06 June

Juneteenth Tea Cakes

June 19: Juneteenth

We stumbled upon a nearby tea cake café in our town when we had a hankering for boba tea. But we were pleasantly surprised when we walked in and found that it was completely different from one of the dozen or so (yes—that many!) Taiwanese tea shops in our culturally diverse area. This tiny tea cake café was an actual bakery that sold Southern-style tea cakes, which aren’t cakes but more like a cake-like sugar cookie: soft to the bite and slightly sweet. The display case had an array of tea cake flavors, from berries to citrus and spiced to iced (frosted tops). The hospitable owner, an Afro-Caribbean lady whose forebears settled in the Gulf Coast of Texas, suggested we try the traditional flavor as a starting point and then taste the others (like glazed lemon, pink strawberry, nutmeg and Caribbean rum, of course). We ordered a few for our afternoon snack and still got our cold tea drink—not boba but iced hibiscus tea (the owner said the red color represents the blood of the slaves)—plus an edible education! We appreciated learning about tea cakes as much as eating them!

Tea cakes are the quintessential Juneteenth dessert. Now that it is an official federal holiday in the United States, more people can commemorate the emancipation of slaves and celebrate African American culture. We are fortunate to live an hour’s drive from Galveston, Texas, where Juneteenth began. But there have been a variety of events for many years before (it has been a state holiday since 1980) closer to home and we try to attend the freedom festivities to sample Soul and Southern food!

For our blog post, we made simple tea cakes, as the ingredients represent what most of the original plantation cooks may have had on hand in their meager pantries. For example, sometimes they had to do without real butter and used lard or vegetable shortening or had to substitute refined sugar for molasses instead. Now household staples, those ingredients were considered luxury items for the poor slaves. We kept things straightforward and followed an easy and adaptable recipe. Tea cakes are simple but have a special meaning and are now part of our observation of Juneteenth.

(Adapted from Food Network)


  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter, unsalted, room temperature
  • 1/3 – ½ cup sugar, granulated white
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 1 ½ cups flour, all purpose
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda


In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter with white and brown sugar. Stir in the vanilla, molasses and egg.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking soda. Gradually add the dry to the wet ingredients and mix until a dough comes together. Avoid overmixing. Scoop into balls (1 inch for mini tea cakes or 2 inches for larger). Place on parchment paper lined baking sheet.

Slightly press down on the dough balls. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for 8-10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in tightly sealed container until ready to serve.


  • The tea cake café has had to close permanently, another small business that was the victim of the pandemic era’s economics. That is why it was important for us to learn how to make tea cakes so we could continue to eat them and share its historical and cultural significance with others (Islander gives them to her ESL students and food club friends and explains the snack’s significance).
  • The original Food Network chef rolled the dough into a log and sliced them before baking. We formed them into balls, as suggested by some Southern members of the food club. They turned out just like the tea cakes sold at the café we used to go to—slightly domed with a soft center.


June: National Okra Month

We had a few pods of okra left over and did not want to waste them. So we chopped them up and incorporated the little green bits into cute cornmeal balls called fungee (funjie). This simple side dish is from Antigua and Barbuda but many other Caribbean countries have a similar version. The recipe is easy, and it is often served with stews like pepperpot and fish dishes. We ate ours with grilled pork chops and bacon wrapped bananas. Savor the flavor of a year-round summer like in the Caribbean and during National Okra Month with a fun food from Antigua and Barbuda: fungee.


(Adapted from National Foods)


  • 6 okra
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cup cornmeal
  • butter


Chop the okra pods into small rings. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add salt. Then cook the okra in the salted water for about 5 minutes or until softened. Transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon.

In the same pot, add the remaining 2 cups of water and cornmeal and keep stirring until it becomes like a thick paste consistency (5-10 minutes). Fold in the okra.

Add a little more water if the paste is too dry. Generously butter a small deep bowl. Scoop a handful size of paste and form a rough ball shape. Place in the buttered bowl and swirl it around quickly to keep the round shape. Place each on a flat surface. Serve warm.


(Afghani Milk Pudding)

June 1: World Milk Day

When we dine(d) at Afghani restaurants in Houston, Texas, Salt Lake City, Utah, and Chicago, Illinois, we always finished our meal with dessert (as we do at all other restaurants we visit!). Because we are full after eating kabobs and rice, a lighter milk pudding balances out our filling dinner. Islander must take her lactase enzyme to be able to eat firni. So when we make this Afghani milk pudding at home, we use lactose-free milk and she is able to enjoy it without painful digestive issues afterwards. Firni is flavored with rosewater, cardamom and nuts. The milk is thickened with cornstarch to give it a pudding consistency. This sweet and simple Afghani milk pudding is perfect for World Milk Day!


(Adapted from Afghan Kitchen Recipes)


  • 4 cups milk (we used lactose-free milk), divided use
  • 1 cup sugar (we reduced it to ¾ cup)
  • ½ cup cornstarch
  • 1-2 teaspoons rosewater
  • ½ – 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ½ cup slivered almonds
  • ¼ teaspoon saffron threads
  • ¼ cup pistachios, chopped finely (optional garnish)


In a large saucepan or pot, dissolve the sugar in 3 ½ cups of milk and cook over low heat to avoid burning the bottom of the pot. In a small mixing bowl, combine the remaining ½ cup of milk with ½ cup of cornstarch. Stir until smooth and slowly pour into the pot. Mix well with a whisk until the pudding has thickened. Add the rosewater.

Stir in the ground cardamom, saffron threads and silvered almonds. Cook for another minute or two. Transfer the pudding to a larger bowl, cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour. Ladle into dessert dishes or serving bowls. Garnish with chopped pistachios.


  • Although we have not tried substituting cow’s milk for nut milk in this recipe, almond milk would be suitable alternative to enhance the slivered almonds.
  • Search our blog for other recipes containing milk.

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