Do you have tea cake memories? What is your favorite recipe like?
Mention tea cakes to any Southerner and chances are their eyes will glaze over as they’re taken back in time to Grandma’s kitchen…waiting on that warm, buttery goodness to emerge from the oven.
Most of my kitchen time was spent with Granny or Mama, but it was my great-grandmother who made the best tea cakes. As soon as I walked in the door of her house I would ask for them, and if there weren’t any in the cookie jar then we would head to the kitchen. When the tea cakes were done, Grandma would lift one from the pan and give it to me. It would be so hot I’d have to dance it from hand to hand, but that first bite was special…warm, buttery and soft.
When I was 12 years old, I asked Grandma for the recipe, but, of course, there was no recipe. Butter, eggs, flour, sugar and you just poured it in “until it looks right.” But she pulled some measurements out of her head and I wrote them down—I still have this piece of paper. And it says, “1 stick melted butter, 1 egg, 1 and 1/2 cups sugar and add flour—until it looks right.” That last part has been hanging me up for more than thirty years.
I’ve played with this list in many different ways, studied what makes what happen in a cookie recipe, and finally, come up with a mix that is about as close to hers as I think I’ll get. The melted butter doesn’t seem to work, even though I distinctly remember that’s what we did. There are so many variations of tea cakes, and some people remember them as being chewy or crispy, but my Grandma’s were soft and cake-like with just a hint of sugar.
In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar using a mixer.
Add eggs and vanilla and mix well. Add flour and mix on low until well blended. At this point, the dough will be somewhat sticky.
Sprinkle additional flour on top and knead the dough. You will have to sprinkle additional flour as you knead. Continue until the dough does not stick to the bowl and is easy to handle. Or, until it looks right. Sorry. That’s all I know.
Sprinkle flour on work surface and lay dough on surface. Roll out to slightly less than 1/2 inch and cut with cookie cutter.
Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 8-9 minutes, until cookie is set and bottom is just starting to lightly brown. Remove pan from oven and remove cookies from pan and place on rack to cool.
Tea cakes should be stored in an air-tight container and are best when eaten within 2 days. You can pop one in the microwave for about 10 seconds to recapture that warm, just-from-the-oven feeling.