Old-Fashioned Southern Tea Cakes Recipe


Holle is a retired English teacher. She loves to cook and share recipes with others.

Try my Tea Cake Recipe!

Try my Tea Cake Recipe!

Southern Food

I just took a batch of tea cakes out of the oven. Two of the grandsons are here with me, and they could hardly wait for the delicious morsels to get cool enough to eat. It’s all I could do to keep them from devouring the two dozen tea cakes I made. Poor hubby is at work today, and I had to save a few for him. After all, like the rest of my family, he’s a big fan of Southern food. If you’ve been reading my recipes, you know that Southern recipes are near and dear to me. Oh, I cook and eat all sorts of cuisines, but Southern dishes will always be my favorite. Of course, I grew up on Southern food, but even if I hadn’t, I’m sure I would have discovered it sooner or later. And lately, I’ve been making some old-fashioned Southern recipes and sharing them with the grandkids. I want them to experience different foods from their family history. As I’m compiling the cookbook I’m writing, I’ve been rediscovering lots of heirloom recipes that I’d all but forgotten. Tea cakes are one of them.

I like my tea cakes to have brown bottoms.

I like my tea cakes to have brown bottoms.

Tea Cakes

If you’re not a Southerner, you might not be familiar with tea cakes. I grew up on them. At my grandmother’s house, we had them while lots of other kids were munching on Oreos or chocolate chip cookies. What are tea cakes, exactly? They’re sort of a cross between a small cake and a cookie. They’re very soft and light, while the outer edges are crisp. The sweetness level ranges from cook to cook. Granny’s weren’t quite as sweet as mine are, but some cooks make super-sweet versions that contain more sugar than I use. I guess mine are sort of a “middle of the road” version.

In my opinion, a good tea cake has a nicely browned bottom and browned edges, but most of the top part of the cakes should be very light colored. How do I achieve this? I get these results from using a dark metal baking pan—my trusty old biscuit pan! It’s also important to bake at the right temperature and for the right amount of time. I’ve found that 350 degrees is perfect for my recipe, and that 13 minutes is just the right amount of baking time.

We like our tea cakes while they’re still warm from the oven, with coffee, hot tea, or a glass of cold milk. If you want to get fancy, you can ice or frost your tea cakes or sprinkle them with colored sugar. If you decide to do that, you might want to cut down on the amount of sugar you use in the recipe.

My grandmother grew up in this house, in Charleston.

My grandmother grew up in this house, in Charleston.

Old Fashioned Recipe

This is an old fashioned recipe. In fact, I searched all my cookbooks and was unable to find a single tea cake recipe. I tried some online recipes, but they didn’t turn out exactly as I wanted mine to, so I had to do some experimenting. Some of the recipes I tried made hard cakes that were like brittle cookies. Some were so soft that they were more like biscuits than tea cakes. I think, however, after trial and error, I finally hit upon the right ratio of all the ingredients.

My grandmother made these all the time. She was a genteel Southern lady from Charleston, South Carolina. Of course, her upbringing had a huge influence on her cooking, and tea cakes were among her specialties. She always used nutmeg in hers, but since I’m not a big fan of nutmeg, I prefer to use ground cinnamon instead.

It seems to me that making tea cakes is a lost art. I have lots of friends who are excellent cooks, with southern cooks among them, but I don’t know of anyone outside my family who still makes homemade tea cakes. I suppose it’s a lot easier to buy cookies and snack cakes from a supermarket, but the taste is nowhere near the same. Not to mention the wonderful aroma that drifts through the house when I bake. You certainly can’t buy that in a store!

Tea Cake Recipe

Remember to use a dark metal pan for the best tea cakes results. Place your oven rack in the top third of your oven. Don’t put in the tea cakes until the oven has been properly preheated. Also, use real butter—not margarine. Feel free to adjust the amount of sugar to suit your own taste.

Rate my recipe. Thanks!

