Growing up, I had two younger brothers, who were my closest friends. In fact, Brother #1 was my most-of-the-time playmate, which meant our games mainly centered around things he liked to do. Although he was younger, he was the boss. I grew up playing G.I. Joe, Star Wars, legos, cops and robbers on bike, swimming, and being his tae kwon do punching bag. Together we played mostly his games and very rarely did we play mine. I had a few dolls, not many, and every once in a while I would play with them, but preferred the company of my brother over dolls so would end up playing G.I. Joe. I did try to turn things in G.I. Joe more to the feminine side, but Brother #1 was adamant about how war-like the game had to be and I would try to keep up.
This meant I grew up as quite a tomboy. I didn't play tea parties, or have a play kitchen or even set up little games for my dolls to play. I was too busy trying to keep up with Brother #1. But as an mother of two girls, I find myself watching them rather wistfully as I see the games that they play, things like House, or School, or I'm Going to a Birthday Party, or Let's Have a Picnic. Daughter #1 and #2 love those girly imagination games and it makes me wish I had played them when I was a child.
After making these and arranging them on the tray, I felt like a little child, having a tea party. The name, Lemon Tea Cakes was already evoking such images, but the actual process of setting them out and making them made that image even stronger. I immediately imagined having a little tea party, with pretty cups, my dolls all nicely dressed, and holding beautiful china and drinking fake tea, while enjoying these delicious little morsels. As it turns out, I took them to my church small group and the burliest of men there (our two biggest guys) started eating these like there was no tomorrow. My image of the dainty tea party was immediately shattered and all ideas of teddy bears and dainty china cups went out the window. But no matter, as they were gobbled and enjoyed by all.
This is reminiscent of a madeline in its texture. It is dense yet tender, as it has no leavening agents (no baking powder or soda) and so there isn't a lot of lift in the cake. They do require the extra step of making a simple syrup and then poking holes all over the cooked cakes and drizzling the syrup over so that the cakes can soak up the syrup. They are fairly easy to make and wonderful to serve. I'm thinking that the next time I have a bunch of ladies over, I'll bring out my china cups, place a plate of these on the table, and invite a few dolls to join us for a small, yet intimate girly party. (no burly men allowed.)
* Note the syrup portion makes a lot, more than is needed for the actual soaking of the cakes. If you are NOT going to do the thinly sliced lemon topping, reduce sugar and water to 1/3 cup each. If you ARE going to do the slice lemon topping, you will need the volume in order to successfully candy the lemon slices. (which by the way were really yummy.)
Lemon Tea Cakes (adapted from Martha Stewart)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup water
1 lemon (ends cut off), very thinly sliced and seeded
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 24-cup mini-muffin pan.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter, 2/3 cup sugar, and lemon zest on medium speed until light and creamy (not fluffy). Add lemon juice, eggs and beat to combine, scraping down bowl. With mixer on low, gradually add flour and salt and beat until blended. (The dough is actually quite thick and not like cupcake batter. It is stiffer and more gooey.)
Divide batter among muffin cups (about 1 tablespoon each). Bake until cakes are golden around edges and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 15-17 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine 2/3 cup water and 2/3 cup sugar; cook over medium, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Add lemon slices and rapidly simmer until peel turns translucent and lemon syrup thickens slightly, 5 minutes.
With a toothpick, poke holes all over tops of warm tea cakes in pan. Drizzle 1/2 teaspoon lemon syrup over each cake. Let cakes cool slightly in pan; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Spoon lemon slices on top if desired.
Does anyone want to come and play with me?