While tea may have been one of the most influential factors in determining the history of the English since its introduction to the UK in the 16th Century, it may be equally valid to argue that the toasted teacake, as part of afternoon tea, along with the majestic crumpet, has had equally as important a role in the cultural and social development of the UK into the country it is today1.
However, in some parts of the UK, and elsewhere around the world, a teacake may be a non-sweet dough-based 'roll', used for savoury fillings. In such regions, the term 'currant teacake', or 'fruited teacake', may be used to distinguish the savoury 'teacake' from the real sweet dough fruited teacake to which this Entry pertains2.
The teacake had certainly appeared by the Victorian era, one reference to it being from Dickens, who mentions it in Martin Chuzzlewit (1844):
...and by the time the tea and coffee arrived (with sweet preserves and cunning tea-cakes in its train)...
Recipes for teacakes (as we understand them today) appeared quite early too, for example, in Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management (1861), and American Frugal Housewife, by Lydia Maria Child (1830).
Makes six teacakes
- 375 grams strong white bread flour
- 150 grams milk
- 100 to 120 grams mixed dried fruit (sultanas, raisins, currants, etc)
- 50 grams butter
- 50 grams caster sugar
- 1 egg3
- 2 teaspoons honey
- 1 teaspoon mixed spice
- 1 to 1½ teaspoons cinnamon powder
- About half a nutmeg, freshly grated
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1½ teaspoons dried active yeast
- Heat the butter and milk (microwave or hob) until the butter is melted
- Add the honey to dissolve, then add the yeast, stirring well
- After waiting five to ten minutes for the yeast to activate, whisk/mix in the egg
- In a large bowl weigh out the sugar, flour and spices then add the activated yeast/milk mixture
- Once the mixture has formed a ball, turn out and knead for as long as it takes to achieve a smooth dough (five to ten minutes)
- Spread the dough out, then add in the dried fruit, and knead until it is well incorporated
- Place the dough back into the bowl and leave to rise until it has doubled in size, 1 to 1½ hours
- Tip out the dough and divide into six equal portions
- Make each portion into a ball, then roll out to approximately 1cm thick and place on an oiled baking tray
- Leave on the baking tray to rise for approximately 45 minutes, then bake in a pre-heated oven at 190 to 200°C for 15 to 20 minutes
- Eat within a few days, while fresh, with lots of butter
As an alternative to melting the butter into the milk, you can also 'rub' the butter into the flour, before adding the milk to it, as one would for making pastry. Some may prefer, or find better results and a more even texture to the teacakes, when adding the butter in this way.