Kosher Kitchen

It’s the season for tea, and cakes by any name


I had my first cold weather cup of hot tea the other day as I stood in the kitchen and tried to will summer to stay for just a while longer. The sun blazed in my kitchen, the sky was that robin’s egg blue that indicates a warm day, but the thermometer staring me in the face said 54 degrees.

I could not argue with that, so I gave in and brewed some delicious white peach tea and poured it into my favorite winter mug — all the while trying to talk myself into appreciating the cold that will eventually settle in. It’s true. Winter is coming and I have to adjust. Tea helps.

Whenever I have a cup of tea in the afternoon, usually while grading papers or doing some other paperwork, I always think of the tea my grandmother drank. She made it in a glass with a long spoon. She took a cube of sugar into her mouth and sipped the tea, making it sweet in her mouth. I tried to do the same thing, but always ended up crunching the sugar cube before I ever got to the cooled and diluted tea she let me drink.

I also remember the tea cakes my grandmother used to make to have with her glass of tea. They were always made in a loaf pan or her old, beat up, aluminum tube pan. No matter the flavor, every cake would be drizzled with a honey and sugar-infused glaze that I loved.

The cakes were often not very sweet. I guess the sweetened tea was sweet enough. And they often were a bit dry which made them perfect for dipping. She would cut finger sized pieces and dip them quickly so as not to absorb too much liquid.

Sometimes her cakes contained bits of ginger or apricots or dates. Sometimes, chocolate or bananas. I loved her tea cakes and the times I sat with her at the kitchen table and talked. I have no memory of those discussions except she often asked me to read to her or tell her about the books I was reading.

I only remember that I read a book to her called “Gerald McBoing Boing,” which was Dr. Seuss’s first published book and the first book I ever read by myself! I can still see her sitting there with a long spoon in the glass that she held to the side while she sipped her tea through a sugar cube she held in her teeth.

And then, decades later, I discovered that I had been the victim of a cake delusion. The cakes my grandmother and then my aunts and mother made, were not “tea” cakes at all. Authentic “tea” cakes are actually, by definition, sugar cookies!

It seems my ancestral family bakers made coffee cakes which they served with tea. My aunt made delicate, light cakes with snipped apricots and prunes or apples, pears or cranberries and walnuts. She made them in fall and winter and called them tea cakes. My dad made amazing blueberry cakes as soon as the blueberry bush in our yard was ready for harvesting and called them coffee cakes. In my family, the name of the cake was season dependent.

This is the beginning of the season that calls out for a late afternoon cup of tea and a bite of a delicious cake, no matter the name. Have it in your living room while reading a good book or in your busy office while you juggle, well, everything! Have coffee or tea; it really doesn’t matter. There is just something so relaxing about this ritual, and I think we very much need a bit of relaxation these days.

Brown Sugar Tea Cake (Pareve or Dairy)

This is delicious with or without the toasted pecans.

3 cups unbleached flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1-1/2 sticks trans-fat free pareve margarine or unsalted butter, softened

2 cups light brown sugar, firmly packed

3 extra-large eggs

1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract

1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk or buttermilk

1/4 cup toasted chopped pecans for garnish

OPTIONAL: Brown Sugar Glaze

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan and set aside. Place the flour and baking powder in a bowl and whisk to blend. Set aside.

Place the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time and beat well after each addition, scraping down the bowl as needed. Add the vanilla and beat well.

Turn the mixer to low and add the flour and almond milk alternately, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat just until combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and tap the pan on the counter to release any air bubbles. Place in the oven and bake for about 50-60 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes, then run a thin knife around the edge to loosen the cake. Let cool another 10 minutes and turn the cake onto a wire rack or a serving platter. Glaze with Brown Sugar Glaze and sprinkle with chopped pecans or dust with powdered sugar to serve Serves 10.

Brown Sugar Glaze (Pareve)

1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

2 Tbsp. almond milk

1-2 cups confectioners’ sugar

Place the sugar, extract and milk in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the sugar melts and the mixture is liquid. Let cool. Whisk in enough confectioner’s sugar to create a glaze consistency. Drizzle over the cooled cake and sprinkle with toasted, chopped pecans.

