Jocelyn Delk Adams’ Lemon Tea Cakes

updated Jan 21, 2021
Lemon Tea Cakes

Thes simple butter cookies are uniquely Southern and made bold and bright thanks to lots of fresh lemon zest and juice.

Makes12 to 20

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Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

This recipe is part of our Quarantine Cookies package, featuring 16 of our favorite bakers and their best cookie for 2020. Check out all the amazing cookies here, and sign up here to receive one cookie recipe per day, for 20 days, straight to your inbox.

Lemon tea cakes were my grandmother’s favorite cookie to make. They’re uniquely Southern and filled with simple ingredients that really wow when combined. She made them for everything from church social functions to just holiday gatherings with family. The beauty of this recipe is in how easy and adaptable it is — and that’s what makes it so special for 2020.

After a year like 2020, I think we could all use some ease and adaptability. This year, so many of us have gotten back into the kitchen, learned new skills, or just decided that quality time with family was more important than we ever gave it credit for. With such busy lives before quarantine happened, we adapted to a new normal.  

This lemon tea cake is a wonderfully pure recipe that can truly be whatever you need it to be. It can be baked as a drop cookie or rolled out and decorated for the holidays if you want to jazz it up. I personally make it my grandmother’s way: a simple drop. It remains perfectly chewy yet cakey, buttery, and simply delicious. The texture of the tea cake is simply hard to describe — it’s almost like a sugar cookie, or even a cookie-biscuit combination. They are rich, subtly sweet, and soft. Their bottoms are light golden-brown and barely crisp, while the edges are slightly tender. 

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

If you want to dress up my recipe, feel free to add cinnamon, nutmeg, or even another citrus zest like lime or orange. But before you do, I recommend trying the recipe in its traditional form. Then you can build it up just the way you’d like!

As you begin mixing up the dough, you’ll notice it’s a bit thick, which can make it harder to work with since it isn’t as pliable. However, it still needs to go into the refrigerator to firm up further (about an hour is necessary). Once you begin baking the tea cakes, you’ll only need to use the warmth of your hands to take just about a tablespoon of dough and flatten it some. It will become much more workable and pliable.

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Tester’s Note

These are lovely sugar cookies with a slightly crunchy outside and soft inside, aka the perfect texture. For a stronger lemon flavor, add 1 to 2 teaspoons more of lemon juice. And don’t worry if you need to bake the cookies for a few minutes longer than the recipe calls for — the key is to look for that golden-brown hue on the edges. — Carey Polis, Interim Executive Editor

Lemon Tea Cakes

Thes simple butter cookies are uniquely Southern and made bold and bright thanks to lots of fresh lemon zest and juice.

Makes 12 to 20

Nutritional Info


  • 8 tablespoons

    (1 stick) unsalted butter

  • 1

    large egg

  • 1

    medium lemon

  • 1 1/2 cups

    all-purpose flour

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    baking soda

  • 3/4 cup

    granulated sugar

  • 1 teaspoon

    vanilla extract


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. Cover and bowl and refrigerate at least 1 or up to 3 hours to firm up the dough.

  5. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 325ºF. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

Recipe Notes

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