Southern Tea Cakes

Let me introduce you to the crème de la crème of cookie recipes – this Southern Tea Cakes Recipe is everything! We’re talking buttery, rich, and a soft texture that’s on point. Trust me, these are the BEST tea cake cookies out there! They’re the epitome of Southern charm and grace, a delicious nod to the art of baking that’s been perfected and passed down through generations. Whenever you serve these up, they’re not just a hit, they’re a home run, boo!

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Close up of bitten into tea cake cookies on top of several cookies in  a tin.

The Heart and Soul of the Best Southern Tea Cakes Recipe

The traditions of southern tea cake recipe making in my family vary.  On my dad’s side of the family, southern tea cake cookies were made with molasses.  On my mom’s side, they wouldn’t dream of adding molasses. They go classic all the way.

Cuisine Inspiration: Southern
Primary Cooking Method: Baking
Dietary Info: Vegetarian
Key Flavor: These cookies are buttery, rich, subtly sweet, and soft. Their bottoms are light golden brown and barely crisp, while the edges are slightly chewy.
Skill Level: Beginner

Sweet Spots

  • Nostalgia in Every Bite: These tea cakes hold a special place in the heart of Southern baking, reminiscent of grandmothers’ kitchens and childhood afternoons.
  • Easy Ingredients, Big Flavor: With just a few pantry staples, you’ll create a fantastic treat.
  • Versatile Sweet Treat: Perfect for tea time, dessert, or just because – these tea cakes are always a good idea.
  • Easy to Make: A beginner-friendly recipe!
  • Simple Pleasures: Tea cakes do not have overly elaborate or complicated flavors which gives them a wide appeal to groups!
Overhead of Tea Cakes scattered on light gray background

The funny thing is that both sides reside in Mississippi though in different regions.  You would actually think they lived states or even worlds apart based on the differences between their upbringings.  I find it interesting how a short distance can completely alter what is acceptable food ingredient protocol in traditional southern baking.

Regardless of which southern tea cakes recipe one prefers, no one in the South can deny the crucial role tea cakes play in their heritage.  They are almost part of a religious experience.  My parents both describe in great detail the remembrances of southern tea cake cookies prepared by their mothers, grandmothers, and even great-grandmothers for special occasions or just regular days.  But what makes a Southern tea cake so darn special?

What are Tea Cakes?

Southern Tea Cakes have an incredibly powerful and colorful history within the African American community and may have been a slaves’ version of the English tea cake. With few supplies, enslaved Africans took what was available and made their version.

Tea cakes became a comfort food and then a special treat during the holidays. With many families migrating North at the end of slavery, many foods of the Southern slaves were left behind. Families wanted to begin new traditions and leave behind reminders of oppression. Fortunately, the Southern Tea Cakes recipe was a tradition that continued through the years.

These look like simple butter cookies (which is why they are sometimes called tea cake cookies) but they have a bit more of a cake consistency. To me, they are just plain fabulous.  They are the best of both worlds.  I’m so glad this recipe was preserved by my ancestors. 

Ingredients to Make Southern Tea Cakes

  • Unsalted Butter: Room temperature realness right here. This is the base of our fluff and flavor. Remember, we’re keeping it unsalted to control the salty vibes.
  • Granulated Sugar: Sweet, sweet granulated glory! This is what gives our tea cakes their irresistible charm and that perfect sweet touch.
  • Large Egg: Bringing it all together! Make sure it’s chillin’ at room temp for the smoothest blend.
  • Pure Vanilla Extract: A splash of the good stuff! Vanilla is like the hype man of flavors, elevating everything it touches.
  • All-Purpose Flour: The foundation of our tea cake empire. It’s giving structure, it’s giving softness, it’s giving us everything we need.
  • Salt: Just a pinch! We’re talking balance, we’re talking a little zing. It’s like the secret handshake of baking.
  • Baking Soda: Our lift and fluff agent in the house! This is what gives our tea cakes that perfect little rise.

Be sure to check the full list of ingredients along with the quantities of each in the recipe card.

Ingredients on the table to make southern tea cakes before mixing them up.

How to Make Tea Cakes

  1. Dry Mix: Whisk together flour, salt, and baking soda, setting your dry base.
  2. Cream it Up: In your mixer, beat together butter and sugar until fluffy (about 4-5 minutes).
  3. Mix It Together: Add in the egg and vanilla and keep mixing until it’s smooth.
  4. Combine: Slowly incorporate the dry ingredients.
  5. Mixing: Mix after each addition only until just combined.
  6. Chill: Cover the bowl or place the dough in a ziploc bag and refrigerate it for at least an hour.
Collage of images showing the process of mixing the cookie dough for making southern tea cakes.

