I really don’t know when or why Shannon promised to bring my dad tea cakes, but I find it endearing that he’s still holding on to the hope that they will one day be delivered. I would have lost faith decades ago.
What are tea cakes? Well, as I have mentioned, Southerners have a tradition of giving foods names that aren’t even remotely related to their ingredients (salads with no lettuce or nutritional value, casseroles that are actually desserts, etc). Tea cakes are another good example. They are not cakes. They contain no tea.
“But wait,” you might think. “Perhaps they’re meant to be dunked in tea.” Alas, you would be wrong. No Southerner in his/her right mind is about to dunk any food item into a glass of iced tea.
You might think “What about hot tea?” Oh, no. No, no, no, no. In the South there are only two kinds of tea: sweet or unsweet, both of which are iced.
So what are tea cakes? Most folks would probably call them cookies, seeing as they’re round discs of dough baked on a cookie sheet. But they don’t have the crunchy or chewy texture that’s usually associated with cookies. I guess one could argue that they’re sort of cake-like. More specifically like a sliver of cake that’s been left on the counter to dry out for a few days.
I, myself, think of them as mutated sugar cookies.
I’m doing a terrible job of conveying the deliciousness of tea cakes, but that’s part of my “more for me” tactic.
Apart from Southern bake sales and the occasional lemonade stand, you will probably never happen upon tea cakes for sale. But they’re easy and – dare I say – fun to make at home. If my dad ever gives up on Shannon, I’m sure he could make these himself.
I haven’t made tea cakes in about a hundred years, but I think this recipe from the Bell’s Best Cookbook is the one I usually use, judging by the amount of sugar in the crease. I’ll reproduce it exactly as it appears then add my commentary. It’s on page 328 for those following along at home. The recipe is listed as “Old Fashion Tea Cakes,” not to be confused with “Old Fashioned Tea Cakes,” which precedes it on the page.)
Old Fashion Tea Cakes
2 whole eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup of Wesson oil
2 cups self-rising flour
2 tsp. vanilla
Beat eggs with fork; stir in oil and vanilla. Blend in sugar until mixture thickens. Blend in flour and mix well. Put in refrigerator to chill 3 hours. Drop by teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten with greased bottom of glass dipped in sugar. Bake at 400 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from cookie sheet immediately and place on paper towel. Keep tightly closed in Tupperware to preserve crispness.
Attributed to: Mrs. M.E. (Annie Bell) Sudduth, Jackson – North Council
• I don’t think these will self destruct if you choose a different brand of vegetable oil or even replace the oil with butter as I am usually inclined to do.
• If you don’t have self-rising flour, add 1 tsp baking soda and ¼ tsp salt per cup of all-purpose flour.
• I don’t have the patience for chilling dough. A few minutes in the freezer usually works for me. Results may vary.
• I cover the bottom of the glass with butter, but if you like grease, go for it.
• I don’t know why on earth you’d transfer tea cakes to a paper towel. I’d use a cooling rack or, in a pinch, a plate.
• I don’t have any name-brand Tupperware. I use the cheap-ass kind from Ziplock or Glad. They work just fine.
Also, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DAD! Wish I were there to bake you some tea cakes!!
Do you have a good tea cake recipe? Please share!