How to Make Old-Fashioned Tea Cakes

By Tricia Ballad

Start to Finish: 2 hours, plus cooling time Servings: 3 dozen cookies Difficulty: Intermediate

Baking Sugar Cookies
credit: Nicole S. Young/iStock/Getty Images
Tea cake recipes have been passed down through generations of home cooks.

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Tea cakes are a Southern staple, often served with lemonade or sweet tea as an afternoon treat. They resemble a soft sugar cookie that you can customize to suit your taste. This recipe is adapted from one printed in "Southern Living" magazine in December 1999. Leave out the vanilla and spices for a traditional tea cake, or include them for a spicier version.


  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom or cinnamon (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • Cinnamon sugar or royal icing to decorate (optional)

Make the Dough

Beat the butter in a stand mixer until light and fluffy. Add the sugar gradually, 1/3 of a cup at a time. Beat well after each addition. Scrape the bottom of the mixing bowl to ensure that all of the sugar has been incorporated into the butter.

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Add the vanilla, if you like.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, nutmeg, and cinnamon or cardamom if you like a hint of spiciness in your teacakes. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, alternating with the milk. Begin with half of the flour mixture, then the milk, then the remaining flour mixture. Beat well after each addition. Scrape the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl as needed to ensure that all of the ingredients are thoroughly combined.

Divide the dough in half, roll each half in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour. This allows the butter to harden and the dough to firm up.

Form and Bake the Cookies

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Spread a layer of parchment paper on your work surface and lightly flour it. Remove one half of the dough from the refrigerator and unwrap it. Place the dough on the floured parchment. Sprinkle the dough lightly with flour, then cover it with a second sheet of parchment paper.

Roll the dough between the parchment until it is 1/4-inch thick. Carefully peel back the top layer of parchment and set it aside. Lift the dough and lightly flour the work surface underneath. Flip the dough upside down onto the floured work surface and peel back the remaining parchment. Set the parchment aside.

Use a 2-inch round biscuit cutter to cut out the cookies. Bake them on a greased cookie sheet for eight minutes or until you see the edges just begin to brown.

Remove the cookies to a cooling rack and repeat with the other half of the dough.


Serve the cookies plain, dusted with cinnamon sugar or decorated with royal icing.