Step 2: Bake the Tea Cakes

  1. Scoop the Cookies: Scoop tablespoon-sized balls of dough.
  2. Shape the Cookies: Smooth the balls, place them on a baking tray, and flatten each one slightly.
  3. Bake In Oven: Bake the cookies for 9-11 minutes or until the edges are golden.
  4. Cool: Once the cookies cool, they’re ready to enjoy!
Collage showing scooping and baking the tea cake cookies.

Tips for Making the Best Tea Cakes

  • Mix Dry Ingredients Separately: By doing this upfront you can fully incorporate these well-mixed ingredients right into your dough without overmixing.
  • Refrigerate the Dough: The dough for tea cakes is a bit thick which makes it a little harder to work with since it isn’t as pliable.  However, it still needs to go into the refrigerator to firm up more so don’t skip it!  About an hour is necessary.
  • Use Your Hands: The warmth of your hands to shape each tablespoon of dough makes it much more workable and pliable making it easier to flatten down.
  • Tender Cookies: Make sure you don’t overmix the dough or overbake your cookies which may alter their soft texture.
  • Cool on the Pan: The cookies will be soft when you first remove the tray from the oven. I find it helpful to let them cool slightly on the pan which firms them up slightly making them easier to move.

Substitutions & Additions

  • Use Molasses: My dad’s family made tea cakes with molasses, so I know you can easily replace a lot of the granulated sugar in this recipe if you want to add the molasses flavor to your cookies.  It will also darken the cookie mixture.
  • Gluten-Free: Swap the regular flour for your favorite one-to-one flour blend. It may slightly alter the texture.
  • Salted Butter: You will lose a bit of control over the amount of salt, but you can bake with salted butter. I suggest leaving out the additional salt or giving the dough a taste to see if it needs any additional salt before baking.
  • Vanilla Bean Paste: For a more natural flavor, vanilla bean paste makes a simple addition to your cookies. You will use an equal amount of either one.
Extreme Close Up of bitten Tea Cake on top of tea cakes

What to Serve with Tea Cakes

How to Store Tea Cakes

To keep your Southern Tea Cakes tasting just as amazing as the day they were baked, store them in an airtight container at room temperature.

How long will tea cakes last?

When stored properly, they’ll stay fresh for up to a week. Keep them away from direct sunlight and some place cool such as the pantry or cabinet.

Can I freeze tea cake cookies?

Yep, you know it! If you want to preserve their delightful texture for a bit longer, you can also freeze the tea cakes; just make sure they’re tightly wrapped and they’ll be good for up to three months.

A stack of Tea Cake recipe with bitten cookie on top

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know when tea cakes are ready?

Use the time in the recipe as a guideline — ovens often cook differently. Most important look for a change in color around the edges of the cookies. When the edges start to look slightly golden they’re ready to come out of the oven.

Why are my cookies browning too quickly on the bottom?

The likely cause is an uneven oven temperature or the pan may be too close to the oven’s heating element which can cause burning or excessive browning. To prevent this issue check your oven temperature with an oven thermometer to ensure accurate temperatures and place the oven rack closer to the center of the oven.

What’s the best way to make sure the cookies are all the same size?

Use a cookie scoop if possible! It’s such a great investment because not only does it create even-sized cookies but it also makes the process a bit easier. If you don’t have one a tablespoon measure makes a good substitute.

Overhead of Southern Tea Cake Recipe in a tin against light gray background with butter in small bowl

Boos, baking these Southern Tea Cake Cookies is way more than just whipping up some sweet treats – it’s like crafting a whole vibe of tradition, flavor, and that cozy warmth. Get ready to dive into the joy of a cookie that’s soft, buttery, and just oozes with all that generous, sweet Southern comfort. Trust me, you’re about to be swept off your feet – disappointment doesn’t stand a chance here!

