These soft, cake-like cookies get their soul from Southern staples
We asked several L.A.-area pastry chefs and cooks to contribute their favorite holiday cookies. Each is a simple, homestyle cookie that reflects each contributor’s memories of holidays past.
Chef/owner of Hotville Chicken
While rummaging through my Nana’s kitchen, I found a crumpled piece of kraft paper inside a Jell-O mold. On that paper was a handwritten recipe for Southern Buttermilk Tea Cakes.
I welcome opportunities to go back to yesteryear. It’s very therapeutic to retreat back to childhood in my mind, smelling melting butter, eggs and sugar — smells of my grandparents’ home. This cookie allows me to go back down memory lane.
I remember my grandmother always had shortening next to the stove. There were other tins too: one for bacon fat, one for hamburger grease, one for sausage grease. She had one pan that she’d cook everything in. She’d smother pork chops in it, bake biscuits, even cake! Everything that came out of the pan seasoned the skillet and tasted wonderful. She’d bake tea cakes in that pan too.
They’re such a novelty of everything Southern — the shortening, the buttermilk, which are not commonly used outside the South. Most young people have never heard of tea cakes; have they even tasted buttermilk? Probably not.
It’s a recipe for the common people; nothing hoity-toity about it. It brings back so many wonderful memories for me, and they’re a lot of fun to make. They’re not overly sweet either.
It’s a simple recipe that doesn’t require a lot of schooling or skill. What you need is right in your kitchen, staple goods in a Southern pantry: sugar, flour, eggs, Crisco. And table salt too, not that kosher salt stuff. Don’t have any? Then go knock on your neighbor’s door and ask to borrow some.
— As told to Ben Mims
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