Tonight The Enchanted April opens at the Hampton Theatre Company out east in New York. I’ve been between here and the city for almost a month now, juggling memorizing and rehearsing, squeezing time in with friends at home, and meandering through the kitchen of the lovely people I’m staying with.
One of the things I love about traveling to perform is that I get glimpses into the way people live and the vibe of different cities. The director and producer I’m living with have a peaceful, beautiful house right on the bay, filled with plants and artwork from all over the world. I take their dog Mia on morning walks past fields of flowers and houses with perfectly manicured laws and gardens. From my attic suite (which makes me feel a little Louisa May Alcott as I write and draw) I can see water, and when I open the window the scent of flowers fills the rooms.
The show opens tonight, and aside from feeling extremely fulfilled from working with this character and this incredible cast – who have been so warm with welcoming me into their lives – I’m also pleased to be selling some cookies for the Hamptons crowd at the concessions. While I couldn’t quite put a gluten-free, allergy-friendly cookie out there (both to limit costs and appeal to the appetite of this particular audience) I knew my contribution had to be something other than the basic chocolate chip cookie (which will still be there from their original source).
The show is about four women who escape from their troubles in rainy London to a castle in Italy, where “in April it is simply a mass of flowers” as “bushels and bushels of wisteria” flank the terraces. Eventually they all find their happy endings, their hearts warmed by the Italian sunshine, the “unusually fresh” sea air and facing their demons amongst the company of strangers who soon become friends (crazy how art parallels your life sometimes, no?)
So my contribution is simple but fitting: a traditional English shortbread cookie, laced with rosewater and dried lavender. I tried several variations – making a Scottish variety with my hands, then a batch in the food processor – until I landed on this one. Simple ingredients, a little time and patience, and a beautiful, garden-scented result.
- 20 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened (I used Kerry Gold for the higher fat content)
- 1 cup white sugar plus more for dusting
- 2 eggs (plus egg whites for brushing)
- 3 cups flour
- 1 cup cornstarch
- 2 scant Tbsp dried lavender flowers
- 3 scant Tbsp rosewater
- With a hand mixer (or in a food processor) beat butter and sugar until smooth and fluffy, about two minutes.
- Add eggs and blend to combine.
- Add flour, cornstarch, lavender and rosewater and mix just until a dough ball forms.
- Remove from mixer, separate into two balls and flatten into disks. Wrap in plastic and put in refrigerator for at least one hour.
- Preheat oven to 350°
- Line baking sheets with parchment paper and flour work surface.
- If the dough is still too soft, knead in a little more flour.
- Roll each disk into 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes (I made both 1 1/2 inch and 2 inch cookies with success, both with round and fluted cutters.)
- Use a spatula to transfer to lined sheets, wash lightly with egg white and sprinkle with sugar.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes (depending on size), switching racks halfway through baking, until slightly golden at edges.
Notes: I made two sizes (one to sell and smaller ones with the extra dough). Other than rolling the smaller size a bit thinner and baking for a shorter amount of time, they came out with equally beautiful results. The pictures above are of the larger ones that I brushed with egg white before sanding with sugar. The picture below shows the smaller cookies that weren’t brushed. To keep with the traditional sheen of a shortbread, I think from now on I will not egg wash the cookies before baking.