This year the Juneteenth holiday appears to be getting much more traction than ever before. Banks are closing early. Nike gave their employees the day off. It seems like every major news publication has a primer on this holiday.
Juneteenth + Tea Cakes
June 19, 1865, is when the Army couriers finally arrived to Texas and announced that the Emancipation Proclamation was signed two and half years earlier. As an aside, there are many theories about why it took two and half years to make it to Texas, I am not going to speculate here, but please know that I am side-eying the large gap of time.
Growing up in Charleston, I didn’t know the significance of Juneteenth until much later. Juneteenth just wasn’t a holiday we celebrated. A few years ago, I started researching traditional Juneteenth celebration recipes and I found this article in NPR listing foods to celebrate Juneteenth.
After reading the article, Etha Robinson stayed with me because of her passion and commitment to reclaiming and sharing the history of Tea Cake. In the article she explains the history of the Tea Cake and proclaimed that “Tea Cakes are an experience”. And she’s absolutely right. Eating a Tea Cake, immediately reminds me hanging out in my grandmother’s kitchen, while she was cooking or baking. Tea Cakes taste like home.
I’ve thought about Etha Robinson a lot this week. Every time a company announced a Juneteenth Holiday. When tQuaker Oats announced that it was time to remove the racist “Aunt Jemima” brand from the pancake mix. The removal of a racist trope from a pancake box won’t end all of the discrimination and injustice in America, but I thought about Etha, and all of the other black women in food (chefs, bakers, food bloggers, etc) and wondered if now we would be seen for the true depth of our experience and expertise. Will our contributions be recognized appropriately? I’ve heard that change happens incrementally, but I am hoping that these very rich voices find the spotlight sooner rather than later.
Let’s Make the Tea Cakes
So back to the Tea Cakes. I think of Tea Cakes as a handheld pound cake. Really, they are a cross between a cake and a cookie, similar to a French Madeleine. Tea Cakes aren’t as sweet as a sugar cookie, and aren’t quite as heavy as pound cake. Tea Cakes are best described as an experience.
- You probably already have everything you need to make a tea cake in your pantry. That is the beauty of the Tea Cake. You can pull together a delightful treat with baking staples.
- This recipe is an adaptation of Toni Tipton Martin’s recipe in her award-winning cookbook Jubilee. This cookbook is a must have for your collection.
- Common substitutions
- No Buttermilk?
- make your own by adding a teaspoon of lemon juice to regular milk.
- Use regular or evaporated milk
- Sour cream
- You can personalized the spices
- Lemon zest and lemon extract
- Nutmeg + Cinnamon
- Vanilla Bean (if you’re fancy like that)
- Chai flavors
- Use White Lily Flour if you can find it. The wheat is so soft that it creates a pillow-like consistency.
- No Buttermilk?
- Final Note. Patience is a virtue when making Tea Cakes. You won’t regret chilling the dough overnight, I promise.
A Traditional Juneteenth Celebration Staple
- 3 cups All Purpose Flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 stick of butter (room temperature)
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 large eggs
- ½ cup buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon lemon extract
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Zest of one lemon
- Demerara sugar
- Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
- In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed for 2-3 minutes, until the mixture is light and fluffy.
- Add one egg at a time, making sure to mix thoroughly before adding the next. Pour in the buttermilk and the extracts followed by the lemon zest. The mixture will look a little curdled, but keep going.
- Mix in the flour, a half cup at a time and mix until smooth. The dough will be very soft. Place plastic wrap directly on top of the dough and refrigerate the dough in the bowl for one hour. After the dough has solidified, divide the dough into two pieces and wrap in the plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least a couple more hours or overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
- Sprinkle a work surface with a lot of flour. The dough will be sticky. Roll the dough out to about ¼ inch thickness. Flour a 1 ½ inch biscuit cutter and cut out the cookies. Gather the scraps and reroll until you run out of dough.
- Place the cookies on a parchment lined cookie sheet and sprinkle the cookies with the Demerara Sugar.
- Bake for 8-10 minutes. After removing the cookies from the oven, cool on the pan for 2 minutes before removing them to a wire rack.
- The tea cakes will keep for 2 weeks in an airtight container.