Cook Time

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

5 min

13 min

18 min

makes 2 dozen tea cakes


  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour, plus more for kneading
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg OR cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a baking pan or cookie sheet.
  2. Cream sugar and butter together until fluffy. Add an egg and beat well. Add the other egg and beat again. Stir in the vanilla flavoring.
  3. Whisk together flour, nutmeg or cinnamon, and salt. Add to butter mixture until a moist dough forms.
  4. Turn dough onto a floured surface. Sprinkle more flour on top of the dough. Knead dough three or four times. If the dough is still too sticky, add just enough flour to make it stiff enough to handle.
  5. Roll out dough with a rolling pin, or pat it out with your palms. The dough should be about 1/3-inch thick. Flour a two-inch round cutter and cut out circles. Place tea cakes on prepared pan, about ½ -1 inch apart.
  6. Bake for 13 minutes and remove from the oven. After cooling for about one minute, the cakes can be transferred to a plate or platter. Use a spatula to move the cookies. You can frost the cakes once they cool, but they’re great just as they are. Try them with a cup of hot coffee or spiced tea. Pour the kids a big glass of milk to go with their tea cakes.

Questions & Answers

Question: My tea cake dough is way too sticky; what did I do wrong?

Answer: You probably need to add just a little flour.


Destiny on January 13, 2020:


mscampbell2000@gmail.com on May 18, 2019:

Tea cakes we're my favorite..my daughter use to make them after school.. my daughters best friend in high school made them for us one day and for a good six months we ate tea cakes almost everyday..now .and I make them for my grandkids and have just taught my granddaughter, 13,bhow to make them. .yum yum

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on July 27, 2013:

Great to hear, Deb! My new cookbook should be released soon, also. We're doing okay.

Elder DeBorrah K Ogans on July 26, 2013:

Habee, Just wonderful! Luv your recipe for the Tea Cakes! I am in the process of releasing my new book! Check it out when you can! How are You?

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on July 26, 2013:

Deb, it's great to see you! How have you been?

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on July 26, 2013:

Silva, I'm so glad you enjoyed the tea cakes!

Elder DeBorrah K Ogans on July 26, 2013:

Habee, Marvelous! I grew up with my Mother making Tea Cakes. They are great! Thank you for reminding me! Peace & Blessings!

Silva Hayes from Spicewood, Texas on June 23, 2013:

They just came out of the oven. So delicious! (I didn't have self-rising flour on hand, so I used regular flour and a half-teaspoon baking powder and they are perfect -- not too sweet.)

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on June 12, 2013:

carter, thanks for that. The tea cakes really are pretty simple to make, and they're yummy!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on June 12, 2013:

easylearning, thanks for stopping by!

Mary from Cronulla NSW on June 11, 2013:

These look great habee and deliciously simple..thanks for sharing the recipe..cheers

Amelia Griggs from U.S. on June 09, 2013:

Sounds good, Habee, best wishes!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on June 09, 2013:

Thanks, easy! Actually, I am working on a cookbook!

Amelia Griggs from U.S. on June 09, 2013:

Hi Habee,

Your teacakes look very interesting and delicious. The closest thing that I have ever seen and eaten growing up is tea biscuits. My mother used to slice them sideways and we would put them in the toaster and eat them with butter for breakfast.

Thanks for sharing your recipe. You should write a cookbook!



Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on June 08, 2013:

Many thanks, Cook Book!

Dil Vil from India on June 08, 2013:

Hey habee, good hub and well written.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on June 07, 2013:

Wow, Sis, those were some BIG tea cakes! Granny's were a little larger than mine, but we prefer the smaller ones. Good to see you!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on June 07, 2013:

Thanks, random! I'm really surprised more folks don't make tea cakes.

Angela Blair from Central Texas on June 07, 2013:

Wow -- like you, I didn't think anyone else in the world made tea cakes --- my Granny did and her recipe came down through a gadzillion good Greer cooks before it got to her. She made the thin, very crispy kind with the browned edges. Her big difference was she cut them with the lid of the old one pound coffee can (doubt there'll be many among us who remember those) and they made humongous cookies. I still make them for my brother and when I do he guards them like they're pure gold! Wonderful Hub, my dear! Best/Sis

Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on June 07, 2013:

How awesome to re-create such a classic recipe! Thanks!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on June 07, 2013:

Toni, good to hear someone else is keeping the tea cakes tradition alive! lol

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on June 07, 2013:

Hendrika, I think it's 113.5 grams.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on June 07, 2013:

Thanks a bunch, Ceres!

