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Mama Clower's Tea Cakes

I love the simplicity of an old-fashioned tea cake, and the best recipe for them I have ever tried is this version that originated with the mother of the late Jerry Clower, a Mississippi comedian renowned for his knee-slappers about the rural South. It is featured in my book, Eat Drink Delta: A Hungry Traveler’s Journey Through the Soul of the South (University of Georgia Press, $24.95), and I have offered them at several book-related events. They always disappear fast.

To dress them up for an Easter event, I dyed small containers of granulated sugar with various shades of food coloring to decorate the top. To take it up yet another notch, I pressed a flower stencil gently into the tops of the dough before sprinkling with sugar. They came out so adorable I had to share the idea, as they would be welcome at any spring or summer celebration.  

Ingredients
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons buttermilk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Instructions
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease several cookie sheets, or line with parchment.

2. In a medium bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. In a large bowl, beat the butter and 1 1/4 cups of the sugar with an electric mixer set to high speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating on high speed until fluffy. Beat in the buttermilk and vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture. Beat only until incorporated, taking care not to overmix.

3. Place the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar in a small bowl.

4. Gently roll the dough into 1-inch balls and place them about 3 inches apart on the lightly greased (or parchment-lined) cookie sheets.

5. Use the bottom of a drinking glass dipped into the small bowl of sugar to slightly flatten the cookies. (Alternately, place a stencil over the cookies, pressing it slightly into the dough, sprinkle with colored sugar, then carefully remove the stencil before baking.) Bake until the edges are golden brown, for 8 to 13 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool to room temperature.

Makes 3 to 4 dozen.