Recipes » Dessert Recipes » Old Fashioned Southern Tea Cakes

Old Fashioned Southern Tea Cakes

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Old Fashioned Southern Tea Cakes is a classic, vintage recipe. A cross between a cookie and cake, not too sweet, and utterly delicious.
4.8 from 94 votes
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Old Fashioned Southern Tea Cakes on a white serving plate.

Old Fashioned Southern Tea Cakes is a classic, vintage recipe. It’s a bit of a cross between a cookie and cake, not too sweet, and utterly delicious. Tea cakes are the perfect ending to any meal or a great mid-afternoon snack with coffee, tea, or milk.

Everything that I know of childhood comes from one tiny, rural town in Southwest Georgia. When I think back on it now, it seems almost like a fairytale. It was a place where children could roam around the neighborhood playing all day or ride their bikes “uptown” without a second thought.

Old Fashioned Southern Tea Cakes on a white serving plate.

There were very few worries there. People never locked their car doors and rarely locked their homes. It really was like growing up in the fictitious town of Mayberry. Or maybe I’m just remembering it through a child’s eye.

I can’t say why, but there are simply certain smells and tastes that bring childhood back vividly to mind. I seem to have so many memories that are inextricably associated with certain old southern comfort food recipes.

These old fashioned Southern Tea Cakes are one of those recipes. Anyone near my age who grew up close to where I did knows exactly what a tea cake is. It’s not a cake, but it’s not quite a cookie either. And it’s not overly sweet – just barely enough sugar to call it a dessert, actually.

They’re delicious with a cup of coffee or a glass of cold milk. And, if you grew up in southwest Georgia, you can take one bite of a teacake and in your mind, you’re five years old again.

I recently saw a comment questioning why anyone would make a particular recipe because it was “so 1965.” Maybe I see cooking a little differently from other people. For me, the preparation of good food is a way of showing love. And making those old recipes honors our ancestors.

Cooking is not always just a way to get food on the table so you can get on with something else. It’s about fellowship, too. A time to be together and enjoy each other’s company. And if you have an old family recipe like my Old Fashioned Southern Tea Cakes to enjoy, all the better.

🤔 What are Tea Cakes?


Old Fashioned Southern Tea Cakes are a slightly sweet cookie enjoyed throughout the southeast. Many southern families pass heirloom recipes for tea cakes from one generation to the next.

Their texture is soft and tender in the center with just a hint of a crispy exterior. The short list of ingredients results in a simple flavor profile of butter, sugar, and vanilla. I’ve known older cooks who used them as a substitute for vanilla wafers in banana pudding and as the base for cheesecake crusts.

Old Fashioned Southern Teacakes on a white serving plate.

💗 Why You’ll Love This Recipe


  • Cookies that taste like cake
  • Perfect texture
  • Not too sweet
  • Simple to make
  • Easily accessible ingredients

🥘 Ingredients You’ll Need


  • Butter
  • Sugar
  • Eggs
  • Buttermilk (here’s how to make a substitute if you don’t have it on hand)
  • Flour (plain, all-purpose)
  • Baking soda
  • Vanilla

There’s nothing at all fancy in this recipe because it originated in a time and place when people made do with the little they had on hand. Very smart and frugal folks!

You’ll find detailed measurements for all ingredients in the printable version of the recipe at the bottom of this post.

🔪 How to Make Old Fashioned Southern Tea Cakes


Mix the Dough

Photo collage showing the six steps of mixing the dough.

Using a hand or stand mixer, cream the butter until soft and pale yellow in color. Gradually add the sugar to the butter, beating well.

Next, add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add the buttermilk and beat well again.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour and soda.

Turn the mixer down to the slowest speed and gradually add the flour and soda mixture into the creamed mixture.

Add in the vanilla.

Shape and Chill the Dough

Finished dough shaped into a rectangle and wrapped in plastic wrap.

Shape the dough into a round or rectangle, cover with plastic wrap, and chill several hours or overnight.

Cut Out and Bake

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease two baking sheets.

Photo collage showing the process of rolling out and cutting the dough into rounds.

If you chill the dough overnight, remove it from the fridge about 15 minutes before rolling so that it very slightly softens.

Working with 1/4 to 1/3 of the dough at a time, roll the dough to a 1/4” thickness on a lightly floured surface.

Cut the dough into rounds using a large biscuit cutter or a drinking glass dipped into flour. Gather the scraps together, re-roll, and cut until all dough is used.

Place the rounds 1 inch apart on lightly greased baking sheets.

Sprinkle tops lightly with additional sugar.

Cooked tea cakes on a baking sheet.

Bake for 7-9 minutes or until the edges are very lightly browned. Remove the cookie sheets from the oven and allow the tea cakes to cool for several minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

Old Fashioned Southern Tea Cakes on a white serving plate.

💡 Recipe Tips


  • When rolling out the dough, it’s important that it’s at least 1/4″ thick to give the tea cakes a “cake-y” interior texture.
  • To make rolling the dough easier, you can use either waxed paper or parchment paper. Place one piece on your countertop, sprinkle it lightly with flour. Put a portion of the dough on the paper and sprinkle its top with flour as well. Add another piece of paper to the top (making a sandwich of the paper and dough) and roll out.
  • To prevent the tea cakes from spreading while baking, make sure the dough is still quite cold as you roll and cut it. Then put the tea cakes directly into the oven to bake. Keep any extra dough covered in the refrigerator until needed.