Tonette Fornillos from The City of Generals on June 07, 2013:

Tea cakes, very nice! These are some of the most special treats I grew up with. I have cousins making old-fashioned tea cakes until now which I/we enjoy very much. I just loved them!

I am bookmarking this Habee. I'll find time make them myself. From the sound, looks and feel of it -- they're a MUST-try. :=)Thank you for this. Blessings! -Tonette

Hendrika from Pretoria, South Africa on June 07, 2013:

WOW, they do sound delicious, does anyone know how much a stick of butter is in grams?

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on June 07, 2013:

Doc, that seems to be the part that everyone likes the most. Hope you have a great Friday!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on June 07, 2013:

So true, Kalmiya. In most cultures, the preparing and sharing of foods is important. Thanks!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on June 07, 2013:

Habee, if I lived near you, I would have invited myself. Lucky grandsons! Your cooking always look so good. Thanks for the recipe. Voted Up!

Ceres Schwarz on June 07, 2013:

This looks like a good recipe for tea cakes. The image of the tea cakes looks really delicious and tasty. Now I want to try some. Your many other images were also very helpful in showing how to make this recipe.

drbj and sherry from south Florida on June 06, 2013:

The crunchy, browned part of the tea cake is the part I enjoy the most, Holle. Thanks for the recipe.

Kalmiya from North America on June 06, 2013:

It's interesting how our family traditions shape the things we love to eat! Thanks for your hub on southern traditions and yummies :)

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on June 06, 2013:

Yep, Johnny speaks fondly of your mom's liver. Wait...that didn't sound right! lol

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on June 06, 2013:

I'm quite sure she would proud to fry some yard bird with you, Hollie. Her fried chicken is something wonderful. I think Johnny likes her smother fried beef liver and turnip greens. I'm hungry now just thinking about it.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on June 06, 2013:

Marlene, I sooooo agree! The crisp edges paired with the soft cake...yum!!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on June 06, 2013:

lol, RD. I'm not at all surprised that a great old southern cook like your mom has a tea cake recipe - I've just never heard you mention them. I honestly can't think of anyone else I personally know (other than my family members and your mom) who still makes tea cakes.

I made a batch this morning, and I think there's one left. I had two, and Johnny and the two Crow boys devoured the rest!

BTW, think your Mom will let me fry chicken with her one day? I've heard hers is awesome!!

Marlene Bertrand from USA on June 06, 2013:

A friend treated me to tea one day and the tea house served tea cakes. I looked around to see if I was actually in heaven. The crunchy edges is what takes them over the top. Thank you for your fabulous recipe.

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on June 06, 2013:

Gir! You didn't think my Mom had a recipe for tea cakes? Whatchoo thankin' bout, Willis? lol! She uses an old recipe handed down from my great-grandmother on Dad's side of the family. I think the original recipe called for cane syrup as it was used as a sugar substitute because cane syrup was always in abundance on the farm.

Mom just made a batch a week or so ago, but sadly, they didn't last long. I can almost smell the aroma of hot tea cakes now. :)

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on June 06, 2013:

BB, you weren't reared in the South, were you? If not, I'm not at all surprised you're not familiar with tea cakes. They're big southern secrets! LOL

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on June 06, 2013:

Well, Silva, you must have been reared in the South! lol

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on June 06, 2013:

Thanks, Firdousia!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 06, 2013:

Okay, I feel a little foolish because I have never heard of these. Thanks for the food education. We just might try these.

Silva Hayes from Spicewood, Texas on June 06, 2013:

I love that house your grandmother grew up in. I too was raised on tea cakes, soft in the middle, crispy on the edges, not too sweet. No nutmeg, just a breath of cinnamon. Voted Up and Interesting.

Firdousia Sudheer from Dammam, Saudi Arabia on June 06, 2013:

voted up...interesting

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