English Tea Cakes Recipes for a Proper Tea Time

English Tea Cakes Recipes for a Proper Tea Time

Defining “tea cake” can cause quite a bit of controversy, as The Great British Baking Show discovered in 2017. Different cultures have their own take on teacakes. In Scotland, a tea cake is a chocolate covered marshmallow with a biscuit base made by Tunnock. In America, tea cakes are a sort of cookie associated with African American culture in the south. Even in England, the definition of a tea cake differs by region, from the most well known fruit-filled bun to a sandwich roll, or a roll made with hops or spices and rosewater.

For these English tea cakes recipes, I will share a traditional fruit bun and then mix things up with a less traditional flavor combination.

Overhead view of a plate of traditional English tea cakes, a teacup full of tea, a dish of butter, and a teapot. The overlay text says: English tea cakes recipes.

The most common English teacake is traditionally a sweet, yeasted bun that can include dried fruit such as sultanas, currants, or citrus peel. It is served split, toasted, and generously buttered along with afternoon tea. The American pastry I find it most comparable to is a hot cross bun, which are popular at Easter.

I have an unabashed sweet tooth and couldn’t help but play with the traditional by adding sweet chocolate chunks, the warm chai spice of cardamom, and a simple icing drizzle. Here I share with you two English tea cakes recipes so you can make your own traditional (or non traditional) tea treat at home.

Tea and Cake

Tea and cake are just the most perfect pairing. These cakes have big flavors, and they pair well with teas holding similar notes. In the traditional English tea cake, the spiced orange and sweet raisin are what you taste first, followed by the lightly sweet yeasty bread. The spiced orange makes it a perfect companion to Comfort Blend or Brunch in Paris.

The chocolate and cardamom of the less traditional cake pair exquisitely with the floral notes and cardamom of Portland Rose City Chai, or you can go for a more traditional masala inspired tea to get the most cardamom flavor with Full Moon Chai.

Overhead view of a plate of traditional English tea cakes, a teacup full of tea, a dish of butter, and a teapot.

Making English Tea Cakes Recipes

Like most yeast-based treats, this recipe takes some time and patience but not much effort. Most of the time is spent letting the dough rest and rise, less than an hour is spent actively working with the dough, and the buns only take 20 minutes to bake. It’s a nice weekend project to fuss at in between chapters or your current binge watch.

The method for both recipes is the same; simply switch out ingredients to make different flavor cakes. This also opens up the opportunity for you to create your own flavor combinations.

Both recipes begin by warming milk and butter on the stove until the butter is melted, then adding water to cool it down. While the liquids come down to just warmer than room temperature, mix up the dry ingredients. When the liquid is warm to the touch, but not so hot that it will kill the yeast, make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the liquid in. Use a wooden spoon or dough hook to mix until flaky.

Once your dough has come together, you want to get in there with your hands and knead until a smooth ball is formed. I found it easiest to get the dough to come together by wetting my hands first. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, place a damp towel over it, and let it rest in a warm spot in the kitchen until it doubles in size. This should take about an hour and a half depending on how cold your kitchen is.

A mound of dough for English tea cakes sits on a white surface. It has been cut into 6 pieces with a bench scraper, which can be seen in the upper left corner.

Once your dough has doubled, place it on a cutting board. It’s time to add in the filling. You can use your hands to knead it into the dough, distributing evenly. Another method is to press the ball into a square and sprinkle the filling over the dough, then fold or roll it like a babka or jelly roll to incorporate the filling. Both of the doughs are so fragrant, I enjoyed working the fruit or chocolate in with my hands while I breathed in the aroma.

Either way, you want to wind up with a rectangular shaped log of dough. Using a serrated knife or bench scraper, cut the rectangle into 6-8 chunks. Roll each dough piece into a ball using the palm of your hand to roll it around on the board with a bit of pressure. Place each bun on a silpat- or parchment-lined baking sheet, pressing down slightly to flatten the bottoms. Cover with the towel again and allow to rise for another 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Once the final rest is done, brush each tea cake with an egg wash which will ensure a shiny top. Bake for 20 minutes until tops are a golden brown. The chocolate cardamom cakes get a drizzle of a simple confectioners sugar and milk frosting after cooling to just warm.