Cinnamon Apple Tea Cake (Dairy)

Streusal topping:

1 cup unbleached flour

1/2 firmly packed light brown sugar

3 Tbsp. dark brown sugar

1/2 cup melted butter

2 tsp. cinnamon

OPTIONAL: 1/2 to 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans


2 cups unbleached flour

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

2 tsp, baking powder

Pinch salt

2 large eggs

1/2 cup butter, melted

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup whole or 2% milk, or almond milk

2 or 3 large apples, Granny Smith, Cortland or Northern Spry, peeled, cored and thinly sliced.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a loaf pan with non-stick spray. Set aside.

Mix the ingredients for the streusel in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Place the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and whisk until blended. Break the eggs into the bowl of an electric mixer and mix well. Add the melted butter, vanilla and milk and mix. Add to the flour mixture and mix with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula just until combined.

Peel, core and slice the apples. Cut the slices into half-inch pieces. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 tablespoon sugar. Set aside.

Spoon one-third of the batter into prepared pan. Spread with half the apples and one-third of the streusel. Spoon another third of the batter over the apples and spread to make sure the batter reaches the sides of the pan. Sprinkle with remaining apples and half the remaining streusel. Top with the remaining batter and the rest of the streusel.

Place in the oven and bake 60 to 90 minutes until a tester comes out with just a coating of cinnamon specks. Let cool. Remove carefully from the pan. Serves 8 to 10.

Sour Cream Butter Berry Tea Cake (Dairy)

6 Tbsp. melted butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

2/3 cup sour cream

1 cup unbleached flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

4 oz. softened brick-style cream cheese

1-1/2 cups powdered sugar

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1 cup blackberries

1/2 cup blueberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-inch springform pan and set aside.

Place the butter and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until light and creamy. Add one egg and the teaspoon of vanilla and beat until thickened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the sour cream and beat until blended. Add the flour, baking powder and baking soda and beat until smooth, scraping the bowl as needed.

Scrape into the prepared pan and bake until the cake is lightly golden and springs back when lightly touched, about 20-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, Wash the electric mixer bowl and dry thoroughly. Add the cream cheese, powdered sugar, teaspoon of vanilla extract, and the remaining egg. Beat until smooth and creamy, scraping the bowl as needed.

Spread the topping over the cake and arrange blackberries and blueberries on top, pressing in gently. Bake until the topping is set and lightly brown but still jiggles a bit when the pan is gently shaken (20 to 30 minutes).

Cool on a rack. Loosen the edges with a knife and remove the rim. Slide the cake off the bottom and onto a serving plate by sliding a thin knife under the bottom. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and more berries. Serves 8 to 12.

Lemon Glazed Lemon Poppy Tea Cake (Dairy)

3 large eggs

1-1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. pure lemon extract

1/4 cup whole milk (you can use 2%)

1-1/2 cups unbleached flour

3/4 cup sugar

1 tsp. baking powder

1 Tbsp. grated lemon zest

3 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 Tbsp. poppy seeds

1-3/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened (14 Tbsp.)

Lemon Syrup:

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

2/3 cup granulated white sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9x4 or 8x5 loaf pan. Line the bottom of the pan(s) with parchment paper so that the paper overhangs the two short sides. Grease and flour the parchment. Set aside. Break the eggs into a large bowl and add the sugar, extracts, and milk. Whisk together until well-blended. Set aside.

Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, lemon zest, and poppy seeds in the bowl of an electric mixer and blend with a clean whisk or a fork. Add the softened butter and half the egg mixture. Turn the speed to low. Add the lemon juice and blend, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

When blended, increase the speed to medium and beat for one minute. Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the rest of the egg mixture in two additions, beating for 30 seconds after each addition. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 55 to 65 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean and the top is golden. Do not overbake.

While the bread is baking, place the sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan and bring to a boil until all the sugar is dissolved, 1 minute. Let cool, stirring often. When the bread is done, remove it from the oven and place on a wire rack. While still in the pan, pierce the cake with a skewer or chopstick, making holes an inch apart. Gently spoon a little more than half the hot syrup over the cake.

Let the bread cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes, run a knife around the sides, invert the bread, remove the paper and re-invert onto a serving plate. Brush some of the remaining syrup onto the sides and top of the loaf. Let the bread cool completely before wrapping. Store the bread in a cool place, loosely covered, for a few hours or overnight, before serving, to allow the syrup to completely infuse the bread. Use any leftover syrup for iced tea or lemonade.

Garnish with slices of candied lemon or just fresh lemon slices.