Strawberry & Rosemary Scones
In my cherry turnover post I was telling you how I worked in the props department at the theatre conservatory I attended right out of high school. The prop department was located in the basement, under the stage, in front of the old boiler room, and for the most part that’s where I spent my days, while the majority of the crew worked upstairs in the scene shop or outside in the “yard”. At first I thought I wouldn’t like working in props because you seemed so removed from all the “big action” of set construction. However, I soon found that I really enjoyed working with all the small stuff. Yes, that’s right… making props is actually quite fun. The prop department is in charge of everything that the actors might touch on stage and much of the stuff that just sits on the set as decoration. Many of the props we used (like books, cups, and picnic baskets are real items found and restored or modified as needed. For some items, perhaps too heavy for the actor, or too expensive if it were to break, we would have to build a replica. For one show in particular, I had to make a replica of a bellows camera along with a period tripod. The camera was made from a few accordion files painted black, reinforced with fabric tape and attached to the main box and the lens was fashioned from a brass doorknob which I cut in half and fitted with a thick, round piece of black plastic. The tripod was built based on photos of tripods from that time and I had to hand craft all of its parts so it functioned as expected and yet was sturdy enough to be able to withstand a fair amount of abuse.
Then there were the props we had to make because there was no other choice. For example, in the show “Carousel” an actor was to carry a large block of ice across stage using old-fashioned ice block tongs (think about a very heavy iron scissors like contraption with hooks on the end that grabbed into the ice as you pulled the handles together). We were able to secure the ice tongs from a local ice house but since we couldn’t very well make a giant ice cube (upwards of 50 pounds) for every show (plus think of the mess it would make by the end of the scene with all those lights) I had to create a fake ice block by gluing together 1 inch thick slabs of tinted resin into a 10 inch by 14 inch cube. I drilled holes into the sides of the cube so the tines of the tongs could be inserted well into the interior of the cube to make it easier to carry and all the actor had to do was keep minimal pressure on the handles of the ice tongs as he grabbed the cube and lugged it across stage. Unfortunately the actor didn’t always get the best grip on the tongs or he lost his strength halfway to his mark and would often have to stop short or worse he would loosen his grip and the block of “ice” would fall to the stage floor with a thump. Even though we made this fake ice cube out of plastic and considering it weighed far less than a real block of ice, that poor actor struggled nearly every night getting that block of ice to the spot he needed.
In the show “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” there is a scene right at the beginning where a piñata is lowered and Charlie has to swing at it a few times before hitting it to spill the candy. We had to make a piñata that would withstand being beaten with a stick 8 times a week for a little more than a month… plus be able to split open at the perfect time with any hit to the belly. The actor uses a see through blindfold (I know, who could have guessed that, right?) so he can see to some degree but he also has a spotlight in his eyes, is singing and dancing, and the piñata is constantly moving so it is a bit more tricky than it sounds to land the perfect hit. My job was to make sure that even the slightest hit to the belly would rip the paper and spill the candy. Not only did I have to build the piñata I also had to repair and fill the belly with the candy before each performance. Each night I would crawl out onto the lighting trestle 30 feet above the stage (in the complete pitch black) hang precariously over the opening in the baffles, supporting myself on two parallel pipes, and lower the oversized, steel and wood reinforced, piñata down to the stage on a rope and move it up and down while the actor swung at it. On the forth swing I would raise or lower it into the perfect position where no matter how he contacted it his stick would tear through the piñatas flimsy belly and spill the candy. Then I would pull the whole thing up as quickly as I could through the small opening back into the rafters.
On the first rehearsal the piñata was filled with Hershey’s kisses as we thought the bright silver wrapper would be shiny and stand out on stage so the actors could grab them easily. When the actor took his swing he did so as most people might do when swinging at a piñata, that is, with all his might… the candy flew out with such force that many pieces pelted the actors standing at the edge of the stage while a good amount flew right past them landing in the seating area and hitting the director and choreographer (much to their surprise). Hey, Hershey’s kisses make pretty good projectiles apparently. Also they were small and since they basically went everywhere they all didn’t get picked up but eventually they did get stepped on which left brown splotches on the stage and wherever else the actors walked. After that rehearsal we made “candy” out of styrofoam, wrapped in colored cellophane. This solved the deadly projectile problem because when the actor hit the belly (after being instructed to use much less force) they just fell straight down to the stage. The only other problem was when I repaired the belly each day I would sometimes not get glue all the way around the new piece of tissue paper. As I moved into position over the lights I had to tip the piñata on its end to fit it through the little opening and occasionally (about five or six times during the run) a few pieces of the “candy” slipped out and fell to the stage, just as the lights came up on the actor who stood directly below me. Each time he would just give a quick look up to the sky (probably checking to see if the whole piñata was falling to the earth which would do some serious damage to his head… or just to give me a nod to let me know I messed up again, then he would casually kick the candy with one foot towards the back of the stage.
