(left: snickerdoodle; right: tea cake)
I actually made the tea cakes a couple of weeks ago, hoping Claire and I could bring them on the plane to DC. I've noticed that a lot of food bloggers have it together enough to make food to bring on the plane. I actually had something put together this go-round (tomatoes, mozzarella, and black-eyed peas: Southern-fried caprese), but the Tupperware would make my backpack too bulky to fit anywhere. So airport food it was. Never a good thing.
So why didn't we bring cookies? Well, ahem, they were gone before we left. Not all of them, actually, because I had made the tea cakes dough as a slice-and-bake roll and just baked off a dozen. Then I had to taste one fresh from the oven, and Claire and Sami had to, too. Quality control is something we do as a family. Then, for the sake of comparison, we needed to taste them at room temperature. Then somehow when it was time to leave for the airport the next morning, there were two cookies, which somehow got eaten in the car. Oh, well.
Did I mention we liked these cookies? They definitely exceeded my expectations. First of all, Maida begins the recipe with a cringe-worthy story of the poor hapless domestic servant whom she taught to cook using a recipe for tea cakes like the servant's grandmother used to bake. Something like that. And then she goes on to explain how wonderfully plain these tea cakes are. That set off alarm bells for me, having experienced the "wonderfully bland" Top Secret sauce. Also these cookies are rolled and cut out, which is something I really do not enjoy. The dough also requires overnight chilling, which to me means sticky dough to roll out and cut, which I doubly do not enjoy. So since I get to make modifications, I went for it. I added about 1/4 t. each of salt and vanilla to the dough to add some taste interest. Maybe it was 1/2 t. vanilla. I also subbed in a cup of white whole wheat flour because it makes me feel better about myself. And I made a giant roll of dough (this makes a *lot* of dough) to be sliced and baked after chilling. I still have about half a roll in my freezer waiting for a time I might want cookies.
What we liked about the cookies was the buttery flavor and the cakey texture. The latter was a pleasant suprise. They're almost like madeleines in texture. I could see these served with a nice cup of linden tea. But I can also see Jem and Scout enjoying them on the front porch with tall, cold glasses of sweet tea.
The second time I baked a dozen of these, I'd just seen a post on snickerdoodles and how they might be used to bribe labor/delivery nurses (apparently an excellent tactic). It occurred to me that the tea cake dough would make a fabulous snickerdoodle, and it did: I just rolled some of the dough into balls, rolled them in cinnamon sugar, and flattened them with the bottom of a glass. Comparing the snickerdoodle with the plain tea cake required much concentrated taste testing, but I believe the snickerdoodle edged out for me. Claire liked the plain version. Sami would like another taste.
Here's the recipe I made. Be warned: these spread. If you don't like spreading, bake these 9 to a cookie sheet.
2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter, softened (I bet the fancy cultured kind would be extra good here)
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1/2 t. vanilla
3 c. (19 oz.) sugar
3 large eggs
5-1/4 c. (21 0z.) sifted flour
1 c. cream
Beat together the butter, baking soda, salt, and vanilla until it's soft. Then gradually add the sugar and beat for 1-2 minutes. Scrape the bowl, then add the eggs one at a time, beating until smooth after each addition. Now add 1-1/4 c. flour (whole wheat if you feel like it) and beat on low just until incorporated. Then add 1/4 c. cream, followed by 1 cup of flour, and so on until all the flour and all the cream is gone. You'll have a pretty soft, sticky dough on your hands. Get out two long pieces of waxed paper and put half of the dough on each. Shape them into the nicest cylinders you can (for the record, my cylinders all end up rectangular, but whatever) and put them in the freezer. Let them chill overnight. I actually sliced my first batch after just a couple of hours, and while they came out fine, it was a sticky mess cutting them. Just be patient.
Heat the oven to 400. Slice the cookies with a long, sharp knife into 1/4-inch slices and put them far apart from each other (2 inches apart, Maida says) on a foil- or parchment-lined cookie sheet. For the snickerdoodle version, mix up some cinnamon sugar--maybe 2 T. sugar and 1 t. cinnamon. Then take your cookie slices and roll them into balls. Roll the balls in the cinnamon sugar, put them on the cookie sheet, and flatten them out with the bottom of a glass. In either case, bake them for 13-15 minutes until they are light golden. I like them a little darker golden, myself. Cool on a rack and try to control yourself.
I have no idea how many very large cookies this makes because I've only gotten through 2 dozen and I still have a large amount of dough in the freezer. Maybe 5 dozen? Her 3 dozen must be extremely large cookies!