The South is ripe with tradition; among those traditions are the local festivals and fairs, where proud farmers, bakers and home-preserve makers, young and old, present their wares in competition. The braggin’ rights are symbolized with ribbons of blue and red and white; they are pitched battles among friends and neighbors in comradely rivalry.
Our local competition is hosted by the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center, a local museum which honors in exhibits the rich history of this mountain community. The Blue Ribbon Country Fair is held every Autumn in the shadows of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the same weekend as the Townsend Fall Heritage Festival and Old Timer’s Day. Thousands of visitors crowd into the valley to enjoy clogging to Blue Grass musicians playing in groups scattered about acres of land, storytelling, arts and crafts shows, antique tractor shows, greased pig and iron skillet throwin’ contests (and so much more – don’t even get me started on the food vendors) all spread out through various locations in town. It’s a “big deal” weekend here.
Two years ago was the first time I competed in the Blue Ribbon Country Fair. It was also the first time I ever cooked competitively. That year I entered two categories in the baking competition, and I came home with a blue and a red ribbon for my entries. I was a nervous wreck.
This year, I entered three baking categories, three canning categories and one produce category (my first ever, since this was the year I started my Wee Kitchen Garden). I came home with five ribbons: I ribboned in all of the baking categories I entered (two blues and a red), I ribboned in one of the canning categories (a white ribbon), and I ribboned with my produce entry (a white ribbon). No matter how many times you enter a competition, some things never change. I was a nervous wreck. *wink*
My third place in canning was for a Sweet/Hot Corn Relish that was entered in the Pickle Relish category; it’s a recipe I have already posted here and it was the only corn relish among the winners. I was tickled pink.
All of the baking entries must be “from scratch” and must have a recipe submitted to the judges for their perusal. I’ll be sharing all of the recipes for my baking entries; this is the first of the three and it’s my entry in the category: Traditional Tea Cakes. This category is probably the most restrictive by way of rules in the baking competition, since “Traditional Tea Cake” is very narrowly defined as:
Traditional Tea Cakes — Plate of 6 — A tea cake is a quick, easy-to-make, small, dropped, cake-like cookie, that’s ready to serve warm from the oven in less than 30 minutes. It is traditionally served with an accompaniment of tea or milk. Open to all ages.
When I won this category two years ago, I said in my post at that time that there are actually three very acceptable versions of traditional tea cakes in The South, they are a rolled and cut cookie, a drop cookie AND a mini muffin tea cake. But since their rules are so specific, I made my recipe conform to their guidelines.
If you have followed my cooking, you may remember that I am allergic to vanilla. While this may seem limiting for baking, since nearly everything contains vanilla, it has actually been very freeing for me. Because of this allergy, I have been forced “out of the box,” so to speak, with flavouring my baked goods. It has caused me to be more creative, which you’ll see in most of my baking.
I’d like to mention just a couple of things about ingredients I used. First, about the sugars, I used Wholesome® Sweeteners brands of Organic Sugar and Organic Turbinado Sugar. I met the fabulous folks from Wholesome® Sweeteners when I attended BlogHer Food in Austin last June. They provided us with samples of their products and I have used them all…and gone out and found their brand in local markets to continue to use them. Here’s a little bit about their company:
Wholesome Sweeteners, formed in 2001, is the nation’s leading provider of sustainable, environmentally and ethically responsible, great tasting sweeteners. We specialize is supplying Organic, Fairtrade Certified, Non-GMO Verified sugars, syrups, and honeys, all made from nature’s best resources.
That is the kind of company I love. This isn’t a paid endorsement…it is just me, telling you, how wonderful the company is, and how fabulous their products are. So, I hope you’ll find their products in your local markets and try them. I’m certain that they made all the difference in my winning recipes.
The second ingredient I want to tell you about is the Orange Blossom Water. I use this not as a flavouring, per se, but as an “essence.” You don’t have to use it and you can substitute orange juice, orange extract, or even an orange liqueur, but you would need to reduce the amount used; I’m making a note of that in the recipe.
Since the rules of the competition call for these tea cakes to be “quick and easy-to-make, cake-like” cookie, they are that. So, I really hope that you will try them. They are fabulous, if I do say so myself. *wink*
p.s.: The other winning recipes will be coming soon, so stay tuned!
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- Pinch of salt
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
- ½ cup (Wholesome® Sweeteners) organic sugar
- ¼ cup (Wholesome® Sweeteners) organic turbinado sugar
- 3 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 tablespoon orange blossom water
- 1 tablespoon Bourbon
- ⅔ cup heavy whipping cream
- 6 tablespoons (Wholesome® Sweeteners) organic turbinado sugar
- 1 cup ground pecans, divided
- Preheat oven to 350° F.
- Sift together your flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- In the bowl of your electric mixer, beat the softened butter and both sugars until fluffy.
- Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating each well until incorporated.
- Add the orange blossom water and Bourbon and mix until incorporated
- Add the flour mixture in three steps, beginning and ending with flour and alternating with the heavy whipping cream; mixing only until both are incorporated.
- Fold in ½ cup of the pecans.
- Drop 2 tablespoons of batter at a time on a parchment lined baking sheet.
- Sprinkle generously with turbinado sugar and ground pecans.
- Bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown.