“As an adult, I have often known that peculiar legacy time brings to the traveler; the longing to seek out a place a second time, to find deliberately what we stumbled on once before, to recapture the feeling of discovery … ” – Elizabeth Kostova, The Historian
Many moons ago, I lived in England. Oxford, England, to be exact, and it was one of the most interesting, exciting, and enriching times of my life. During college, I spent an unforgettable term at Oxford that was filled to the brim with exploring, studying, meeting, greeting, adventuring, gallivanting, studying, learning, growing, journeying, studying, and also eating. Now, jolly ole’ England isn’t necessarily renown for its culinary offerings, but I had the best time trying out the typically English fare that I’d heard all about my whole life, but frankly, had never really given much thought to trying. From bangers and mash, crumpets, and chicken tikka masala (considered to be one of the country’s national dishes), to super cozy roasts, sticky toffee pudding, banoffee pie, and tons and tons of tea – there were plenty of epicurean options to keep me thoroughly satisfied, interested, and FULL throughout the entirety of my stay.
Some of what I enjoyed most during my time in Oxford were all of the lovely tea cakes and tea time confections in which I indulged on a more-frequently-than-I-should-have basis. I just figured with all of that studying and hard work should come a sweet reward (every day, apparently). On a daily basis, I would venture from my little flat, umbrella in hand, and make my way to one of several charming coffee or tea houses where I would claim a table and sprawl all of my things out in what was probably an obnoxiously overdramatic and conspicuous fashion as if to say, “I’m here! This is my seat! Look at all of the LEARNING that is about to commence over here!” (I was excited to be there, what can I say?).
Following this aforementioned sprawling, I would saunter up to the counter and order some sort of tea. I remember very clearly thinking that I needed to be drinking tea because that just seemed like the right thing to do. I wasn’t even a “tea person” to be honest, never had been, instead preferring to take my caffeine in the coffee form, but during this time across the pond, I thought it fitting to give tea a real go. I have since gone back to coffee-drinking, but I still love the ceremony and delicate nature of a real British “high tea.” Recently, probably because the 10-year anniversary of my time there is next week, I’ve been pondering ways to incorporate some of those flavors into my own kitchen and travel right back to the little neighborhood tea shops and cafes that provided such a comfy and pleasant backdrop to my experience there.
These tea cakes are very un-British in composition, and are actually something you would find all over the American South. I just happen to prefer this style of tea cake to the more classically British one. So I thought I would take the Southern-style tea cake and incorporate some of the flavors that you’d find at tea time … a mash-up, if you will. These little poofy, pillowy, and cake-like cookies will satisfy your sweet tooth without giving you a toothache. Just sweet enough, with a hint of lemon, honey, and an Earl Grey tea glaze, they are quick to put together, simple to pull off, and would probably taste just as good with a cup of coffee, if that’s your poison.
1 cup room temperature butter
1 3/4 cups white sugar
The zest of 1 lemon (or 2 if you like things extra citrusy)
1.5 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon honey
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Cream together the butter and sugar until very smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time, and add the lemon zest, honey and vanilla. In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. Add this into the creamed mixture and stir/knead to form a solid, smooth dough.
Cover and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. On a floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thickness and cut into circles with round cookie cutters (the size of your choosing). Place the cookies about 1 1/2 inches apart onto cookie sheets.
Bake the tea cakes for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow them to cool for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.