Last updated on September 17th, 2020
I made Southern Tea Cakes the other day, and they instantly put a smile on my face. Are you familiar with these crisp-edged treats? They are lightning-fast to make. You can make them in a “gotta-have-something-sweet” emergency, just as I did. And you can mix them entirely by hand, just as I did. Furthermore, you can eat way too many of them, just as I did. Here’s the video how-to, along with a historical note and the printable recipe:
Historical note. Southern Tea Cakes (which really are cookies) are an integral part of African-American food culture. This from the December 21, 1997 issue of The Los Angeles Times:
Culinary historians say the cookie may have been slaves’ version of the English tea cake. With very little provisions, those enslaved Africans took what was available and made their own version.
Tea cakes became a treasure–comfort food that became a special treat during the holidays.
And here, in the same Times article, is Maya Angelou’s tea cake memory:
“When I was a lonely, scared and scarred eight year old, Mrs. Bertha Flowers, a lean, Black teacher invited me to her house and made tea cakes. The aroma of the freshly baked cookies merged with the rich sound of her voice as she read to me.”
Going forward, I shall think of the late, great Maya Angelou every time I make these Southern Tea Cakes. Which will be often. (Update: I made another batch last night.)
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Looking for other fast cookies? Check out these (gluten-free) Emergency Peanut Butter Cookies.
As promised, here’s the printable recipe:
Emergency Southern Tea Cakes
- 1 cup salted butter, softened
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 1/2 cups self-rising flour (see note below)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Put the butter, sugar, egg, vanilla, and self-rising flour in a medium mixing bowl. Mix by hand or by spoon until a cohesive dough forms and cleans the bowl.
- Form the dough into tablespoon-size balls, spacing them three inches apart on a parchment lined baking sheet. The cookies will spread as they bake, so plan 8 balls per baking sheet.
- Bake in the preheated oven until the edge of the "cakes" color slightly -- 15-20 minutes. Cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, and then transfer to a wire rack for further cooling. The cookies will hold their shape when they achieve room temperature.