These brown butter berry tea cakes are delicate miniature sponge cakes perfect for a tea party, bridal shower, Mother’s Day, or any gathering where you’re serving coffee or tea. The browned butter gives the batter its depth of flavor, which accents the juicy berry at the heart of the tea cake. If you enjoy madeleines, but crave something easier, try these!
What exactly is a tea cake? Turns out that question has many answers, depending on where you are in the world. For example, in England, it’s a yeasted bun made with dried fruit (similar to a hot cross bun), toasted and buttered and enjoyed at afternoon tea. And in the American South, tea cakes are more like a cake-like cookie. What are tea cakes like in your region?
My idea of a tea cake is a miniature sponge cake perfectly suited for serving at a tea party, like these almond poppy seed tea cakes. They’re like delicate little… cakelets.
Are These Just… Mini Muffins?
Sort of, but not really. Although we’re baking these tea cakes in a mini muffin pan, the texture is different from a muffin or a cupcake; they’re actually most similar to madeleines, but much easier to make! I compare them below.
Tell Me About These Little Treats
- Flavor: Browning the butter gives these a subtle nutty, caramelized flavor, complemented by almond flour, fresh lemon zest, and a sweet-tart berry.
- Texture: Whipping egg whites to soft peaks gives these brown butter tea cakes their spongey, airy texture. They’re soft with a slightly chewy crust, similar to a madeleine, with a juicy burst of berry in the middle.
- Ease: Much easier than making pastry, and no icing or fancy decorating required! The trickiest bit is browning the butter, but I’ll walk you through it.
I tried a few berry options, but I like these brown butter tea cakes best with fresh raspberries and blackberries—one berry in the center of each little cake. Perfect!
Like Madeleines, But a Lot Easier
This recipe is a great introduction to making madeleines, because these tea cakes are reminiscent in taste and texture, but they don’t require the same level of precision.
- No super special pan: We’re baking these tea cakes in a mini muffin pan. This recipe yields 30-36 tea cakes, so it’s helpful to have 2 mini muffin pans, but you could certainly also just use 1 pan and bake in 2 batches. Though if you want to go fancy, this NordicWare tea cake plaque would be just the thing to impress your guests!
- No chill time: Unlike with madeleines, you don’t need to chill the batter.
- Less fussy: The brown butter tea cake batter is pretty forgiving. In regular sponge cakes (like angel food cake) and madeleines, we take great care to not deflate the egg whites, but in this recipe, it’s not quite as important. You could certainly sift the dry ingredients in, but the texture was still amazing without being so precise. Just use a mixer to combine the whipped egg whites with the rest of the ingredients.
You and I are breaking all the rules here… and we like it!!!
Grab these 10 ingredients:
The first step is to brown the butter. Have you ever done this before? It’s fairly simple, but if you’re new to browning butter, reviewing my How to Brown Butter page will be helpful.
Success Tip: How to Brown Butter
Brown butter is melted butter with an enhanced flavor brought on by gently cooking it, and it’s a staple ingredient in many French pastries. In less than 10 minutes, the butter melts, sizzles, foams… then transforms into a complex, nutty, caramelized-flavored ingredient. It’s liquid gold, and just as valuable to this recipe!
Make sure to stir constantly, and I recommend using a pan with a light interior, rather than a dark pan, so you can see the color change. The difference between brown butter and burnt butter is just a few seconds! I usually use my Le Creuset enameled cast iron fry pan and a silicone whisk for browning butter, but a stainless steel pan works well too. See Notes if you’re using a darker pan.
Step Photos: How to Make Brown Butter Berry Tea Cakes
After browning the butter, separate 2 Tablespoons and use that to brush your mini muffin pan. (Extra brown butter flavor on the exterior, yum!) Let the remaining brown butter cool for 30 minutes. During that time, prepare the rest of the batter.
Whip egg whites into soft peaks:
Below left: Add all of the other ingredients (except vanilla extract and reserved brown butter) and beat on low speed to combine. Below right: Batter thins out when you beat in the butter and vanilla.
Spoon into greased muffin cups, about 2 teaspoons batter per tea cake, and then top with a berry:
When they’re done, the cakes should be golden brown around the edges. If there’s a hump in the middle, that’s completely normal—that’s actually what you want when you bake madeleines. Adding the berries on top reduces the rise, but if you leave out the berries, they will form a little dome while baking.
Serving Your Tea Cakes
These tea cakes don’t need much to dress them up, I just give them a little sugar shower! Use a fine mesh sieve or sifter to sprinkle a dusting of confectioners’ sugar. You could also drizzle some melted white or dark chocolate on top.
Don’t forget your coffee or tea! (Or champagne.)
Can I Make These in a Regular Muffin Pan?
Yes! This recipe yields about 10 tea cakes when baked in a standard-size muffin pan. See Notes for adapted instructions.
