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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Granny Gallaher's Tea Cakes

Granny Gallaher is my (insert proper number of greats) Granny. She is related to me through my Nana and this recipe was hers a very long time ago.

My Great Aunt Margaret submitted it to her church when they were making a cook book. I use the term submitted loosely as Aunt Margaret actually printed and bound all of the books so she added quite a few of her own submissions to pad the book.

Anyway, this is one of Nana's favorite recipes ever. She has always loved tea cakes and she tells me stories of when she used to eat them when she worked at the drugstore. Of course, those weren't the homemade ones, but she says they tasted almost the same.

If you've never had a tea cake I'll try to describe them to you. To me, they taste like a cross between a sugar cookie and a biscuit. They're too sweet to be biscuits and not sweet enough to be sugar cookies. You could say they're similar to scones as well. When made correctly they are light and flaky and pair perfectly with coffee (or tea, if you like tea).

The process of making tea cakes is more like making biscuits than cookies. You have to cut the butter into the dry ingredients before adding the wet ingredients. Once you've made biscuits these tea cakes will come together in a snap.

Granny Gallaher's Tea Cakes

Source: Gallaher family recipe

1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk (you can substitute regular milk if that is all you have on hand, but if you are planning ahead these really are better with buttermilk)

*A note before you start. The dough must chill in the refrigerator for 4 hours or up to overnight. Please plan accordingly.

Start by combining the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Stir them a few times with a wire whisk to combine and fluff. Using two knives, a pastry blender, or your hands (I use my hands) begin working the butter into the flour. If you are using your hands try not to let the butter melt in your hands. You need the butter to stay as cold as possible.

Continue working the butter into the flour until there are no large chunks of butter (no bigger than the eraser on a pencil) and the mixture has a sort of crumbly texture and holds its shape when mashed together. (Take a handful of the mixture and squeeze it and if it stays the shape of the inside of your fist it is ready.)

Now in a 2-cup liquid measuring cup gently beat the egg with a fork. Add the vanilla and milk and mix with the fork until just combined.

Pour the liquid mixture into the dry mixture and using the fork (or your hands as I do) mix until just combined.

You want to handle the dough as little as possible to prevent the tea cakes from being tough.

Once the dough comes together form it into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Place it in the freezer to chill for at least 4 hours or up to overnight.

When the dough has chilled preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Sprinkle a work surface and rolling pin with flour and dust both sides of your dough with flour as well. Roll out the dough to about 3/8 inch thick. (I happen to have a new rolling pin that measures the thickness for me but if you don't you can just estimate somewhere between 1/4 inch and 1/2 inch thick. Also, lean towards too thick rather than too thin because they are much better when they're thick and puffy!)

Cut with a biscuit cutter or cookie cutter in whatever shapes you like. This year we did angels and wreaths but I usually do hearts, stars, or Christmas trees.

Arrange the shapes on the baking sheet with about 2 inches between them.

If you want sugar on top you can wet your finger and gently rub the top of the dough until it is sticky enough to hold the sugar and then sprinkle a bit on top before baking.

Bake at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes. Take them out when the bottoms begin to brown because if you wait until the tops are brown they will be overcooked.

Cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Now fix yourself a cup of coffee (or tea) and enjoy with a delightful tea cake.

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