These Southern Tea Cakes are more like a cookie than a classic cake. They date back to Colonial days, and are a buttery soft delight that can be enjoyed year-round.
Southern Tea Cakes Recipe
Southern tea cakes have many faces. It often depends on each family's tradition, and how they passed down recipes and baking techniques. The ingredients needed are simple pantry items and it's essentially how they were born. When unique ingredients weren't readily available, bakers used what they had on hand to create desserts and tea time treats. While traditionally they were likely enjoyed with hot tea, a glass of Southern iced tea works, too. This recipe is how my Grandma taught me to make them.
Helpful Tips for Making Tea Cakes
While the ingredients are simple, these tea cakes are delightful to make and eat.
- Please note, tea cakes don't have as much rise as you would expect with a classic cake. It's just the nature of them. I have seen recipes using various amounts of leavening, and even some who finish them with a glaze. The differences are likely due to how they were taught to make them. I'm an equal lover of all Southern tea cakes in any form.
- You can replace ½ cup butter with ½ cup butter flavored shortening for less spread while baking. Using all butter makes it a little more difficult for the cookies to keep their shape.
- You can also shape these cookies into balls, slightly flattening on the baking sheet, for a different style.
- It's important to keep the dough chilled. If baking in batches, place cut cookies into the fridge, to keep chilled until baking.
- You can cut these cookies into any shape you like. In fact, my Mom has memories of her Mother baking in one large piece and cutting or breaking it apart to serve. I also do a form of this, and cut into shapes after baking.
- Depending on the size of the cutter used, yield may vary.
- There's just enough almond flavoring in the dough to enhance, not overpower. If you prefer, it can be omitted or replaced with additional vanilla.
- You can also shape the dough into logs and thoroughly chill until firm. When you're ready to bake them, place into the freezer for about 10 minutes, then slice and bake.
- Keep it simple. These sweet treats are meant to be baked and enjoyed.
Other Southern Desserts to Enjoy
We unapologetically love our decadent sweets in the South. We have many iconic choices to choose from:
- Million Dollar Pound Cake
- Pecan Pie
- Red Velvet Cake
- Old Fashioned Banana Pudding
- Chess Pie recipe from My Recipes
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Helpful Kitchen Items:
Southern Tea Cakes
- 3 ¼ cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon cream of tarter
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 cup salted butter softened
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract OR 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- ¼ teaspoon pure almond extract
- powdered sugar for dusting
- In a small mixing bowl, use a whisk to sift together flour, baking soda, cream of tarter, salt and nutmeg. Set aside.
- Using an electric mixer, cream together butter, granulated sugar, vanilla and almond extract on medium-high speed. Beat for 2 minutes.
- Lower the speed of the mixer adding the eggs one at a time. Beat well after each addition. Scrape the sides of the bowl.
- Gradually add the sifted dry ingredients. Once all are added, beat just until fully combined. The dough will be sticky.
- Divide in half, shaping into discs. Wrap in plastic wrap. Chill for several hours, or overnight, until firm.
- To bake: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment.
- To cut into shapes before baking: On a floured non stick surface, using a floured rolling pin, roll chilled dough into ¼-inch thickness. Cut with a round 2 cookie cutter. Place on pan 2 inches apart. Re-roll scraps and repeat. To cut into shapes after baking: Skip rolling and press onto a greased pan and cut into shapes AFTER baking.
- Bake for about 12-14 minutes. These cakes are typically pale in color and may be only very lightly golden. Cool on pan for 5 minutes, then remove to cooling rack to cool completely. Once cooled, dust with powdered sugar.
- Store at room temperature in an airtight container.
- To achieve a thicker cookie, replace ½ cup butter with ½ cup butter flavored shortening.
- It's important to keep this dough chilled. If baking in batches, place cut cookies into the fridge to keep chilled until baking.
- You can also shape the dough into logs and thoroughly chill. Place into the freezer for about 10 minutes, then slice and bake.
- Bake in one large piece and cut into shapes after baking.
I’ve never cut cookies out after baking, but I want to try it! Does baking time change if you’re, essentially, baking a huge cookie? Also, how long after taking it out of the oven do you cut the shapes? Thank you.
It's a fun way to do it! When I do, I try to use a cutter that leaves as little waste as possible. Then again, those little pieces do belong to the baker to eat. You do need to let it cool a bit so that the cookie will hold together. I would say 5 minutes on the pan then lift the parchment and remove to a solid surface. They can still be cut into shapes while warm just don't handle them just gently spread them out and away from one another and let them cool. Surprisingly bake time is very similar, just watch the center that it's puffed and looks done. Insert a toothpick, if needed to test.
These were delicious! Having eggs in them makes them puff, so the cut out shapes didn't work at all. But after we removed from the oven, THEN we cut the with our cutters, while still soft and the shapes were perfect. We frosted some and sprinkled others for a little girls tea party.
Perfect for a tea party!