The layers of sugar on my counters have been cleared from the holiday baking frenzy. Though it’s not quite time for the rich sweets of Valentine’s Day something to nibble on with a cup of hot tea sounds quite inviting. Southern Tea Cakes provide a perfect balance for something slightly sweet though not overly heavy.
These puffy little cookies, with a delicate cake-like texture are somewhat a cross between shortbread and a sugar cookie. There are many variations on this Southern cookie, some are very thin others thicker, some all butter while other recipes are all shortening.
My favorite tea cake is an adaptation of a recipe I was given many years ago by a dear woman who worked for us. The inclusion of buttermilk yields a very tender cookie and fresh nutmeg gives a subtle warmth from the spice. The primary flavors in these tea cakes come from pure vanilla extract and nutmeg. So it’s important to use a high quality vanilla and freshly grated nutmeg.
The dough is very soft so you’ll need to chill it at least one hour before you roll it out. Even after it chills it’s still soft so the tea cakes won’t necessarily be perfectly round in shape. No worries, the taste makes up for any visual imperfection!
Tea Cakes are wonderful served plain or with a lavender icing. Put the kettle on, grab a tea cake and curl up with a good book! The day just got better.
Southern Tea Cakes
1 cup butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
3 extra-large eggs, room temperature
1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
5 cups flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Cream the butter on medium speed until it is light and smooth.
Add the sugar and continue mixing until it’s well blended, about 2 minutes.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla and buttermilk. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, kosher salt and nutmeg.
Add the flour mixture about one cup at a time, alternately with the buttermilk mixing on low speed just until the flour is blended into the dough.
Divide the dough in half (it’s easier to handle) and dump it onto lightly floured parchment sheets. Gently knead the dough in with the flour just until it is not sticky to the touch. Flatten each round of dough into a disc, wrap it in the parchment and seal it up in a plastic bag. Refrigerate at least one hour.
When you’re ready to bake, gently roll out the dough onto a surface that has been dusted with flour, dusting the rolling pin with flour as needed. Roll until the dough is about ¼” thick. Cut with a cookie or biscuit cutter. I use a biscuit cutter that’s approximately 2-1/2″ in diameter but you can make them smaller or larger.
Place the tea cakes on a baking sheet lined with either a Silpat or parchment paper. Bake the tea cakes at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until they are lightly golden on the bottom.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
¼ cup half and half
1/8 teaspoon dried lavender, food grade (found in the spice aisle)
1-1/2 to 2 cups powdered sugar, sifted to remove any lumps
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Warm the half and half until it’s steaming, about 30-60 seconds in the microwave will do it. Add the dried lavender and allow it to steep for 2-3 minutes to gently infuse the lavendar flavor into the half and half. A little lavender goes a long way… Too much and it will taste like you’re eating perfume! If you want a bit stronger flavor, steep longer.
Sift 1-1/2 cups of the powdered sugar into a small saucepan. Pour the half and half through a sieve to remove the lavender and add to the powdered sugar along with the vanilla extract.
Warm over low heat, stirring well until the icing is smooth. Add the remaining powdered sugar if you like a slightly thicker icing.
Drizzle over the tops of the tea cakes.