🔀 Variations and Options


  • You can vary your tea cakes by adding lemon zest, nutmeg, or cinnamon. But I’d suggest you try the classic recipe first to judge which additional flavors you might like best.
  • Other flavorings can be added to the dough. Try half almond and half vanilla flavoring or substitute rum flavoring.
  • Sprinkle the tops with cinnamon sugar while still warm.
  • To be really vintage and authentic, use half butter and half lard (or shortening) in your recipe. The lard will give the tea cakes an incredible texture.

❓ Questions About Tea Cakes


How do I store tea cakes?

Store tea cakes at room temperature in a covered container.

Do you have any serving suggestions?

Tea cakes are great with ice cream, mixed fresh fruit, or fruit jams and preserves.

How about a few ideas for dressing them up a bit?

Try dipping the tea cakes halfway in melted chocolate for a real treat!

🧾 More Southern Heritage Recipes


Have you tried this recipe? I’d really appreciate you giving it a star ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating in the recipe card or in the comments section.
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📖 Recipe

Old Fashioned Southern Tea Cakes on a white serving plate.

Old Fashioned Southern Tea Cakes

Old Fashioned Southern Tea Cakes is a classic, vintage recipe. A cross between a cookie and cake, not too sweet, and utterly delicious.
4.78 from 94 votes
Print It Rate It Save Text It
Course: Desserts
Cuisine: Southern, Vintage
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 30 servings
Calories: 189kcal
Author: Lana Stuart

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter softened (2 sticks)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons buttermilk
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Additional sugar for sprinkling

Instructions

  • Using a hand or stand mixer, cream the butter until soft and pale yellow in color.
  • Gradually add the sugar to the butter, beating well.
  • Next, add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  • Add the buttermilk and beat well again.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the flour and soda.
  • Turn the mixer down to the slowest speed and gradually add the flour and soda mixture into the creamed mixture.
  • Add in the vanilla.
  • Shape the dough into a round or rectangle, cover with plastic wrap, and chill several hours or overnight.
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease two cookie sheets.
  • If you chill your dough overnight, remove it from the fridge about 15 minutes before rolling.
  • Working with 1/4 to 1/3 of the dough at a time, roll dough to 1/4” thickness on a lightly floured surface.
  • Cut the dough into rounds using a large biscuit cutter or a drinking glass dipped into flour. Gather the scraps together, re-roll, and cut until all dough is used.
  • Place the rounds 1 inch apart on lightly greased cookie sheets.
  • Sprinkle lightly with additional sugar.
  • Bake for 7-9 minutes or until the edges are very lightly browned.
  • Remove the cookie sheets from the oven and allow tea cakes to cool for several minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

Notes

TIPS:
  • When rolling out the dough, it’s important that it’s at least ¼” thick to give the tea cakes a “cake-y” interior texture.
  • To make rolling the dough easier, use either waxed paper or parchment paper. Place one piece on your countertop, sprinkle it lightly with flour. Put a portion of the dough on the paper and sprinkle its top with flour as well. Add another piece of paper to the top (making a sandwich of the paper and dough) and roll out.
  • To prevent the tea cakes from spreading while baking, make sure the dough is still quite cold as you roll and cut it. Then put the tea cakes directly into the oven to bake. Keep any extra dough covered in the refrigerator until needed.
  • Store tea cakes at room temperature in a covered container.

Nutrition Information

Serving: 1 | Calories: 189kcal | Carbohydrates: 29g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 7g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 33mg | Sodium: 104mg | Potassium: 32mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 13g | Vitamin A: 215IU | Calcium: 9mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is calculated by software based on the ingredients in each recipe. It is an estimate only and is provided for informational purposes. You should consult your health care provider or a registered dietitian if precise nutrition calculations are needed for health reasons.

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— This post was originally published on March 1, 2011.

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111 Comments

  1. Made these yesterday and they were delicious! Big hit with the family. I sprinkled cinnamon and sugar on some of them. YUM!

  2. 5 stars
    Excellent! This is my first time to bake or eat tea cakes. They are for a tea party themed baby shower. I followed the recipe exactly as written. Ended up refrigerating the dough for 48 hrs, rolled and cut as instructed. The tea cakes turned out perfect in color, shape and taste. On the 3rd and 4th batch, I added a little sugar and then sugar/cinnamon before baking. Scrumptious! A few tips: roll dough to 1/4” as directed and don’t over bake. Any thinner and the cookies tend to over bake and become crispy throughout. Thanks for the recipe!

    1. 5 stars
      My 78 year old husband wanted me to make him some “tea cakes like Momma used to make”. Since I was the recipient of his Mom’s recipes, I went digging. I found it…BUT there was no mention of flour at all. So, I turned on my iPad and searched Old Fashioned Tea Cakes. When I got to yours, I knew immediately I had THE recipe. Other than the flour, they were exactly the same. I had worked in the kitchen with her enough that I knew the basic prep, but your comments were very helpful. Bottom line, I made two double batches. Amazing!!!! I made the mistake of sharing with his four siblings. So now I spend a lot of time making tea cakes and the next two generations are loving them also. Thank you!

      1. My pleasure, Betty! My original recipe was from my great-aunt and her instructions said “enough flour to make a stiff dough.” It took me a couple of tries to figure out the exact amount needed :-)