Baking for Bookworms: Tea Cookies from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou


Sorry this post is late–we had company staying with us and there wasn’t time to sit down and write out a post!

As a child, your worldview is largely based on sensory input. Reality is what you taste, hear, smell, touch, and see. Looking back on these experiences, we can interpret these sensations and try to make them fit in a larger worldview. As she writes her extremely descriptive memoir, Maya Angelou largely leaves out her older interpretations of things that happen to her to focus on the experience of being a child. Part of that experience is, of course, related to food, which has the power to draw out many of our deepest memories.

I chose the tea cookies specifically because they’re consumed in an interaction that would later have an influence on Angelou’s career as a reader and a writer. She’s brought into a neighbor’s, Mrs. Flowers’, home and encouraged to read after a traumatizing incident of rape sends her back from her mother’s home in St Louis to her grandmother in the country.

Sometimes it is kindness that most leaves an impression on us later, and the sweetness in this moment is as much due to the sugar in the cookies as it is to the actions of those who find us at our most vulnerable and make us feel human again.

“She carried a platter covered with a tea towel. Although she warned that she hadn’t tried her hand at baking sweets for some time, I was certain that like everything else about her the cookies would be perfect.

They were flat round wafers, slightly browned on the edges and butter-yellow in the center. With the cold lemonade they were sufficient for childhood’s lifelong diet. Remembering my manners, I took nice little ladylike bites off the edges. She said she had made them expressly for me and that she had a few in the kitchen that I could take home to my brother. So I jammed one whole cake in my mouth and the rough crumbs scratched the insides of my jaws, and if I hadn’t had to swallow, it would have been a dream come true.”                                                           99

One of the interesting things about this passage is the way that perfection is attributed to the cookies. Perfection in childhood seems attainable, if only certain things were different about ourselves and certain things remain unknown about others. But in reality, even happy memories are bookmarked by moments of pain and imperfection, roughness with sweetness. It is Angelou’s ability to deftly juxtapose and bring together such seeming opposites that makes her book truly remarkable.


Tea cookies (also called tea cakes) are a round, simple sugar cookie that can be served with tea or lemonade. You can also spread things on top of the cookies, like jam or lemon curd, make icing or frosting, or sandwich them together.

Adapted from Southern Living‘s recipe.

  • 1 cup softened butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest (optional) –if you’re not partial to lemon, you could also use 1/4 nutmeg for more flavor

Beat butter for several minutes until creamy. Add sugar and beat until fluffy, 2-3 more minutes. Add eggs one at a time, until blended. Add in vanilla, salt, and lemon zest.

In 1/2 cup- 1 cup increments, add flour and baking soda until well mixed.

Divide dough in half and chill one hour, until firm. If you don’t want to wait that long, you can roll the dough into balls and press them down so you don’t have to roll the cookies.


Preheat the oven to 350F. Roll dough on a well floured surface to 1/4 inch thickness for a thinner cookie, or 1/3-1/2 an inch for a thicker, chewier cookie. Try not to handle the dough too much as you do this as this will result in tougher cookies.

Cut out cookies with a round cutter and place on parchment paper or a silpat. Bake for 8-11 minutes or until slightly brown at the edges. Cool on a cooling rack.

You can then repeat the process with the remaining dough or save it in the fridge for several days or in the freezer.


Is there a memory you credit with inspiring your love of reading? I’ve always loved books, but after second grade my family moved. My teacher gave me a copy of The Emerald City of Oz by L. Frank Baum, which she was going to finish reading next year. I sat at our cabin and read this book in one sitting on the porch and I remember looking out and thinking that I was meant to read books.

Baking for Bookworms: Oatmeal Cookies from The Puttermesser Papers by Cynthia Ozick


Cynthia Ozick’s book is a veritable treasure trove of unique Baking for Bookworms worthy dishes. It’s not that there’s such an amazing number of dishes mentioned, but the ones in the book are just such a far cry from eggs and toast.

Each stage of Ruth Puttermesser’s life, a different dish is important to her, or multiple dishes. When she’s young, she has a thing for fudge and other sweets. Later, she eats vegetable soup with her lover. The cookies come from one of the last definable phases of her life, when her niece comes to her from the USSR.