Please, eat at least one tea cake while it is still warm from the oven. Any leftovers can be stored in a covered container for three days. Toast the traditional cakes and slather generously with butter. Warm the cardamom chocolate cakes in the microwave for 20 seconds to get the chocolate melty again. These would also freeze well.

A traditional English tea cake that has been split in half and slathered in butter sits on a white plate. A teacup and saucer full of tea and a plate full of tea cakes sit in the background.

Traditional English Tea Cakes Recipes

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 and 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoon yeast
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup raisins and fresh orange peel
  • 1 egg for egg wash

Directions:

Warm butter and milk until butter has melted, then add cold water and let sit until mixture is warm to the touch.

In the meantime, mix together flour, yeast, sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl.

Make a well in dry ingredients and pour warm liquid in and mix until dough is flaky.

Using your hands, bring the dough together and knead until smooth.

Place in a large, lightly oiled bowl and cover with a damp towel. Let dough rest in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 1 and 1/2 hours.

Once dough has doubled, add in the raisins and peel and knead together with your hands until evenly dispersed.

Place dough onto a cutting board and press into a rectangular shape.

Using a bench cutter or serrated knife, cut rectangle into 6-8 pieces of dough.

Roll each piece of dough under your palm while gently applying pressure.

Place on a baking sheet covered with a silpat or parchment paper and press down slightly to flatten the bottoms of the buns. Space 2 inches apart.

Cover tray with towel and let rest for 45 minutes, until they have doubled in size.

Pre-heat oven to 375 F.

When the tea cakes have doubled, brush with egg wash and bake for 20 minutes until tops are a nice golden brown.

Eat tea cakes sliced in half, toasted, and slathered in butter. Store any leftovers in a covered container once cooled.

Closeup of a chocolate cardamom tea cake drizzled in sugar glaze.

Chocolate Cardamom Tea Cakes

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 and 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoon yeast
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chunks
  • 1 egg for egg wash

Frosting:

  • 3-4 tablespoons confectioners sugar
  • Splash of milk

Directions:

Warm butter and milk until butter has melted, then add cold water and let sit until mixture is warm to the touch.

In the meantime, mix together flour, yeast, sugar, cardamom, and salt in a bowl.

Make a well in dry ingredients and pour warm liquid in and mix until dough is flaky.

Using your hands, bring the dough together and knead until smooth.

Place in a large, lightly oiled bowl and cover with a damp towel. Let dough rest in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 1 and 1/2 hours.

Once dough has doubled, add in the chocolate and knead together with your hands until evenly dispersed.

Place dough onto a cutting board and press into a rectangular shape.

Using a bench cutter or serrated knife, cut rectangle into 6-8 pieces of dough.

Roll each piece of dough under your palm while gently applying pressure.

Place on a baking sheet covered with a silpat or parchment paper and press down slightly to flatten the bottoms of the buns. Space 2 inches apart.

Cover tray with towel and let rest for 45 minutes, until they have doubled in size.

Pre-heat oven to 375 F.

When the tea cakes have doubled, brush with egg wash and bake for 20 minutes until tops are a nice golden brown.

While tea cakes cool, mix 3-4 tablespoons of confectioners sugar and a splash of milk until you make a frosting that is thick but still runny. Drizzle over cakes while still warm.

Eat cakes right away, or keep covered and reheat for 20 seconds in the microwave before serving.

English Tea Cakes Recipes for a Proper Tea Time

Mary Hadzimichalis

Mary is a creative kitchen and garden witch with a passion for tea. She lives on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland with her husband and three cats. Her baking, creating, gardening, and women's healthcare advocacy can be followed on Instagram.

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