Side Orders: Fresh fruits burst with flavors

Side Orders: Fresh fruits burst with flavors

May 17th, 2017 by Anne Braly in Life Entertainment

Strawberries from Mercier Orchards in Blue Ridge, Ga., are sold on the opening day of the Chattanooga Market at the First Tennessee Pavilion on Saturday, April 29, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The annual market features local vendors selling art, crafts, produce and artisan goods on Sundays until the fall.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

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Anne Braly

Anne Braly

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Our local farmers markets are beginning to bloom, filling up with deliciously fresh fruits.

According to cookbook author, pastry chef and bakery owner Lei Shishak, there's no better way to enjoy them than in a made-from-scratch dessert, such as one featured in her recently released cookbook, "Farm to Table Desserts: 80 Seasonal, Organic Recipes Made From Your Local Farmers Market" (Skyhorse Publishing, $23).

"I started gardening in 2015 and immediately fell in love with growing my own fruits and vegetables," she says. "I learned a lot from a neighbor who stressed the importance of growing organically. It was really this personal love of gardening that prompted me to write a book focused on farm-to-table recipes."

But she cannot grow everything, so she frequents her nearby farmers market, and early summer is her favorite time to do so, primarily, Shishak says, for the first crop of strawberries.

"Farmers markets are such a wonderful environment," she notes. "I love talking to the farmers directly and hearing their passion for their offerings."

Anyone who's visited Chattanooga Market or any other farmers market in our area knows well of which she speaks. With each visit, Shishak says, she gets motivated to create new recipes around crops grown by people who put the time and effort into raising them and bringing them to market to share.

When we shop at farmers markets, we support our local economy and consume food that's healthier, tastier and packed with essential nutrients specific to our local environment.

"I believe that interest in healthier foods will continue in people of all ages who care about what goes into their bodies," she says. "More areas are increasing the number of organic options available to consumers, and that healthy trend should continue as the results of eating healthier are felt by more and more people."

She's hard-pressed to come up with any one favorite fruit, but strawberries are among her favorites, mainly because so many of her friends and bakery customers at Sugar Blossom Bake Shop in San Clemente, Calif., love strawberry desserts.

"Most of the time I roast the strawberries first to intensify their flavor and color," she says. "One of my favorite recipes in my new book is the strawberry hand pies. Aside from being ridiculously delicious, they're easy to make, and you can freeze any unbaked pies so you have some on hand for when unexpected guests pop in."

Here's her recipe, perfect for using some of this year's crop of strawberries. "Roasting the strawberries with vanilla bean intensifies their flavor and removes their water content. As a result you are left with an intensely strawberry-flavored pie without that annoying gap between the top crust and the filling below," she says.

Strawberry Hand Pies


1 pint strawberries, washed and hulled

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup whole-wheat flour

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup unsalted butter, cold and cubed

2 tablespoons ice water

1 large egg, separated

Sparkling sugar for sprinkling

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Cut the strawberries into quarters, and place them in a medium bowl. Sift the powdered sugar onto the strawberries. Scrape the vanilla bean, and add to the bowl along with the pod. Toss the berries well until no trace of powdered sugar remains. Transfer to a 9-inch pie plate or cake pan. Roast in oven for 15 minutes. Use a fork to break up the fruit. Roast 15 minutes more. Use a fork to break up any chunks of fruit that remain. Place in refrigerator to cool while you make the dough.

In a large mixing bowl with the paddle attachment, add the flours, sugar and salt. Mix on low speed, and slowly add the cubed butter. Increase speed to medium, and continue mixing until butter breaks down to pea size. Whisk the water and egg yolk in a small bowl, and add all at once to the mixer. Mix on low speed just until dough comes together. Form dough into a disc and wrap in plastic. Let chill in refrigerator for 15 minutes.

Line a sheet tray with parchment, and set aside. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the chilled dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Use a 4-inch round cutter to portion out five circles, and place them on the prepared tray with space between. Whisk the egg white and brush a thin layer onto each round. Spoon a small mound of the roasted strawberries in the center of each round, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Cut out 5 more rounds of dough and place on top of the strawberries. Gently press down along the edges to seal well. Use a fork to crimp the edges. Poke holes on top with the fork. Brush with egg white, and sprinkle with some sparkling sugar. Place pies in freezer for 10 minutes to set up. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, until pies are lightly browned. Let cool slightly before serving.

Note: These pies can be made ahead of time, individually frozen and baked when desired.

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