This lovely tea cake was an inheritance from Lillian’s mother, born Frances Lucy Smith, and dated from 1935, the year following Frances’ marriage to Philemon Gordon Maglathlin.

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup flour, sifted
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup nut meats

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

This batter will make 24 very small cupcakes (about 1” to 1 1/4”). Butter the tins and set aside.

Consider your “brown sugar” choices. The cakes are aptly-named; while they are not killer-sweet, their flavor directly expresses that of the sugar you select. Standard commercial brown sugar will work, but is a bit insipid. We used natural evaporated cane juice (marketed as Sucanat), and were happy with the result. Maple sugar would be extraordinary, if you are feeling flush. Whatever you use, break up any lumps.

For best results, allow the eggs to come to room temperature in their shells.

Stir or sift together the flour and baking powder thoroughly.

Chop the nuts pretty finely. We used walnuts, which is probably what Frances would have used in 1935, but these would be great with pecans, too.

To make the batter, use the whisk attachment of an electric mixer to beat the eggs several minutes, or until very foamy and pale. (You can’t wreck them by beating too much.) Gradually add the sugar a few spoonfuls at a time, while continuing to beat on high speed.

Sprinkle the flour mixture on the surface and fold it in by hand with a spatula. When it’s half-incorporated, add the nuts and continue folding until just mixed.

Divide the mixture among the buttered baking cups as evenly as possible. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick poked into one comes out clean. Cool on a rack 5 minutes. Run a small-bladed knife around each cake to dislodge each cake, then remove to the rack to cool thoroughly.

Once cool, these cakes may be stored in a tin for up to 2 weeks. They’re actually better after aging a day or two.

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