The taking of tea, once thought of as a grand indulgence reserved only for special times, is now edging its way into our lives as a familiar, informal restorative.

Dressed-up tea is replete with small, manicured sandwiches sporting such dainty fillings as those based on eggs, jelly, watercress and cream cheese. But it is the sweet dessert tea that now seems to be captivating a whole new cross-section of people, from corporate executives to designers, artists and many of those whose "flex-time" schedules leave an hour or two open in the afternoon.

Tea shops are popping up and lounges of hotels are revitalizing their teatime menus to include -- and put the emphasis on -- sweet snacks served with a hot pot of tea. Homey, comforting treats are laid out on appealing flowery china. And people are encouraged to dawdle, negotiate or gossip during the tea hour.

The most satisfying companions to freshly brewed tea are sugared things like buttery cookies, and simple cakes, generously spiced or nutted. I'd ignore the savories any day and, instead, sink a fork into a wedge of ginger cake with a drift of whipped cream.

Any one or combination of the home-baked goodies that follow would be a fine addition to a cup of tea. Cookies served with tea should be especially "short," whether they are soft in texture or crisp, interrupted by nuts or infused with fruit ring and pure extract. Cakes need to be adorned with seeds, dried fruit, nuts, and little bits of something candied or glazed, if you are to keep the bakery tradition intact. Cakes made up with a mingling of spices -- cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice -- are welcome at tea, as are little batter cakes made from pure'ed or shredded fruit and then baked to plumpness in muffin tins.

Herewith are recipes for the assortment of bakery sweets that I've offered with tea for many years:

POPPY SEED TEA CAKE (Makes one 10-inch bundt cake)

Poppy Seed Tea Cake is a tender, fine-grained butter cake dotted with crunchy poppy seeds. There are three leavening agents that lift the tea into lightness: baking powder, baking soda and beaten egg white. The buttermilk makes the crumb of the cake delicate and moist.

2 2/3 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

1 3/4 cups granulated sugar, divided into 1 1/2 cups and 1/4 cup

5 jumbo eggs, at room temperature, separated

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

1/3 cup poppy seeds

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Lightly butter and flour the inside of a 10-inch bundt pan; set aside.

Resift the flour with the baking powder, baking soda and salt onto a large sheet of waxed paper; set aside. Cream the softened butter in the large bowl of an electric mixer on moderately high speed for 3 minutes. Beat in the 1 1/2 cups of granulated sugar, in 3 additions, beating for about a minute after each portion of sugar is added. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, blending well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl frequently with a rubber spatula to keep the batter even-textured. Blend in the vanilla. Add the sifted dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the buttermilk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with the sifted mixture. Blend in the poppy seeds.

Beat the egg whites until foamy, add the cream of tartar, and continue beating until soft peaks are formed. Add the remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar slowly, beating until firm (not stiff) peaks are formed. Stir a large spoonful of the whites into the cake batter, then fold through the remaining whites.

Pour and scrape the batter into the prepared plan. Bake the cake on the lower third level of a 325-degree oven for 55 to 65 minutes, or until the cake pulls away from the sides of the baking pan and a wooden pick inserted in the cake emerges clean and dry.

Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 3 to 4 minutes, then carefully invert onto a second cooling rack to cool completely. Lightly sift confectioners' sugar over the top of the cake before cutting into slices, if you like.

GINGER CAKE (Makes one 8-inch square cake)

Fragrance and flavor of this cake is dependent on the use of many ground spices -- ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves -- a good light molasses and some finely chopped, crystallized ginger. The sweet yet sharp bits of ginger wind their way through in a wonderful way. Serve pie-shaped wedges of ginger cake with ginger-scented whipped cream or a pitcher of custard sauce. A bowl of warm, stewed fruit is a delicious companion, too.

1 1/2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ginger

3/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon cloves

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup light molasses

1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3 tablespoons minced crystallized (not preserved) ginger

Lightly butter an 8-inch square baking pan; line the bottom of the pan with a square of waxed paper, butter the paper, then dust out the inside of the pan with a haze of flour. Set aside.

Thoroughly stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves in a large mixing bowl; set aside.

Cream the butter in the large bowl of an electric mixer on moderately high speed for 2 minutes. Beat in the granulated sugar. Blend in the molasses and sour cream. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition. Blend in the vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl often with a rubber spatula to keep the batter even-textured. On low speed, add the flour mixture in 2 additions, beating just until the particles of flour have been absorbed. By hand, fold in the minced ginger.

Pour and scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Using a small, flexible palette knife or spatula, push about 1/2-inch of batter up the sides of the baking pan. Bake the cake on the lower third level of a 350-degree oven for about 38 to 40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted about 1-inch from the center of the cakes emerges clean and dry, and the cake lightly pulls away from the sides of the pan.

Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for about 5 minutes. Invert the cake onto a second rack, then invert again to cool rightside up. Sift a haze of confectioners' sugar over the top of the cake, if you like, and serve the cake cut into squares.

BANANA-MACADAMIA NUT TEA CAKES (Makes 1 dozen cakes)

These plump little cakes are packed full of chopped macadamia nuts and mashed ripe banana; split and buttered, they become a light, satisfying accompaniment to a cup of tea. A bit of sweetened shredded coconut ( 1/4 cup) can be added to the batter.