I guess I should mention here that the stage was a thrust stage meaning that the audience surrounds the stage on all but one side… Sort of theatre in the round but not all the way around if that makes sense, so when these things happen… everybody sees it. That show also has a scene where Charlie is flying his kite and the “Kite Eating Tree” eats it. So once again I (and a fellow prop person) had to crawl up into the catwalks high above the stage and using two fishing poles and a series of pulleys we would fly the kite around the stage by reeling in one pole and simultaneously letting string out from the other pole then quickly reversing, sometimes even letting string out of both poles to allow the kite to dive towards the stage. Then at the perfect moment in the song I had to reel my side in as fast as I could and once again reach precariously over the center opening (without dropping the pole or losing my balance and plummeting to my death), and grab the kite, again wriggling it through the hole in the baffles.
The very first show I was assigned to the prop crew for was a show called “The Miracle Worker” which is the story of Helen Keller. I literally had one job to do for the show and that was to make the food for the infamous breakfast scene. Each day about 30 or 40 minutes or so before the scene started I would go up into the scene shop and fire up a portable propane camping stove and with my trusty cast iron skillet I would cook about a pound of bacon and scramble a dozen eggs, then put them in bowls and rush them to the stage, just in time for the scene. On the days where the show started in the afternoon this job was especially interesting as there was always people working in the shop who would become very hungry once I started frying bacon and I would constantly have to swat them away like flies when they would try to sneak in and grab a piece. This also slowed down my process a little and I there were a few times where I just barely made it to the stage before the scene was about to start. Oh, and if you’re wondering… Yes, I ate one piece of bacon every time that show ran (cooks privilege, right?). I have to say that overall the shows with real food in them were some of my favorite shows to work… I would also say, that went for almost every crew member and the actors as well. Remind me someday to tell you about the buffet of food, served on a gurney, during the show “The Physicists”
In a way, making food and taking pictures of it for this blog reminds me a lot of my time making props, and especially of all the times I made food props (props that were made to look like food but were actually made from styrofoam or paper mache). I can assure you though, that the scones in the pictures here are real, and I got the recipe while flipping through the channels on TV one day. On that day I ran across the Food Network where Giada De Laurentiis was just starting these scones (you can see the original recipe here) so despite the overpowering, urge to find out what was on the game show network, I stopped flipping and watched the segment. I knew, almost immediately, that I had to make these, so as soon as the show finished I went online and printed the recipe. When Sunday rolled around I got up early in the morning (a rare thing for me) and baked a batch to serve with breakfast. They are super easy to make and the combination of the rosemary, and strawberry jam in the center tastes fantastic. Plus the lemon in the glaze gives the whole thing a surprising zing. And though I have yet to try other flavor combos, I am willing to bet you could trade out the herbs and the jam to other flavors you like... I’m thinking thyme and either peach or cherry jam perhaps… one of you folks should try that and let me know how it comes out. To make these you’ll need your food processor, a rolling pin, and a 2¾-inch cookie cutter (Giada used a heart shaped cutter for hers, but a round cutter will work just fine). By the way Giada… next time you’re in the neighborhood… do stop by, we can talk about Italy, or superman, or something! Anyway…
Here’s how I put them together:
For the Scones:
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 cup heavy cream, cold
⅓ cup strawberry jam
For the Glaze:
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoons water (only as needed to thin glaze)
For the Scones:
Start by preheating your oven to 375°F with the rack in the center position.
Grab yourself a baking sheet, line it with a piece of parchment paper and set it aside for now.
Put the flour, the sugar, the baking powder, the rosemary, the salt, and the butter in the bowl of a food processor and pulse the machine until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
Now, dump the mixture into a medium bowl and gradually stir in the heavy cream until the mixture starts to form into a dough.
Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured surface and with your hands, press it together gently until you’re able to roll it out.
Roll the dough into a ½-inch thick circle about 10-inches round.
Use a 2¾-inch cookie or biscuit cutter (Giada used a heart shape cutter, I used round), cut out pieces of dough and put them onto the prepared baking sheet.
Gently knead together any leftover pieces of dough, roll out again, and cut out more scones, placing them on the baking sheet. You can continue to re-roll the scraps until you have exhausted the dough but know that each time you re-roll the dough will get a little bit tougher. Try to make your scones with as little re-rolling as you can.
Next, take a small, round measuring spoon (or just use your thumb or index finger) and gently make an indentation in the center of each pastry.
Fill each indentation with a heaping ½-teaspoon of strawberry jam.
Bake until the scones are set and the edges are just turning golden brown, about 18 to 20 minutes or so.
Transfer the scones onto a wire rack and let them cool for at least 30 minutes.
When the scones are cool, make the glaze.
For the Glaze:
Use a whisk to mix together the lemon juice and the powdered sugar in a medium sized bowl until smooth.
Add water to the mix, only as needed, little by little until the glaze is just thin enough to spread. If the glaze is too thin add a little more powdered sugar. The glaze should flow slowly, in an even stream off the end of a spoon.
Drizzle the cooled scones with the glaze and let sit for another 30 minutes or until set.
That’s it… brew a cup of tea and you’re ready to enjoy these!
I really like everything about these scones. The rosemary, the lemon in the glaze, the strawberry jam, literally everything about them is so good it’s hard for me to not eat just one… or two…. I hope you’ll try them too.