[S]ometimes I get weird ideas. Actually, I get weird ideas most of the time, but I only act on a portion of them. When I decide to act on one of my curious notions, itâ€™s as if Iâ€™ve signed a contract…itâ€™s odd. I am as unyielding on myself as if the world expected me to follow through on whatever strange venture Iâ€™ve set myself upon.
Every once in awhile, since Iâ€™m sort of a food-ish person, I decide to throw a little party, whether that is a little dinner at my house, some treats taken to a friend, a fall picnic in a woodsy preserve. I LOVE the idea of throwing a party, even though Iâ€™m not a terribly social person, but Iâ€™m enchanted with the creativity of planning said party, committing to its plan and fulfilling what Iâ€™ve set up in my weird, wild head.
This past spring, when I heard of a friendâ€™s granddaughterâ€™s sixth birthday party being themed as a tea, I was envious. I wanted to have a tea for children. What fun! The two youngest ladies in my life, my grand-nieces Victoria, 7, and Emmalee, 5, lived in Kansas, and I only got to experience their birthdays and other gatherings secondhand. Despite this, I felt a strong connection to the two little country girls, curious and adventurous as I had once been (and thankfully, much bolder, confident and social than I ever was). When or how could I have tea for them? It seemed unlikely, yet still I steeled myself toward doing it. It was spring, but in the summer I was planning to visit. I could plot this tea out long-distance and put it all together when I was there.
What to serve? Scones, of course! I got pictures and tastes in my head of the right scone to make. Small, sweet lady scones. I found a recipe replicating the petite vanilla bean scones they serve at Starbucks…I saw myself bringing pink hues to them, both by adding dried strawberries or raspberries and garnishing with a pink sugar or icing.
I tested the scone recipe a couple of times. It called for vanilla beans, which, fortunately, I found on sale at my local grocery and stocked up (vanilla beans tend to be shockingly expensive). It was the sconesâ€™ size that needed adaptation, as the scones tended to spread a little, and I wanted them small and compact. I chopped the berries fine to match the diminutive pastry size and sprinkled the scones with sparkling sugar. Instead of a too-sweet glaze made of confectionerâ€™s sugar, I dressed them in a drizzle of white chocolate (which is really very vanilla) ganache.
The scones were so flavorful that no other embellishment (aka, butter/jam) would be needed. They were almost like a shortbread cookie, so no other cookie would be needed. I tossed about the other menu items and became set on cream puffs (not the best summertime pastry, but who could argue against a cream puff?), small tea sandwiches, and fruit kabobs dipped in chocolate. Cold drinks — a green tea punch and a berry lemonade — would be served, since the party was to be in June and in Kansas, that means hot!
I shopped online for party accessories…true fun here. Tea party supplies abound, including cute little tea pot and tea cup lollipops, beautifully decorated. I found decorations and all manner of plates, napkins and cups, which included the ones I got with little lids and straws. Holding eight ounces, they would also work for the adults in attendance and counted as a party favor, too. I got some inexpensive tiered serving trays and found paper hats in accordion, mad-hatter style, which seemed appropriate given whose hare-brained idea this was.
I fancied the party outdoors, much like the one with Alice and the gang. As tea party day approached in the heavy June heat, however, it was decided to have it at my parentsâ€™ house.
I made the mini scones the day before, first infusing cream with the caviar from a vanilla bean, then following all the usual steps for scones — dry ingredients blended with cold butter and chopped berries, adding egg and cream, shaping into small triangles. Then I froze them, unbaked.
As for the puffs, I also baked them the day ahead. I will write of the magic of these creatures in a future blog, but know here that if you have not witnessed both the simplicity and miracle of a puffing pate a choux, you have missed something. These delightful shells were later filled with a creamy vanilla pudding.
I was pleased to discover that the scones, even having been frozen 24 hours, baked up nicely. I heated cream into which I melted white chocolate chips for the scone glaze.
The day of the party, I improvised on some tea sandwiches, making a filling of cream cheese, a little butter, parmesan cheese and chopped chives (we had discovered free chive plants at the local grocery store!). As a fun twist, I took a tea pot cookie cutter to make the bread into fun shapes.
