Nancy. Love your photos.
    See you next week for # 24.

  17. She is the Queen of breads in my mind. So glad you made bran muffins. I haven't had a good one in years and this should be a fantastic recipe.

  18. I made these for breakfast this morning Barbara and they really are "all that". They are the best bran muffins that have come from this kitchen.

  19. I saw these done by David as well and almost made them. Glad to know you had good results.

  20. I had to laugh when I saw your muffins--as a chronic over-filler, I understand that mushroom shape all to well!

  21. Barbara,
    These bran muffins sound great. I like the hint of orange and the buttermilk. I also think that the picture in picture effect on your blog looks great.

  22. It has been a while since I have had a good bran muffin, and I can tell these are truly special. I like the addition of orange zest. Awful that someone that worked so hard lost everything because of a very very bad man.

  23. i like the mushroom shape--those crunchy edges along the muffin top are my favorite part!



Related Posts with Thumbnails