Southern Tea Cakes

published Aug 26, 2022
Tea Cakes Recipe

These soft, buttery cookies are a simple Southern classic.


Prep15 minutes to 17 minutes

Cook20 minutes to 24 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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Tea cakes on purple cloth
Credit: Photo: Kelly Marshall | Food Stylist: Greg Lofts

It’s sad to think about, but tea cakes are a dessert that I may have missed out on entirely if I hadn’t grown up in Dallas. In fact, I can’t recall ever meeting someone who wasn’t from the South who knew what tea cakes were — what a shame! To me, these soft, buttery, cake-like cookies are like a warm hug. For all of you sweet-but-not-too-sweet dessert-lovers out there, I’m telling you that tea cakes are your calling. They are the perfect bite when you want something to satisfy a sugar craving but don’t want the sugar rush (or the subsequent sugar crash).

There’s nothing extravagant or over-the-top about tea cakes, and they are perhaps the most unassuming-looking cookies that you’ll ever come across. But their simplicity is what makes them special. Not only are they one of those rare desserts that require ingredients you probably already have at home, they also could not be easier to make.

Families across the South have endless variations of tea cake recipes. (Jocelyn Delk Adams’ Lemon Tea Cakes are amazing.) This recipe is very simple, which means it’s an excellent canvas to add your own flair to.

Why Are They Called Tea Cakes?

Although tea cakes are an important part of Southern culture for people of all colors and creeds, many believe that tea cakes were originally made by enslaved Africans on Southern plantations. Those who worked in the big kitchens were privy to the lavish variety of desserts that the plantation owners enjoyed, although they were prohibited from partaking themselves.

Instead, they used what ingredients they had available to them — butter, sugar, eggs, and flour — to create something new. Tea cakes were created as an attempt to replicate the English loaf cakes that were most commonly referred to as teacakes — hence the name. I wonder if they knew it would go on to become one of the South’s staple sweet treats.

Tea Cakes Recipe

These soft, buttery cookies are a simple Southern classic.

Prep time 15 minutes to 17 minutes

Cook time 20 minutes to 24 minutes

Makes 12

Nutritional Info


  • 1 stick (4 ounces)

    unsalted butter

  • 1

    large egg

  • 1 1/3 cup

    all-purpose flour

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    baking soda

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 2/3 cup

    granulated sugar

  • 1 tablespoon

    vanilla extract


  1. Place 1 stick unsalted butter in a stand mixer (or large bowl if using an electric hand mixer). Place 1 large egg on the counter. Let them sit at room temperature until the butter is softened, at least 1 hour.

  2. Place 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt in a medium bowl and whisk to combine.

  3. Add 2/3 cup granulated sugar to the bowl of butter. Beat on medium speed with the paddle attachment until fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the paddle and sides of the bowl. Beat in the egg. Stop and scrape down the bowl again. Beat in 1 tablespoon vanilla extract.

  4. With the mixer on the lowest speed, beat in 1/3 of the flour mixture at a time until just combined. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours.

  5. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350ºF. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Scoop out the dough with a 1 1/2-inch cookie scoop or into 12 (about 2 rounded tablespoon) portions, and roll into balls. Place the dough balls at least 3 inches apart spaced evenly on the prepared baking sheets. Bake one sheet at a time until the cookies have browned slightly around the edges and are firmly set in the middle, 10 to 12 minutes. Keep the second batch of dough refrigerated until ready to bake. Let cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes.

Recipe Notes

Make Ahead: The dough can be made the day before and refrigerated overnight.