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50 Women Game-Changers (in Food): #23 Nancy Silverton - Prosciutto Parmesan Braids

In May '11, Gourmet posted a list of 50 Women Game-Changers (in Food) that runs the gamut from food writers to cookbook authors to television personalities to restauranteurs to chefs to food bloggers.  Some are a given.  Some are controversial.  Speaking the names of some brings fond childhood memories.  Speaking the names of others will make some readers cringe.  And of course, some of our favorites were not even included.  We food-lovers are a passionate bunch of people and whether we agree or disagree, every woman on this list has earned her place for a reason.  Being a woman who is passionate about food (cooking, eating, talking about, writing about, photographing), when I caught wind of Mary from One Perfect Bite's idea of cooking/blogging her way through each of these 50 per week...I knew I wanted to join her.  Many of these women paved the way for us in culinary school, in the kitchen, in cookbooks, in food writing, and on television and I think it is a fabulous way to pay tribute to their efforts.  Some of the women on the list have been tops with me for years.  Some I have heard of (perhaps even seen, read, or cooked from) before.  And there are even a handful that I am not familiar with at all.  I excited to educate myself on each of these women game-changers and hope you look forward to reading along.  We are going in order from 1 to 50.
the "Gourmet" prompt...
23. Nancy Silverton- With the 1989 founding of La Brea Bakery, Silverton kicked off the Cali artisanal baking craze, and her same sourdough starter still seeds the more than 300 breads and rolls available through the bakery.

Honestly, I didn't know much about Nancy Silverton last week.  What I knew was that she'd written some cookbooks and that she was known for baking.  But after digging a little deeper, I found out that she's done so much more than just write a few cookbooks and bake well.  I am super impressed by this lady.  What basically began as an afterthought and a side business (creating the perfect loaf of bread), ultimately put Silverton on the map.  In what makes an amazing back story, she delved into food because she was enamored with a handsome "goateed, chanting-obsessed Buddhist in Birkenstocks. "    Fortunately, by the time she realized that relationship wasn't going to work out, she'd found a new love- food.  She decided to enroll in London’s prestigious Le Cordon Bleu.  Her grades were just okay.  And get this- her pastry grades were the worst of all of her grades.  Yet, she worked as a pastry chef at Michael's in Santa Monica shortly after graduation...and she worked it well.  That led to a Head Pastry Chef job offer from a young chef who was opening a new restaurant on the Sunset Strip.  You may have heard of him and the restaurant...Wolfgang Puck and Spago? Oh yeah.  Here she met the man she would marry (Mark Peel) and open Campanile on La Brea in 1989.

This is where the business of bread began.  Nancy wanted to bake bread to offer their dinner guests, and also sell the loaves as a side business.  But she didn't want just any bread, she wanted perfect, complex, artisan bread.  Six months and many loaves later, that "side business" La Brea Bakery took off.  And it soared!  She may still be the queen of sourdough. Here's where it gets crazy.  Eleven years later, Silverton and Peel sold the business for $55 million...and cleared a little more than $5 million when all was said and done.  Now that's good bread.  She decided to invest her money.

When her marriage fell apart she left Campanile and started Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza (w/ Mario Batali & Joe Bastianich).  It was also around this time that she learned that she had lost everything that she invested...because she'd invested it with Bernie Madoff.  She could have been bitter (I'm pretty sure I would have been), but instead she focused on all of the good things she had (like a job) and looked to the future to start building another five least.  She's a rock star in Los Angeles...and I'd say around the world, still consulting on La Brea Bakery and authoring eight cookbooks.  And she's doing what she loves.  game-changer, indeed.

Well.  I knew I was baking something this week.  And once I came across the recipe for Parma Braids from Silverton's Pastries from La Brea Bakery cookbook, I stopped in my tracks.  I needed these...and I needed them pronto!  Making them entailed making croissant dough (and subsequently croissants....yay!), so it was a win-win-WIN choice for me.  They.  Are.  Heavenly.
Prosciutto Parmesan Braids
yield: 12

½ recipe (~2 lbs.) Croissant dough, chilled for at least 3 hours
8 oz. prosciutto, thinly sliced into 24 pcs.
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
~½ C. (~2 oz.) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten with a few drops of water
~¼ c. sesame seeds
Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator.  On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into a rectangle, 16½ x 7" and ~¼" thick, flouring the surface of the dough as necessary and lifting the dough to square off the edges and corners to help maintain a rectangular shape and even thickness.  Trim the edges straight and brush off any excess flour.

Working with the longer side parallel to the edge of the counter, cut the rectangle horizontally into two strips, each 16½ x 3½".  Cut each strip into three pieces, each 5½ x 3½".

Working with one piece at a time, place the longer side parallel to the edge of the work surface and gently score two horizontal lines across the center, 1" apart.  Make 8-10 cuts through the dough spaced ½" apart along the long edge, stopping ¼" away from the scored line.  Repeat the cuts along the opposite side.  Separate the strips slightly, so that they no longer touch.
Place 2 pieces of prosciutto the same length as the rectangle on top of each and roll them up fairly tightly.  Place the rolled prosciutto inside of the two horizontal lines in the center of the dough.  Grind as much black pepper as you'd like over the prosciutto and then sprinkle ~2 tsp. of the parmesan over that.

Place the shorter side parallel to the edge of the work surface.  make a crisscross pattern by taking the top right strip and crossing it over the middle to the edge of the prosciutto, stretching slightly if needed and using your fingertip to press gently into other side.  Cross the top left strip over the middle to the other edge and so on all the way down the line...basically, like you're lacing a shoe.  When you get to the two last pieces, tuck them underneath the bottom of the braided and gently press together.  Your braid will be ~5" long and 1¾" wide.  Place on a lined baking sheet and repeat with remaining dough and fillings.  Set aside in a warm place and allow to rise until spongy to the touch, ~1 hour.  Repeat with the remaining dough (from fridge) and toppings.

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 425° F during the last 15 minutes of rise time.  Brush the surface with the egg yolk and sprinkle a teaspoon of sesame seeds over each brain.

Open the oven and spray well with a water bottle and shut the door.  Open door again after a few seconds and slide sheet in; spray again quickly with the water bottle and close the door.  Bake for ~25-30 minutes, until golden and crisp.
*source: LA Times online magazine

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