A little tea tablecloth, some hanging decor, some colorful cups and food layered on tiered tray. It was fairly festive, and I was overly sweaty. And kind of tired and grouchy. Still, once I placed a giant green mad hatter hat atop my head, the right attitude took over. My sister, a creative cook whose inventiveness and abilities know no bounds (and require no measuring spoons), contributed to the tea table…she brought lemonade and delicious cucumber-and-dill topped crackers and cream-cheesy pinwheels.
The girls had not been told of the tea and were surprised. â€œWhatâ€™s all this for?â€ they asked. They wanted hats. They sampled the treats (as it turns out, Victoria dislikes raisins, so she was dubious of the dried fruits in the scones). They liked their portable (and keepable) cups.
They may have liked the lollipops best and got to keep the leftovers (to be doled out conservatively since Victoria recently had a dental appointment). The girlsâ€™ adult fans in attendance also graciously donned accordion hats and enjoyed the festivities.
Having fulfilled my promise (to myself alone, as it turns out, since the ladies knew not a thing of the tea and would have been happy doing anything), I began to muse of future tea themes — a Halloween tea with pumpkin scones and orange punch? A Christmas tea with gingerbread scones and hot spiced cider tea? Hmmm. I would let the images dance in my head before I committed to anything because, once I did, well…no turning back. This would continue to be how it was…in tea and other mad hatter matters.
Mini Vanilla Scones with Vanilla Bean Glaze
Recipe by Ree Drummond/Food Network www.foodnetwork.com
Makes 24 mini scones
2 whole vanilla beans
3/4 cups heavy cream
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2/3 cups granulated sugar
5 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, chilled
1 whole large egg
1 whole vanilla bean
1/2 cup whole milk, plus more if needed
5 cups powdered sugar, sifted, plus more if needed
Dash of salt
For the scones: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Split the vanilla beans in half lengthwise and scrape out all the vanilla “caviar” inside. Stir the caviar into the cream. Set aside for 15 minutes.
Sift together the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut the cold butter into pats, and then use a pastry cutter or two knives to cut the butter into the flour. Keep going until the mixture resembles crumbs.
Mix the vanilla cream with the egg, and then combine with the flour mixture. Stir gently with a fork just until it comes together.
Turn the dough onto a floured surface and lightly press it together until it forms a rough rectangle. (Mixture will be pretty crumbly.) Use a rolling pin to roll into a rectangle about 12-by-7 inches and 1/2-to-3/4-inches thick. Use your hands to help with the forming if necessary. Then cut the rectangle into 12 symmetrical squares/rectangles. Next, cut each square/rectangle in half diagonally, to form two triangles. Transfer to a parchment or baking-mat-lined cookie sheet and bake for 18 minutes, removing from the oven just before they start to turn golden. Allow to cool for 15 minutes on the cookie sheet, and then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.
For the glaze: Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the caviar. Stir the caviar into the milk. Set aside for 15 minutes.
Mix the powdered sugar and salt with the vanilla milk, adding more powdered sugar or milk if necessary to get the right consistency. Stir or whisk until completely smooth.
One at a time, carefully dunk each cooled scone in the glaze, turning it over if necessary. Transfer to parchment paper or the cooling rack. Allow the glaze to set completely, about an hour. Scones will keep several days if glazed.
Bloggerâ€™s Note: The scone recipe I adapted is in its original form above. In my version, I only used one vanilla bean for the scone dough. I finely chopped approximately 2/3 cup of dried fruits (strawberries, blueberries, cherries) and mixed into the scones just after the butter is cut in. Once I cut the scones out, I froze them, unbaked, on a covered sheet pan, then baked for just a few minutes longer than the original baking time (you do not want to overbake these scones…so watch and adjust baking time according to your oven). My glaze recipe is about 1/4 cup cream warmed on low heat just until it is slightly uncomfortable to touch, then add approximately 2/3 to 3/4 cup white chocolate chips. Let sit a minute to melt, then stir until smooth. Immediately drizzle over cooled scones. Allow to set at least 30 minutes.