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Tea Cakes – Old-fashioned Southern Recipe

Tea cakes are buttery and slightly soft, not as sweet as a sugar cookie and falling somewhere between a cookie and a cake. They are an old-fashioned Southern favorite! This recipe is so easy–no mixer required and no chilling dough. You can have these wonderful tea cakes ready in about 30 minutes!

Tea cakes stacked on a plate with a glass of milk.

What is a Tea Cake?

To Southerners of a certain age, tea cakes are the embodiment of a grandmother’s warm kitchen in the dead of winter…or a carefree summer afternoon spent barefoot and running through the sprinkler in the front yard.

These little cakes look like cookies, but the texture is more cakey and soft, although not exactly the texture of a cake either. I suspect they originated from English tea biscuits, as they are somewhat similar.

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Grandma’s Old-fashioned Tea Cakes

Our family’s recipe for old-fashioned tea cakes comes from my great-grandmother. I remember making these buttery cookies with her and when I was around 8 or 9, I wrote down her “recipe.”

The conversation consisted of a lot of ABOUTS…about a cup and a half of sugar, about one or two eggs…as much flour as you need to make a good dough.

Recipe for tea cakes on an old piece of paper.

Hers were just a little crisp on the bottom and soft and crumbly, more cakey than cookie but not a cake and not overly sweet.

It’s so difficult to describe and nearly every person you talk to who has a tea cake memory will describe them differently.

View of the inside of a tea cake with cookies stacked on a rack.

Some were flat and crispy. Some were puffy and soft. Some people added milk or buttermilk. Some people added nutmeg or other flavorings.

These were literally cakes/cookies that cooks threw together using the simplest ingredients they had on hand: eggs, sugar, flour, and butter. So everyone’s recipe combination probably turned out a little differently.

It’s all about the way your family likes them.

Ingredients

The ingredients for Southern tea cakes are so simple and that’s what makes them a classic favorite. They were developed using what was on hand and there’s nothing fancy about them.

  • Butter
  • Eggs
  • Sugar
  • Vanillafor this recipe, I use imitation vanilla
  • Flour

How to Make Tea Cakes

My grandmother’s recipe is a little different from most tea cake recipes in that she used melted butter. But the result is a wonderful, soft and buttery cookie-cake that our family loves.

This recipe is so simple and easy because that’s the way folks used to cook. You don’t even need a whisk–I literally use a fork to stir all the ingredients and everything is done in one bowl.

You don’t even need to set the ingredients out and bring them to room temperature and you don’t need to chill the dough! It goes right into the oven!

Step 1. Preheat oven to 375°. Generously butter–no cooking spray here!–baking pans.

Pro Tip: For this tea cake recipe, I use 4 baking pans so that I don’t have to wait for them to cool.

Step 2. Melt two sticks of butter in a small saucepan.

Step 3. In a large bowl, combine two eggs and the sugar. Slowly pour in the melted butter a little bit at the time to temper the eggs. Stir in vanilla and stir gently until mixed.

Pro Tip: You can allow the butter to cool slightly before stirring it into the eggs and sugar.

Step 4. Stir in all 5 cups of flour! You will end up with a stiff dough.

Step 5. Remove the dough to a lightly floured surface and roll no less than 1/4-inch thick. Cut out shapes and place on buttered baking sheet.

Step 6. Bake for 8 minutes. The bottoms will be lightly browned and the tops will be pale.

Baked tea cakes with some upside down showing the browned bottom on a rack.

Step 7. Remove baking pan to a rack for about 5 minutes, then remove tea cakes to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

Tips for the best Southern Tea Cakes

  • Don’t add extra flour when you start rolling out the cookies. Just have a lightly floured surface and sprinkle a little flour on top so you can roll them out.
  • Don’t use parchment paper or cooking spray on the baking sheets. Use butter. This is what will give you a lightly browned bottom.
  • You can use all-purpose flour but you’ll need to add baking powder and salt incrementally. For this recipe, I prefer self-rising flour.
  • Storage: store the tea cakes in an airtight container. They will keep for several days.
Overhead photo of cookies stacked on a plate.

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Tea cakes stacked on a plate with a glass of milk.

Tea Cakes

Yield: 48 cookies
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 8 minutes
Total Time: 28 minutes

A soft, slightly crispy on the bottom, buttery cookie that's not too sweet and brings back memories of yesteryear.

Ingredients

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5 cups self-rising flour

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375. Generously butter baking pans.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk eggs and sugar together with a fork or whisk. Add vanilla. Slowly pour in butter and stir gently with fork until well mixed.
  3. Stir in flour until well mixed and you have a stiff dough.
  4. Use a little flour on your hands and the dough and knead the dough a few times, then roll out to 1/4-1/2 inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Don't add too much extra flour when rolling or your tea cakes will be too dry.
  5. Cut with cookie cutters and place on baking sheet. These cookies will not spread much so you can put them close together.
  6. Bake 8-9 minutes until bottom is barely turning brown. (8 minutes works best in my oven.) Remove from oven and cool on a rack.

Notes

Tips for the best Southern Tea Cakes

  • Don't add extra flour when you start rolling out the cookies. Just have a lightly floured surface and sprinkle a little flour on top so you can roll them out.
  • Don't use parchment paper or cooking spray on the baking sheets. Use butter. This is what will give you a lightly browned bottom.
  • You can use all-purpose flour but you'll need to add baking powder and salt incrementally. For this recipe, I prefer self-rising flour.
  • Storage: store the tea cakes in an airtight container. They will keep for several days.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 48 Serving Size: 48 cookies
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 164Saturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 43mgSodium: 29mgCarbohydrates: 20gSugar: 8gProtein: 2g

Did you make this recipe?

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Update Notes: This post was originally published July 30, 2014, and on June 6, 2019, was updated with one or more of the following: step-by-step photos, video, updated recipe, new tips.

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Dianne S Vickers

Wednesday 27th of November 2019

This is almost the exact recipe my Grandmother used. They turn out great every time. My questions is: how can I make these Chocolate tea cakes? My youngest son and grandson requested that I make their favorite tea cakes but make them chocolate. How? What quantity of cocoa powder? Leave out the vanilla or leave it in?

Thank you!!

Lucy Brewer

Thursday 28th of November 2019

Oh my, I have never even thought of making chocolate tea cakes! But that sounds delicious! I would maybe start with 1 tablespoon cocoa. If you add more then count it as flour and take out some of the flour so the cookies won't get too dry. Please let me know what you come up with!

Larry Noak

Wednesday 30th of July 2014

Lovely post, I can almost feel the teacakes melting in my mouth.

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