photography by Elizabeth Lavin

Chef’s Corner: Shannon Swindle

Craft pastry chef Shannon Swindle’s desserts are notable for their all-natural fruit sweeteners and vine-ripened berries.

Must-have spice: I am a freak for cinnamon. There are six kinds in the kitchen at Craft.

What got me into baking: I grew up in a household of foodies, if you could use that term in the ’70s. After I graduated from the University of Texas with a psychology degree, I waited tables in Austin and volunteered in the kitchen. After I moved back to Dallas and began working for Stephan Pyles at Star Canyon, it was pretty obvious (to me and Stephan) that pastries were what I was supposed to be making. 

Desserts I order when I’m splurging: I’m not a big chocolate eater, so something with lemon or citrus or seasonal fresh fruit. But I rarely do that because of my diabetes.

Tips for making a great pie crust: Pie crusts from scratch can be intimidating. Keeping everything really cold is important. And use really good, high-fat butter.

photography by Elizabeth Lavin
photography by Elizabeth Lavin
I refuse to bake: Out-of-season produce. We don’t use Driscoll strawberries in January just because someone requests them.

Quick cleanup tips: Clean as you go. But if it gets too messy when you’re entertaining or you’ve had too much wine, close the doors.  

My contribution to a dinner party is: Certainly a bottle of wine. We usually take fruit and some kind of cheese. I love fresh chèvre from the La Cuesta goat farm [in Clifton, Texas]. I rarely serve dessert at home, but I go for cheese.

Produce you should be buying now: Summer is the best time of year for a pastry chef—early summer cherries, apricots, berries. Don’t rely on what you’re told is in season. Go to the market and pick what looks good and smells good, and try to eat locally. If you’re getting strawberries from Chile, they’re just not going to be as good as the ones that come from East Texas.

Most important ingredient in my kitchen: The most surprising ingredient I use is sea salt. People underestimate the need for salt in something sweet. It brings out the flavor of whatever you are cooking.

Favorite cookbooks: “What I Believe About Cooking” in Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook is one of the things that inspired me to become a chef.

What I cook at home: On days off, I keep it simple. I like to grill meat, fish, and vegetables in nice weather. 

Who makes your birthday cake? I am not a cake lover. I’d rather have a pie or plum cobbler in September. You’d be surprised at how few people are willing to make a dessert for a pastry chef.

My signature dessert: I’m known for being downright obsessive about using good products. Whether it’s chocolate from Tuscany or vine-ripened blackberries, I take the best I can get and then craft them into something good.

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