We combined two classic Southern favorites—pecans and tea cakes—to make one irresistible cookie. If you're a fan of pecan Sandies, you'll love these. Even though they are called cakes, tea cakes are really old-fashioned cookies made with pantry staples—butter, eggs, sugar, and flour. Some recipes will use vanilla extract while others call for almond or lemon flavorings. Like a lot of heirloom recipes, no one can say for certain where or by whom the recipe was invented. Somewhere a frugal homemaker, using the few ingredients she had available, created a sweet treat to serve in the afternoon. We gave our variation a Southern spin by adding toasted pecans. Perfect as is with a cup of tea or glass of cold milk, bump up the flavor by spreading your favorite fruit jam onto the cookie.
1 cup toasted pecans, chopped
1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar, divided
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups self-rising flour
48 to 50 pecan halves (about 1 1/4 cups)
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
How to Make It
Place chopped toasted pecans and milk in a small bowl, and let stand at room temperature until milk is mostly absorbed, about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375°F with oven racks in the top third and bottom third of oven. Beat butter and 3/4 cup of the sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg and vanilla, and beat on low speed just until combined. Add flour and chopped toasted pecans alternately to butter mixture, beginning and ending with flour. Beat on low speed just until incorporated after each addition. Drop by tablespoonfuls about 2 inches apart on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Press 1 pecan half into top of each cookie. Brush pecans lightly with egg white, and sprinkle evenly with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar.
Bake in preheated oven until cookies are just set, about 10 minutes, switching pans top rack to bottom rack halfway through baking. Cool on pans on wire rack 5 minutes; transfer cookies to wire rack, and cool completely, about 30 minutes.