More Recipes Perfect for a Tea Party
These brown butter berry tea cakes are delicate miniature sponge cakes. They’re similar to madeleines, but much easier to prepare! As instructed in step 1, be sure to cool the brown butter used for the batter until it’s no longer warm.
- Brown the butter: Set out a medium heat-proof bowl because you’ll need it at the end of this step. Slice the butter into Tablespoon-size pieces and place in a light-colored skillet or saucepan. A light-colored interior is crucial for determining when the butter begins to brown. (See Notes if using a dark skillet or pan.) Melt the butter over medium heat and stir or whisk constantly. Once melted, the butter will begin to foam. Continue stirring/whisking, keeping a close eye on it. After about 5–7 minutes, the butter will begin browning and you’ll notice lightly browned specks forming at the bottom of the pan. The butter will have a nutty aroma. The color will gradually deepen, from yellow to golden to golden-brown; once it’s a light caramel-brown color, remove from heat immediately and pour into the bowl, including any brown solids that have formed on the bottom of the pan. Separate out 2 Tablespoons of brown butter—we’ll brush that in the muffin pans in step 2. Cool the remaining brown butter (about 1/2 cup) for 30 minutes in the refrigerator, or until room temperature and no longer warm. Don’t cool longer than that because the butter will begin to solidify.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C). Using a pastry brush, brush the cups of a 24-count mini muffin pan with the 2 Tablespoons of browned butter. This recipe yields 30–36 tea cakes, so grease a 2nd pan or bake the batter in batches. If using mini muffin liners, brush the liners with the brown butter.
- Make the tea cakes: Using a hand mixer or a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip the egg whites on high speed in a large bowl until soft peaks form, about 2–3 minutes. Add the almond flour, all-purpose flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest. Beat on low speed until combined and don’t worry that the egg whites deflate, you’ll still taste their fluffy goodness in the cakes! Mixture will be sticky, lumpy, and thick. Pour in the vanilla extract and cooled brown butter and beat on low speed until combined.
- Spoon 2 teaspoons of batter into each greased muffin cup. Lightly poke a berry into the center of each. No need to submerge the berry, just stick it on top.
- Bake for 14–16 minutes or until the edges are golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan for 10 minutes before removing. Tea cakes will slightly deflate as they cool.
- If desired, lightly sift confectioners’ sugar on warm or cooled tea cakes before serving.
- Tea cakes are best enjoyed the day they are made. Store leftover tea cakes covered lightly at room temperature for up to 3 days or in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
- Freezing Instructions: Baked and cooled tea cakes can be frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight on the counter before dusting with confectioners’ sugar and serving.
- Using a regular 12-count muffin pan: Makes 10 tea cakes. Use a scant 2 Tablespoons of batter per tea cake and 2 berries on top. Extend the bake time to 18–21 minutes or until the edges are golden brown.
- Browning butter in a darker skillet/pan: I recommend using a light-colored skillet or large pot when browning butter so you can see when the butter is browned. (It’s only a few quick seconds between brown butter and burnt butter.) If you only have dark cookware, I suggest setting a timer, and checking the color by spooning some butter into a glass bowl to determine if it has browned. Check it at the 5-minute mark, then every minute after. Don’t let it cook longer than 8 minutes.
- Almond flour: Almond flour is finely ground blanched almonds. You could also use almond meal, which is coarser. You can make your own almond flour, but be very careful because almonds can quickly release their oils, clump up, and turn into almond butter. It might be easier to just pick up a bag of fine almond flour. It’s common in grocery stores these days—I use and love Bob’s Red Mill brand.
- Can I make these without almond flour? We weren’t able to successfully make these without almond flour without the texture completely changing. Instead, I recommend making these almond poppy seed tea cakes. You can leave out the almond extract and poppy seeds, if needed/desired, and pop a berry into the tops before baking like you do with today’s recipe. See Notes in that recipe for using a mini muffin pan.
- Berries: You can use frozen berries instead of fresh, but be sure to thaw them first. I recommend blackberries, raspberries, or blueberries. You need 30–36 individual berries. If your blueberries are small, use 2 per tea cake.
Keywords: brown butter berry tea cakes
How to Join the May Sally’s Baking Challenge
Make the tea cakes (mini, regular size, or adapted version without almond flour detailed in Notes). If you aren’t into this recipe, here is the alternate baking challenge recipe:
After you make the tea cakes or alternate recipe, email us your recipe photo. For a bonus entry, leave a review on the recipe below.
By emailing your recipe photo to us, you are automatically entered in the baking challenge. 1 winner receives a $250 Amazon Gift Card. The challenge is open to the whole world. Challenge ends on May 31st at 5pm Eastern. The winner will be selected at random, emailed the prize, and posted in the June Baking Challenge blog post on June 1st.
Visit the Sally’s Baking Challenge page if you have any questions about Sally’s Baking Challenge.
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