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Artisan Treats Sweeten Winter Markets
By Pat Eby | Photo by Carmen Troesser
Posted On: 02/01/2011   


This month’s winter markets offer just-right treats from artisan bakers to soften winter’s cruel tricks. You’ll find pound cakes so buttery they melt on your tongue, tender English scones fragrant with dried fruit, and Cheddar-chive biscuits none the less savory for being gluten-free.

Jessie Pearl Hairston sold her first pound cakes 50 years ago, when she was just 13. Today, Hairston bakes to supplement her income, focusing on baking high-quality products for customers, either by custom order or through local farmers’ markets.

Her cakes – moist, dense and intensely flavorful – cut to a velvety crumb. She’s known for endless varieties, including lemon, buttermilk, double chocolate, vanilla, mandarin orange, strawberry, Key lime, coffee, peanut butter, marble, Seven-Up, banana and coconut. There’s red velvet, Oreo and even gooey butter.

At markets, you’ll also find specials like her sugar-free sweet potato pie or seasonal fruit cobblers. You could luck into pumpkin, banana, strawberry or cranberry-walnut tea breads. Try candy-like Pearlie Bars brimming with chocolate, butterscotch, coconut and nuts, super-chocolaty brownies or cream cheese pecan pie. Can’t wait till the Clayton Farmers’ Market opens this spring? For custom orders, contact Hairston at 314.266.8619.

For a little bit of heaven, buy her biscuits, regular or sweet potato. One bite, and “your tongue will slap your brains out,” Hairston claimed. She’s right: Her baking is that lush.

Find more posh treats at Queen’s Cuisine, where proper English delicacies wait to grace your table. Owner Jane Muscroft landed stateside when her husband followed his job. She’s been introducing folks to the charms of English scones, authentic shortbread, seasonal pies and sundry treats ever since.

You’ll find her goodies at farmers’ markets, including St. Louis Community Farmers’ Market at St. John’s Episcopal Church and at the Maplewood Winter Farmers’ Market at Schlafly Bottleworks, as well as online at the Queen’s Cusine Web site, qconline.us. Muscroft also teaches classes at Dierbergs cooking schools and hosts afternoon teas by special request at The Oatman House in Collinsville.

Her cranberry-orange scones hit the perfect flavor and texture combination for me. These aren’t dried-out, crumbling scones big as a baseball and hard as a brick. Instead, Muscroft’s scones fit the hand and bite tender with an almost creamy mouth feel. That’s without butter and preserves or a gobbet of fabled clotted cream.

Muscroft changes her products seasonally; December’s mince pie, tart and sweet, hit just the right note for me. This spring and summer, Muscroft plans to offer shoppers sausage rolls and a cream tea at farmers’ markets, regulations permitting. “The sausage roll would use local sausages,” she said. “A cream tea is a pot of tea, a scone, strawberry jam and clotted cream.” Wouldn’t that be a lovely breakfast?

For breakfast last summer at the Kirkwood Farmers’ Market, I munched quite happily on gluten-free Cheddar-chive biscuits from Wheatless Wonders. These savory biscuits taste sensational, but they’re not the baker’s only offering. Creamy chocolate brownies, apple spice cakes, dinner rolls – Adam Prey bakes gluten-free, but with the same great tastes and textures you’d expect from any baked item. Taste rules.

“I don’t want an aftertaste, a grassy flavor or something that’s not the right texture. Products that make it to the market are products that work. I want to mimic the flavor of traditional bakeries, but using ingredients that are good for you,” Prey said. He uses no hydrogenated oils, refined sugars or flours, wheat flours, additives or cornstarch. Flours include tapioca, almond bean, amaranth, rice, sorghum, coconut and quinoa. Not everything’s organic, but each ingredient is high-quality.

Prey’s baked goods are available this winter at his mother Marianne Prey’s Extra Virgin, an Olive Ovation. Next spring, he may find time to sell at the Kirkwood and the Ellisville farmers’ market and hopes to offer gluten-free mixes so that customers can bake up their own treats at home. Watch his Web site, wheatlesswondersbakery.com, for details.

Visit these bakers and other artisan food producers each month at local markets, even in dreary February. Mid-month, sweeten the Valentine’s dinner with something fresh-baked and fabulous.

Cheddar-Chive Savory Fruit Dressing
Makes 8

INGREDIENTS

6 day-old Wheatless Wonder Cheddar-chive biscuits
5 Tbsp. buttery olive oil, divided
½ small onion or 2 shallots, diced
2 large stalks celery, chopped
½ Granny Smith apple, diced
½ McIntosh apple, diced
1 tangerine, sectioned, then each section cut in half
¼ cup raisins
½ cup coarsely chopped pecans
2 eggs
½ cup 2 percent milk*
Cooking spray

PREPARATION

• Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
• Split the biscuits in half then cut into ½-inch cubes.
• Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in an 8- or 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until the oil sizzles when a drop of water hits the surface. Place the diced biscuits in the skillet, turning to coat with oil. Allow the biscuits to brown and toast, turning as needed.
• Transfer the toasted bread to a large mixing bowl.
• Wipe the skillet free of crumbs and heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Sauté the onions and celery for 5 minutes, or until the onion softens and begins to turn translucent.
• Add the sautéed vegetables to the biscuits. Add the apples, tangerine, raisins and pecans and toss to mix well.
• Break the eggs into a small bowl and whisk lightly. Pour them over the biscuit mixture, then toss, using your hands to work the egg throughout. Add the milk and toss again until well blended.
• Coat a 1½-quart casserole dish with cooking spray. Turn the biscuit mixture into the casserole dish. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and the mixture sets.

* If you want a softer, more cohesive texture, increase the milk to 1 cup.

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