Hello from a long-time stranger! I realized when looking back at my blog that I haven’t written a historic recipe post in over three years, which is way too long! All I can say is that for quite a long time, I didn’t have the focus I needed to give the recipes the attention they deserved, and I’m starting to get a bit of that focus back. I recently even entered a recipe of my own into the Chicago Tribune Holiday Cookie Contest, and that really inspired me to get back into my historic baking routine. I would not have even had the confidence to enter that contest without my experience in experimental baking with these old recipes, so, in my mind, it was time to get back to it!
Today, I made tea cakes from the 1846 cookbook “The Complete Confectioner, Pastry-Cook, and Baker.” I purchased a hard copy of this entire cookbook, published by the American Antiquarian Cookbook Collection, a few years ago with the intent to make as many recipes as possible out of it!
I began the journey into this cookbook with a very simple recipe for tea cakes:
The recipe states: “Beat eight eggs into a pan with a whisk till they come to a good head–then add one pound of loaf sugar powdered–beat both together till it becomes thick and whitish–then stir in one pound of sifted flour, but do not beat it again–take a spoon in your left hand and a knife in your other–lay a sheet of paper on your tin; take up a spoonful of batter, and with your knife strike as much out of the spoon as will make a cake the size you like–see that they are about an inch apart, and make them as round as you can–bake them in a rather brisk oven till they are nicely coloured over; if they do not come off the paper easily, when cold, damp the bottom as directed in Savoy biscuits. You may vary these cakes by dropping caraway seeds, sugar, or currants, on the top, before you bake them.” (The directions for getting biscuits off of paper was to brush the paper underneath with cold water, wait five minutes, and then remove the cookies/biscuits.)
Now, let’s decipher this crazy-long, run-on sentence of a recipe!
First, the ingredients. There are only 3 in the batter: eggs, powdered sugar, and flour. Since there are so few ingredients, how you put them together really matters! Just in case I really messed up this part, I decided to cut this recipe in half for my attempt in order to avoid a huge amount of waste. I used:
2 cups powdered sugar
2 cups unbleached, all purpose flour, sifted
(I determined through a little research that 1 pound of sugar and flour is roughly 4 cups each, so I cut that in half!)
Caraway seeds and granulated sugar for topping
Next, the process. I preheated my oven to 375 degrees (a little hotter than normal since this recipe called for baking in a “rather brisk oven”) and lined my baking sheets with parchment paper.
I then started whisking the 4 whole eggs in my stand mixer with the whisk attachment. I whisked them on high speed until they looked very frothy, which took about 5 minutes.
I then added 2 cups of powdered sugar to the eggs and beat them on medium speed for another 3-4 minutes, until the mixture was thick and creamy.
Next, I sifted two cups of flour and added it to the mixture of sugar and eggs.
I folded the flour into the egg and sugar mixture with a spatula until it was just incorporated, making sure not to beat it. This helps to keep the eggs airy, letting the final cakes rise without the use of baking soda or powder.
I then took a tablespoon measuring spoon in one hand and a butterknife in the other to make little round drops of tea cake batter on my lined baking sheets!
I left some cakes bare and topped a few others with caraway seeds and regular granulated sugar.
Once the cakes went into the oven, I kept a close eye on their edges. When I saw they were getting slightly brown, I made sure to remove them! I ended up baking the batches for 10 minutes, rotating once half way through baking. They were nicely browned and risen by the end! (This recipe, cut in half, yielded 20 tea cakes for me.)
The tea cakes had an interesting texture–a combination of cake and cookie, which is fitting since that is exactly what they look like!
Overall, I was very happy with how they turned out. By making sure to not overmix when adding the flour right before baking, the eggs were able to make the tea cakes rise without the aid of a chemical leavener or yeast.
In addition to looking nice, the tea cakes were also delicious! According to my husband and official taste-tester, they are mild, not overly sweet, and excellent with the addition of caraway seeds!
Tea cakes were a beautiful and fun way to get back into the world of following historic recipes, and I plan to do more very soon, especially for the holiday season!