Close up of bitten into Southern Tea Cake on top of several cookies in tin

Southern Tea Cakes Recipe

The best (and easiest) Southern Tea Cakes Recipe (or tea cake cookies recipe) is here! You will feel like you are right in the South after making and serving these, not to mention eating them.
4.12 from 240 votes
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Course: Snack
Servings: 12 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 stick unsalted butter room temperature
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Instructions

  • In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda and set aside.
  • In the bowl of your mixer, add butter and sugar and mix together on high speed until fluffy and smooth (about 4-5 minutes).
  • Turn mixer to medium speed and add in one egg and vanilla extract and beat until well incorporated.
  • Lastly, turn mixer to slow speed and add in flour mixture in intervals of three beating after each addition to incorporate.
  • After dough is well mixed, turn off mixer and remove dough from mixer and add to a ziploc bag and place in your refrigerator for at least one hour to firm up dough.
  • Once dough is firm, remove from fridge and preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
  • Line your cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  • Taking a measuring tablespoon, scoop out cookie dough the size of the tablespoon and roll into a ball. Using your thumb, gently press the center to flatten a bit and place on the tray.
  • Do the same for the rest of the dough leaving at least an 1 1/2 inches between each dough ball.
  • Bake for 9-11 minutes until golden brown on the edges and remove from the oven.
  • Cool for 5-10 minutes and serve.

Notes

Remember to make sure your ingredients are room temperature.   They will incorporate much better and create a wonderful well mixed dough.
To keep your Southern Tea Cakes tasting just as amazing as the day they were baked, store them in an airtight container at room temperature; they’ll stay fresh for up to a week.
If you want to preserve their delightful texture for a bit longer, you can also freeze the tea cakes; just make sure they’re tightly wrapped and they’ll be good for up to three months.

Nutrition

Calories: 180kcal | Carbohydrates: 24g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 8g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Cholesterol: 35mg | Sodium: 78mg | Potassium: 22mg | Sugar: 12g | Vitamin A: 260IU | Calcium: 7mg | Iron: 0.8mg
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Filed Under:  Cookies, Dessert and Baking, Oven

Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your traditional recipe. I’ve also been raised eating tea cakes. From Baytown, Tx to New Orleans, La. Grandma’s on both sides of my family baked tea cakes.

  2. I made these cookies and they were amazing! My husband said they were like the ones his mother made. My family love them. 1 batch only lasted 1 day . I’m making a double batch now.

  3. I love these cookies. They aren’t hard to make and they are very tasty. I like them plain but they are very versatile. You can put your own spin on them by using different spices and flavourings. I’ll be making them again.

    1. Almond flavoring is awesome too.
      I split the recipe and put just vanilla in one half the other half I stick a little vanilla and pure almond.
      Great. I make both flavors because some like vanilla and some almond flavor.
      Some like both..

  4. I had to post though I’m never the type to post a comment because these are My Grandmas cookies from her grave. This recipe Is pretty much my child hood and grandma wrapped all in one cookie jar! My grandmother Mae recently passed a year ago, I have done 3 random recipes from the internet including this one. This was the closest and same tea cake similarities to my tastebuds. They are chewy in the center, with a slight crunch on the edges. These cookies will stay chewy even days later just sitting uncovered on a cookie display. Two things I stay away from recipes for tea cakes that call for baking powder, because it makes the cookie more puffed and cake like this recipe doesn’t require any baking powder so I felt quite confident and I’m glad I gave it a try. Second the only thing my grandma and I do differently god rest her soul, is we add 1/4 teaspoon of Ground Mace Seasoning much better than just traditional nutmeg. Very hard to find but look on the seasoning aisle at your local Walmart you will be glad to add that 1/4 teaspoon of Mace while doing everything exactly as the recipe is stated here. Thank You so Much My Grandma Is Shouting From Heaven!

  5. This recipe is the easiest and the most delicious way of making my grandma’s tea cake cookies I’ve tried other recipes but they were not delicious as this one. Thank you very much for sharing this recipe.

  6. Im a 51 year old man, the baby child of nine…. one of my favorite memories growing up was for some reason, I really enjoyed cooking at an early age. I think I liked how good food makes people happy, and I liked the reaction of others when I made something good, so I started cooking on the regular from about maybe four years old or so. I learned how to make these tea cookies at a really young age…, and my brothers and sisters would go crazy over them. I didn’t measure, I just knew how I wanted them to taste and I mostly eyeballed my recipes. I would get recipes out of cook books and try them etc and then make them my own…Whether at 2pm or 2am…, someone was always asking me to make these cookies for them..,and I must admit … my tea cookies looked and tasted better than this recipe … I would make them with different flavored extracts as well the normal vanilla, I also used almond, lemon, orange extracts etc… I always made the cookies to absolute perfection!

4.12 from 240 votes (180 ratings without comment)

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