Lemon Tea Cake Recipe

This Old Fashioned Lemon Tea Cake recipe has been served as a treat for generations of Southerners! Made with simple, pantry-staple ingredients and baked to chewy, buttery perfection, these lemon tea cakes are perfect for a mid-afternoon snack break! And the added burst of citrusy goodness? It’s the ultimate, unexpected delight!  

Photos from The Kitchn

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Lemon tea cakes being served from a baking sheet after baking

My grandmother’s favorite cookie to bake was a Tea Cake, and this is a wonderful lemon tea cake recipe twist. Uniquely Southern and filled simple ingredients, Big Mama’s never failed to WOW. She made these for everything from entertaining guests and church social functions to holiday gatherings, like Christmas. The beauty of this recipe is in its ease and adaptability. Couldn’t we all use a little more of that these days?

This year, we’ve all collectively dealt with more curveballs than I thought possible. Each day of 2020 brings something new and, most of the time, stressful. But, there’s another side to all the craziness, a new normal. So many of us have gotten back into the kitchen, learned a new skill or dedicated ourselves to spending quality time with family and friends. 

Before quarantine, we all led such busy lives and, without realizing it, we neglected the everyday moments that passed us by. By slowing down, evaluating our lives and refocusing, we’ve done something incredibly important: invested in ourselves. 

This Lemon Tea Cake recipe represents the ability to fluctuate, to adjust and to find simplicity. These tea cakes can be made as a drop cookie or rolled out and decorated to your heart’s desire. Personally, I like to make it my grandmother’s way, a simple drop. It remains perfectly chewy yet cakey, buttery and simply delicious.

As you wait for your tea cakes to cool and set, put on the tea kettle, listen for the gentle whistle and pour yourself a hot cup. Dip, dunk or nibble your tea cakes and remind yourself that moments of ease and peace are right at your fingertips. May the rest of 2020 bring you as much joy as this recipe has brought me. 

Tea cake cookies lined on a parchment baking sheet after baking


The texture of the tea cake is hard to describe; it’s almost a sugar cookie but not quite. They could even be described as a cookie-biscuit combination. 

Each tea cake is buttery, rich, subtly sweet, and soft. Their bottoms are light golden brown and barely crisp, while the edges are slightly chewy. A perfect cookie. 

Here’s what you’ll need to make it happen: 

Unsalted Butter is what makes these tea cakes incredibly buttery and melt-in-your-mouth delicious! As with most other recipes, I recommend using a high-quality butter, especially since we’re using a good amount of it here. 

Granulated Sugar serves as our sweetener. Cane sugar works just as well! 

Egg binds our dough and adds a bit of color as well. For best results, use a room temperature large egg. 

Vanilla Extract introduces a bit of complexity by adding in a pretty aroma and enhancing flavor. 

Lemon Juice & Zest are both bright, zippy and wonderfully citrusey! I chose to use both in order to get maximum lemon-ey goodness. If you’re not a lemon fan, lime or orange will also work beautifully! 

AP Flour should be properly measured and sifted for this recipe. 

Salt should be of the kosher variety. If using sea salt, I’d recommend halving the amount. 

Baking Soda is our rising agent. Be sure it is fresh and active before use. 

How to Make Lemon Tea Cakes

1. Prepping the Basics: Start by placing 1 stick of unsalted butter in your stand mixer’s bowl (a large bowl works too if you’re going old school with hand mixing or using an electric hand mixer). Let the butter become friends with 1 large egg, and they should both hang out at room temperature until the butter feels soft and inviting.

2. Lemon Lovin’: Now, it’s time to show some love to a medium lemon. Grate its zest finely, capturing all those aromatic oils, and then juice it to get about 1 teaspoon of tangy perfection.

3. Dry Ingredients Team-Up: In a separate medium bowl, it’s time for 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour to meet its partners in crime, 1/4 teaspoon each of kosher salt and baking soda. Give them a whisk to combine and set them aside for their turn in the spotlight.

4. Creamy Dreamy Mix: Back to your butter: add 3/4 cup granulated sugar to the party, and beat them together on medium-high speed until they’re fluffy and smooth, dreaming of what’s about to come. It’ll take about 3 to 4 minutes. Now, introduce the egg, lemon zest, lemon juice, and a teaspoon of vanilla extract into the mix. Beat on medium until they’re all mingling and merry.

5. Low-Speed Introduction: Turn the mixer down to low speed and let the dry ingredients join the creamy base in 3 stages, making sure each addition is fully welcomed before the next one dives in.

6. Chill Session: Cover your bowl and let it chill in the refrigerator. You want the dough to firm up, so give it at least 1 hour, but feel free to leave it up to 3 hours. This is when the flavors really get to know each other.

7. Preheat and Prep: When you’re ready to bake, command your oven to 325ºF and place a rack in the middle. Prep 2 baking sheets with parchment paper for easy cleanup.

8. Shape and Bake: Scoop out the dough in tablespoon-sized portions, rolling each into a happy little ball. Press them gently in the center with your thumb to flatten just slightly, then place them on your baking sheets. Give them some personal space, about 1 1/2 inches apart. You’ll fit up to 12 per sheet.

9. Golden Perfection: Pop one sheet at a time into the oven and bake until the edges are a golden brown testament to deliciousness, about 9 to 11 minutes. Then, let them cool for 5 to 10 minutes.

