What are Tea Cakes?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 October 2019
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Tea cakes are simple cookies that are intended for use as a treat along with the serving of tea. Usually small in size and made with simple ingredients, this cake is supposed to compliment the tea that is served. Generally, tea cakes are coated with a thin layer of confectioner’s sugar, although that is not always the case. With a slightly sweet taste, just about any tea party will include the offering or at least one type of cake.

While the origin of tea cakes is hotly debated, there can be no doubt that the practice of serving the cakes is firmly connected with the United Kingdom. These cakes are routinely offered as part of any type of daily tea time. People who prefer to take their tea with no added sweeteners often find that the sugary flavor of the cakes are a perfect compliment to the sometimes strong tea.

However, tea cakes can be found in common use around the world. Persons in Russia, Spain, and France also routinely offer them at just about any type of formal tea. As tea rooms have become more popular in the United States, tea cakes are often part of the Americanized version of a high tea. In Mexico and other Spanish speaking countries, these cakes are sometimes referred to as wedding cakes or cookies, and are served at wedding receptions.


The ingredients for tea cakes are very simple. Milk, eggs, flour, vanilla flavoring, sugar, and butter form the basis of just about every recipe. Finely chopped nuts are often added to the mixture, with almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans being among the most favored additions. When confectioner’s sugar is utilized with tea cakes, it is customary to roll the cookie in sugar immediately after removing them from the oven, and then a second time after they have cooled. This double coating of the sugar adds another layer of texture to the finished tea cakes and enhance the overall flavor.


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Post 1

Tea cakes are also an *old* Southern tradition, and probably come from the region's strong Anglo-Celtic background. Southern tea cakes are cookies, but tend to be a little softer in the middle than a sugar cookie, with a more cake-like texture. However, some cooks prefer a crisper tea cake and make theirs with a combination of oil and butter.

One of the interesting aspects about these tea cakes is that they keep so well. In fact, older Southern ladies will tell you that tea cakes are best when they have been allowed to cool, put in an airtight tin and allowed to age for a week or so -- assuming everyone stays out of them. I have heard of women hiding a tin of tea cakes until they had aged properly.

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