72. Tea Cakes (Sorry, No Frosting)

18 Feb

Photo by B. Williams
Flickr Creative Commons

My sister has a friend named Shannon, and every time her name comes up in conversation (always in a good way, Shannon!), my dad says, “Ask Shannon when she’s going to bring me those tea cakes.”

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.

Caution: Do Not Dip.
Photo by Chad M.
Flickr Creative Commons


“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

My notes:
• 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!

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14 Responses to “72. Tea Cakes (Sorry, No Frosting)”

  1. 2blu2btru February 18, 2011 at 8:23 am #

    I LOVE tea cakes! It’s the first “dessert” I learned how to bake “my own self” (LOL) as a kid. They are so plain, yet they taste so good. All of these food related posts are making me hungry.

    • girloutofdixie February 21, 2011 at 12:20 pm #

      I love that tea cakes are so simple even kids can make them!

  2. Joe February 18, 2011 at 9:04 am #

    My aunt used to always bring me tins of tea cakes to our family reunion that I go to every summer in Starkville (when she was still able to attend) . I would bring them home to Salt Lake City and my friends and co-workers would marvel at them. But then they marvel at a lot of things that I cook too…cheese straws, pralines, strawberry cake, lemon straws and may other Southern delicacies that I have introduced them to.

    • kathy jean February 18, 2011 at 10:56 am #

      mmm I could use a really good praline recipe. I’ve tried several and none of them come close to the pralines we used to get in the south. Girloutofdixie… do you have any good praline recipes? Joe… would you consider sharing your praline recipe? 🙂

      Tea Cakes this weekend, hopefully pralines next week… sugar overdose on its way.

      • girloutofdixie February 21, 2011 at 12:26 pm #

        I’m posting on pralines this week. Stay tuned!

    • girloutofdixie February 21, 2011 at 12:24 pm #

      I was telling my dad about this post and he said that whenever he’d visit his grandmother’s house, there were always tins of tea cakes in the pantry. He and his siblings/cousins would sneak a few at a time and hide in the barn to eat them. He didn’t realize till later that she knew about their secret all along; she’d been baking the tea cakes for them the whole time.

  3. kn1tty cat February 18, 2011 at 9:31 am #

    Love it, love them, thanks for your blog!! I am so enjoying reading you!
    – Richmond, Virginia

    • girloutofdixie February 21, 2011 at 12:26 pm #

      thanks!!

  4. The Narrator February 18, 2011 at 1:20 pm #

    I LUH-HUV tea cakes and I’m so excited to try to make them myself! (For the previous 29 years I’ve just waited for some kindly soul to drop them off at my Granddaddy’s house or bring them to a pot luck…)

    • girloutofdixie February 21, 2011 at 12:29 pm #

      I LUH-HUV that you spelled out “love” that way!! Good luck with your tea cake baking. Not that you need it. They really are simple to make.

  5. Dawn Medley February 18, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

    Thank you for the recipe! when I was younger, one of my elderly aunts used to make tea cakes for me and I’ve tried so many recipes trying to find one that was like hers. They were like a little bite of heaven. I look forward to giving this one a go!

    • girloutofdixie February 21, 2011 at 12:31 pm #

      Hope these turn out like your aunt’s tea cakes. I know how frustrating it is not to be able to make something that tastes like you remember it.

  6. Hippie Cahier February 18, 2011 at 6:50 pm #

    I can’t think of tea cakes without thinking of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. That was where I first learned of them.

    A local coffee shop sells *delightful* treats they call tea cakes, but they don’t look anything like your picture. I think I’ve been duped!

    Thank you for the recipe, and happy birthday to your dad!

    • girloutofdixie February 21, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

      I can’t believe I’d forgotten about Tea Cake! I love that novel. But I think it’s a travesty that Taye Diggs wasn’t cast as Tea Cake in Oprah’s made-for-tv movie.

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