Two lemon tea cake cookies on a white plate with a bite taken along with some coffee

Quick Baking Note

As you begin to form the dough, you’ll notice it’s a bit thicker than most other cookie doughs. However, it’s still necessary to refrigerate the dough to firm up a bit more. This lemon tea cake recipe contains a good amount of butter that melts while baking; when the butter melts, the cookies spread out. So, in this case, the firmer the dough the better. We don’t want our cakes to melt into butter puddles. 

Once ready to bake, the warmth of your hands will help to loosen the dough and allow you to gently flatten it some. As the tea cakes bake, the smell that fills the kitchen is heavenly. I mean, is there anything better than the smell of lemon, sugar, butter and vanilla all co-mingling?  


If you’d like to dress up this recipe, I recommend playing around with spice. Cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom are incredible additions. Try using a different citrus or playing with the use of extracts. But before you do, try this recipe in its traditional form (it’s worth it). 

Lemon tea cake cookies being packaged to ship to someone

Leftovers and Storage

Lemon Tea Cakes are best eaten fresh! But, if you find yourself with a few leftovers, I suggest storing them in an airtight container or cookie jar at room temperature. If properly stored, tea cakes will keep for 2-3 days. 

TIP: Depending on the size of your rolled dough, this recipe will make about 18-24 tea cakes. If you don’t think they will be eaten in time, I recommend either halving the recipe or freezing half of the dough. To freeze, roll the dough into a small log and tightly wrap it in plastic wrap, then place in a freezer-safe bag.

When ready to bake, either allow the dough to defrost overnight in the refrigerator or defrost for an hour at room temperature. Slice, bake and serve! 

Everyone needs a go-to cookie recipe in their repertoire! Whether you’re a chewy chocolate chip gal or an oatmeal raisin fella, there’s a cookie out there waiting for you. Find your perfect fit by experimenting with a few of my FAVORITE cookie recipes! 

Lemon tea cakes being served from a baking sheet after baking

Lemon Tea Cake Recipe

Made with simple, pantry ingredients and baked to chewy, buttery citrusy perfection, this lemon tea cake recipe is perfect for lovely taste of the South!
5 from 10 votes
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 11 minutes
Chill Time 2 hours
Course: Dessert
Servings: 16 servings


  • 8 tbsp unsalted butter 1 stick
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 medium lemon
  • 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract


  • Place 1 stick unsalted butter in the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if mixing by hand or with an electric hand mixer). Let the butter and 1 large egg sit out at room temperature until the butter is softened.
  • Finely grate the zest of 1 medium lemon, then juice the lemon until you have 1 teaspoon juice. Place 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda in a medium bowl and whisk to combine.
  • Add 3/4 cup granulated sugar to the butter and beat with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed until fluffy and smooth, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the egg, lemon zest, lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and beat on medium speed until well incorporated. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture in 3 additions, beating well after each addition to incorporate.
  • Cover and bowl and refrigerate at least 1 or up to 3 hours to firm up the dough.
  • Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 325ºF. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • Scoop out tablespoon portions of the dough and roll each portion into a ball. Using your thumb, gently press the center of each ball to flatten slightly. Place on the baking sheets, up to 12 per baking sheet with at least 1 1/2 inches between each dough ball.
  • Bake one sheet at a time until golden brown around the edges, 9 to 11 minutes. Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.


Store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 week.


Calories: 136kcal | Carbohydrates: 19g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 6g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 25mg | Sodium: 59mg | Potassium: 28mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 10g | Vitamin A: 191IU | Vitamin C: 4mg | Calcium: 7mg | Iron: 1mg
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Filed Under:  Cookies, Dessert and Baking, Oven, Seasonal Recipes, Spring Recipes, Winter Recipes


  1. Yum yum!
    Reminds me of my dear grandmother’s recipe. A career baker at a hospital, she created some delicious treats and tea cakes were one of them. I love this rendition.. . Thank you!

  2. I made these last night. The flavor and texture are wonderful! Almost like a sugar cookie, a little springy like a muffin top or cupcake. I was surprised because I thought they were going to be dense more like an English tea “buscuit” or shortbread. We like these better. So yummy. We enjoyed them with Earl grey tea and milk. My son and husband have not had SUCH a positive response to any cookie without chocolate before! Lol. They loved them! I like that the recipe is for a small batch, just 16. It’s easy to double a recipe if you really want to. I know I’ll be making these again soon. Thanks for sharing!

  3. For years I’ve been looking for a recipe that is much like my Great Aunt’s teacake recipe. She never wrote it down and I feared it lost to time. Today I made these lovely tea cakes and was elated to taste them and walk back in time for a moment. They are the closest I’ve found to her recipe. Thank you so much!

  4. Love, Love, Love! Make the Southern Tea Cakes yesterday! They were very tasty and very good! It’s so interesting that I received an email today with the recipe for Lemon Tea Cakes…because I changed a couple of things (used only 1 tsp Vanilla Extract and added 1 tbsp. of fresh lemon zest) in the Southern Tea Cakes which make them very much like the Lemon Tea Cakes that my grandmother made. Both recipes are yummy and versatile. Next time I’m going to change the flavoring to Vanilla Extract, Almond Extract and shredded coconut.

  5. I’ve never made tea cakes – always wanted to. Now I will.
    I’m looking forward to these, I can taste them already.
    Thank you for sharing your wonderful gift. And . . . you’re pretty, too!

  6. These were so easy to make and I was so excited to find I had everything in my house and didn’t have to go to the store for any ingredients. This is a go-to treat recipe for sure!

  7. Anything with lemon and I’m won over. These tea cakes sound delicious and would be great with a cup of tea.

  8. I cannot resist any baked good with lemon in it! these look so good, perfect for an afternoon snack… maybe even today! LOL.

5 from 10 votes

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