“They sipped their tea. Lidia produced the half-dozen oatmeal cookies she had been slipping into the pocket of her new leather coat–emptying or filling pockets seemed to be in the family line–at the very moment Varvara [Barbara] was firing her.

‘Foolish Varvara,” Lidia said. Nibbling her cookie, she looked almost childlike; her nostrils vibrated.”


Lidia, Ruth’s niece, is always taking from people, and never giving back. She is cynical, worldly, and out to get what she can before it can be taken from her. However, she’s also clearly looking for a kind of sustenance and warmth. There are aspects of her personality, like her optimism about new plans, that are “almost childlike.” Cookies bring that out in you.

Now I definitely don’t advocate stealing cookies from your former employer–especially when it’s much more delicious to make them yourself.


You can easily put add-ins into these cookies. I kept it simple. Mainly because when I was little, I never got oatmeal cookies with just the yummy oatmeal part. They always stuck raisins in. Of course, now I actually really like raisins. But we didn’t have any in the house, and chocolate chip oatmeal cookies aren’t really my thing. If they’re your thing, by all means toss them in at the end.

This recipe is adapted from Maureen Kirk’s. The cookies I baked turned out a little flat, so I’ve adapted the recipe for you. The pictures are from my test run, so this recipe should give you prettier, puffier cookies.

Maple Oatmeal Cookies

  • 1 1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 cups Scottish oatmeal (if you aren’t able to find this, you can use another 1 1/2 oats, I like the smoother texture it brings to the cookies, and it also has a great flavor)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup (the maple flavor is subtle, but lovely)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of your preferred mix-in like chocolate chips, raisins, dried cranberry, etc. (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Mix together the oats, flour, salt, and baking soda. Stir around so everyone gets comfortable with each other.

With an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar for about 3 minutes, or until paler and fluffy.

Add in egg, vanilla, maple syrup, and cinnamon. Beat until combined. In two additions, add the flour mixture. Beat until just combined.

Line two baking trays with parchment on nonstick mats. Using two spoons, dollop tablespoon size balls down. Bake for 8-11 minutes or until browned on the edges. Let cookies begin cooling for a few minutes on the sheets and then transfer to a cookie rack.

These have a wonderful flavor and nice chewy texture.

Is there a food that reminds you of a particular period of your life? Croissants remind me of college. I’d have a coffee and croissant for breakfast on Friday mornings before class.

Chewy Dark Chocolate, Orange, and Ginger Cookies–A Golden Syrup Recipe

As I said last Friday, I’ve got to use my golden syrup up since I didn’t have a glass jar to sterilize. I thought I’d share the recipes I chose to use the stuff up. I’m using it as a sweetener in my tea and coffee of course, but I also made these cookies, and I thought you’d enjoy them too.

I’ve decided I need a really good kitchen scale because doing all the conversions is a real pain. Luckily, I’ve done all the work, and you get all the reward with these complex, flavorful cookies.

Chewy Dark Chocolate, Orange, and Ginger Cookies, makes about two dozen

adapted from Ruby Tandoh’s recipe for The Guardian

You’ll need:

  • 3 rounded tbs of golden syrup
  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 tbs canola oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tbs milk
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tbs candied ginger
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips
  • zest of one orange

Preheat oven to 350F.

Mix together the syrup, brown sugar, oil, vanilla, and milk in a bowl with a spatula until well combined. Add the salt, baking soda, and flour and then the ginger, chocolate chips and orange zest.

Spoon cookies onto a prepared cookie sheet (with either a silpat or parchment paper) with lots of space between the cookies. The cookies will spread a lot, so try to keep the cookies around the size of a tablespoon. Bake the cookies for twelve-fifteen minutes.

I’m sorry to say I don’t have any pictures of these cookies to share with you. I made mine way too big and the edges burned… but if you make yours nice and small, you shouldn’t have any trouble.

What’s your favorite cookie to bake around the holidays?

**Edit Note: So I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t really love orange zest–pretty much in anything. I love orange juice and oranges and things that are meant to taste citrus-y but I’m not an orange zest lover. If I made these again, I’d definitely omit the orange. And unless you write odes to orange zest in your spare time, I suggest you do so as well.

Also, the cookies were a little oily, so I’ve changed the ingredients to reflect a slightly lower amount of oil.