We were looking for something to make to celebrate Juneteenth, and found a recipe for Southern Tea Cakes to be the perfect thing. A wonderful butter cookie that is a tradition for the day.
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TRADITIONAL SOUTERN TEA CAKES
Southern Tea Cakes are a tradition in the South and, according to Etha Robinson, educator and founder of Mrs. Robinson’s Tea Cakes, they were often part of the celebration for Juneteenth – “A rustic approximation of the delicate pastries consumed in front parlors when white women entertained visitors”. The slaves made tea cakes with whatever ingredients they had, sometimes substituting molasses or lard.
This recipe is similar to a very old recipe for French Tea Cakes “Fours A The”, a type of Sable cookie. We made it using sugar that we grind to make superfine sugar. Using the brands listed in the recipe is key, because brands sometimes vary immensely. For more information on why we use these brands, check out our explanation on our page about eating better.
INGREDIENTS FOR THE SOUTHERN TEA CAKES FOR JUNETEENTH
Use the best ingredients. We have listed the brands for some of the ingredients because ingredients are everything. We have found that these brands give superior results. And by using brands like Horizon dairy products and organic sugar we cut our carbon footprint in half and are helping to control climate change.
Gold Medal Unbleached All Purpose Flour has a lower protein amount than some all purpose flours – 10.5 percent protein. This is a good flour for baking cookies, since it makes them more tender. In addition, the company ensures that the protein content is carefully calibrated, so you get consistent results. Also, it is important to use the unbleached flour.
We use Wholesome organic sugar, because it is produced from sugar cane fields that are green cut and are not burned or treated with herbicides or synthetic fertilizers. Burning sugar cane fields contributes to air pollution and climate change, and is a major cause of the destruction of the rain forest. Buying sugar from fields that are green cut helps prevent this destruction. The sugar also has a better taste because of how it is produced, but mostly we use it because it is a sustainable choice. It is more expensive than buying the standard brands, but the difference is only a few cents per recipe, so it’s worth it. We also save money by buying this in bulk direct from the company and storing it in jars in the pantry.
Heilala produces the best tasting vanilla we have ever tried. Plus, it is ethically produced. We double the amount of vanilla usually called for to add extra flavor. Vanilla extract is usually half alcohol and half water, so the extra vanilla can add back some of the liquid that was removed when browning the butter.
We like the quality of Diamond Kosher salt and don’t want the iodine taste. The weight and structure of salt varies between brands so it is important to choose a salt and stick with it to be consistent.
Using browned butter, or buerre noistte as it is known in France, adds a huge amount of flavor to baked goods. We use Horizon Organic butter to make browned butter. We think Horizon products taste better than any other dairy products we have tried. This is probably because the products are organic and from family farming partners. Just as important, Horizon is a certified B corporation that has committed to becoming carbon positive across their entire supply chain by 2025.
HOW TO MAKE GREAT COOKIES EVERY TIME
To make great cookies, it is important to understand a little of the science of making them. They are small, so there is less room for error, which is why measuring accurately is so necessary. And they have very few ingredients, so each ingredient has a key roll, and using the best of each ingredient will make a big difference.
METHOD FOR MAKING COOKIES
USE THE BEST INGREDIENTS – The brands we have listed will let you make great cookies every time. They not only taste better but production of each is controlled so the product is consistent. The size of the sugar crystal, the amount of protein in the flour, the shape of the salt – all these things will affect the way the cookies bake. Cookies are so small that little differences in the ingredients can lead to a big difference in the cookies.
START WITH INGREDIENTS AT ROOM TEMPERATURE – Bring all the ingredients to room temperature before starting. Gather them all on the counter and then leave them there for an hour. This way you ensure that you have everything you need, and everything is at the right temperature.
USE A SCALE AND MEASURE IN GRAMS – Use a scale to measure all the ingredients by weight. This is absolutely essential. The inaccuracies from using measuring cups can easily lead to failure when baking. Different brands of flour and sugar will be different when measured with measuring cups, and not all measuring cups are accurate either. But measuring by weight is the same every time. Measuring by weight is also much easier – just put the mixing bowl on the scale, zero the scale, add an ingredient, zero the scale again, add the next ingredient, and so on. Measuring in grams is more accurate because it is a smaller, more precise measurement than an ounce or pound. Also, grams are often easy numbers to remember, making it possible to make the cookies without looking at the written recipe and easy to compare recipes. Clean up is easier, since there will be fewer bowls and no measuring cups and to clean up. And cooking with children is easier because they quickly learn how to add ingredients until the scale reads the correct amount.
CREAM THE BUTTER AND SUGAR FOR SEVERAL MINUTES – Cream the butter and sugar for several minutes to make sure they are light and fluffy, but not so long that the butter starts melting. This will take about 5 to 8 minutes in a stand mixer. Do not let the mixture exceed 68 degrees F.
USE A SCALE AND A SCOOP TO MAKE DROP COOKIES – Use the scale to make sure the cookies are exactly the same size. Using a scoop makes forming the cookies fast and easy and will also help maintain the same shape.
Cookies made with a #24 scoop and then measured on a scale.
REFRIGERATE THE DOUGH OVERNIGHT – This allows the flour to absorb the liquid in the dough and hardens up the butter, making the cookies bake better. You can refrigerate the dough in the bowl covered with plastic wrap, but it is easier to measure out the dough as cookies for drop cookies or form it into a flat square for rolled cookies, and wrap in plastic before refrigerating it.
VACUUM PACK AND FREEZE EXTRA DOUGH -After refrigerating the dough overnight, freeze extra cookie dough as cookies in a vacuum packed container. Portioning out the dough and then vacuum sealing them keeps them fresher and makes it easy to take out just a few for baking.
vacuum packed container
USE AN OVEN THERMOMETER – Use an oven thermometer to check the oven temperature before putting the cookies in. The temperature of ovens vary, and may not be the temperature on the dial.
ALLOW THE COOKIES TO COOL ON A RACK – Allow the cookies to cool for a minute on the pan, then transfer them to a rack to keep them from getting too dark on the bottom. The cookies will become more crisp as they cool on the rack, though we realize allowing them to cool before eating them is almost impossible.
This is one of the cookies we discovered while traveling in the States and recreated when we got back home. We researched the science and techniques behind the recipe and used tips from exceptional chefs. Then we used the best ingredients we could find to create this recipe. For more ideas, see our other posts about recipes inspired by travel.
HOW THESE COOKIES FIT INTO OUR PLAN TO EAT BETTER:
While looking for the best ingredients to make the cookies, we discovered that many companies that care about quality also care about sustainability. This made a huge dent in our carbon footprint. We have listed the brands for some of the ingredients because ingredients are everything. These brands give superior results. If we are going to spend time making the cookies we want them to be the best. And by using brands like Horizon butter and Wholesome sugar we cut our carbon footprint (see: we cut our carbon footprint in half ) and are helping to control climate change.