1 1/2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 extra-large egg, at room temperature

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 cup (about 1 1/2 bananas) mashed bananas

3/4 cup chopped macadamia nuts

TO FINISH:

3 tablespoons granulated sugar blended with 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Lightly butter and flour inside of 12 muffin cups (individual tins should measure 2 3/4 inches in diameter and hold about 1/3 cup).

Thoroughly stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon in a large bowl; set aside. Beat together melted butter, sugar, egg, vanilla and banana in a large mixing bowl. Add flour mixture and stir just until particles of flour have been absorbed, leaving batter lumpy. Fold through chopped macadamias.

Fill each muffin tin 2/3 full of batter. Sprinkle a little nutmeg-sugar over the top of each cake. Bake the cakes on the lower third level of a 375-degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until well-risen, plump, and a wooden pick inserted into the center of a cake emerges clean and dry.

Let them cool in the tins on a rack for a few minutes, then remove them to a second cooling rack. Serve warm, with jam and sweet butter.

PINE NUT PILLOWS (Makes about 2 dozen cookies)

These cookies are crisp and buttery, and full of the savor of toasted pine nuts. Bake them only until they are set and turn pale golden in color to keep the texture tender. The "pillows," rounded and light, should be kept in an airtight tin where they will stay fresh for several days.

1 cup unsifted all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 extra-large egg yolks, at room temperature

1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted

Stir together the flour and salt in a small mixing bowl; set aside. Cream the butter in the large bowl of an electric mixer on moderate speed for 3 minutes. Beat in the granulated sugar. Blend in the vanilla and egg yolk. On low speed, add the flour mixture in 2 additions, blending just until the particles of flour have been absorbed. By hand, fold through the pine nuts.

Drop the dough by heaping teaspoons onto parchment paper-lined cookie sheets, spacing the cookies 1 1/2-inches apart. Bake the pillows, a sheet at a time, on the lower third level of a 300-degree oven for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until they are firm to the touch and light golden in color.

Remove the cookies to a cooling rack with a wide spatula. Store the cookies in an airtight tin.

SUGAR COOKIE ANIMALS (Makes about 3 dozen cookies)

These are whimsical rolled cookies that are stamped out with animal-shaped cutters. The dough is short-textured and light, two characteristics which help the cookies to retain their shape once baked. The following formula is my favorite sugar cookie dough; it is a dough that can be refrigerated up to 3 days before rolling out and baking, and can be formed into thin or thick cookies.

3 cups unsifted all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

3 tablespoons light (table) cream

TO FINISH:

2 egg whites, beaten until frothy

About 3/4 cup granulated sugar, or sugar crystals

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt onto a large sheet of waxed paper; set aside.

Cream butter in large bowl of an electric mixer on moderate speed for 2 to 3 minutes. Add granulated sugar in 2 additions, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition. Beat in vanilla and cream. On low speed, add sifted mixture in 3 additions, beating just until the particles of flour have been absorbed. Form dough into a flat cake, wrap tightly in waxed paper and refrigerate for 4 to 5 hours, or until firmed up.

Divide dough into thirds. A third at a time, roll out on a lightly floured board with a lightly floured rolling pin, to a thickness of a scant 1/4-inch. Stamp dough into cookies using animal-shaped cutters; place 1-inch apart on lightly buttered and floured (or parchment paper-lined) cookie sheets. Reroll scraps and stamp out more cookies. Repeat with remaining portions of dough.

Just before baking, brush a very light wash of beaten egg white over each cookie and sprinkle with granulated sugar or sugar crystals.

Bake the cookies, a sheet at a time, on the lower third level of a 375-degree oven for about 10 minutes, or until golden. Remove the cookies to a cooling rack with a wide spatula and store them in an airtight tin when cooled completely.

LEMON CRESCENTS (Makes about 3 dozen cookies)

To intensify the lemon flavor, I like to scent the confectioners' sugar used in and about the cookies with dried lemon peel; the sugar absorbs the essential oils from the peel and adds another dimension of taste to the cookie.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

3 1/2 cups Lemon-Scented Confectioners' Sugar (see recipe below)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon finely grated lemon rind (grate the outer yellow zest)

1/4 cup very finely chopped walnuts

2 1/4 cups unsifted all-purpose flour

Pour cooled butter into a large mixing bowl. Using a wooden spoon, stir 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar into the butter. Blend in baking powder; stir in lemon rind and walnuts. Sift over the flour, a 1/2 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition. Cover dough and chill it for 4 hours, or until firm.

Take up rounded teaspoons of dough and roll into logs. Form into crescents directly on an ungreased cookie sheet, spacing the crescents 1 1/2-inches apart. Bake a sheet at a time, on the lower third level of a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes, or until firm to the touch. Crescents should remain pale in color.

Remove cookies to a cooling rack with a wide metal spatula, and while they are still warm, enrobe them in the remaining confectioners' sugar. When they are cool, reroll them in the confectioners' sugar before storing in an airtight tin.

For the Lemon-Scented Confectioners' Sugar: Using a swivel-bladed peeler or citrus zester, remove the peel from 2 lemons. Place peel on a sheet of waxed paper and let air-dry for 6 to 8 hours or until peel begins to turn leathery. Dump a 1-pound box of confectioners' sugar into a large, clean storage container. Bury lemon strips in the sugar, cover tightly and let stand for 2 to 3 days to develop the flavor (shake jar from time to time). Discard peel and use sugar to flavor and sweeten cookies and cakes