kosher kitchen

Nothing beats a cup of hot tea on an autumn day


I had my first cold-weather cup of hot tea the other day. 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 said 54 degrees and 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 paper work, 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 teacakes 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 teacakes and the times I sat with her at the kitchen table and talked. I have no idea what we talked about, but 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 her sugar cube.

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 sugar cookies!

It seems my ancestral family bakers made coffeecakes 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 livingroom 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

OPTIONAL: Brown sugar glaze

1/4 cup toasted chopped pecans for garnish

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)


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 60-90 minutes until a tester comes out with just a coating of cinnamon specks. Let cool. Remove carefully from the pan. Serves 8-10.

Sour Cream Butter

Berry Tea Cake (Sairy)

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, 2-3 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 8-12.