What is a Southern Tea Cake Anyway?

It’s not actually a cake.

If you’re thinking a tea cake is the South’s take on coffee cake—think again. Traditional Southern tea cakes are more akin to a cookie, but with a pared-down ingredient list that results in a simple flavor that lends itself to pairing with a cup of—you guessed it—tea.

The history of old fashioned tea cake cookies is a bit elusive, but it most likely originated in the rural South where rations were meager and pantries were rarely stocked with more than the basics—if that. Don’t be surprised if you find these cookies to be a tad on the bland side. They’re not meant to be as flavorful as the decadent and highly flavored cookies we’re accustom to. If you want to dress up our recipe, feel free to add cinnamon, nutmeg, or even lemon zest; but, before you do, we recommend trying the recipe in its most traditional form as outlined below.

Here’s how to make our recipe for Tea Cakes:

Start with a cup of softened butter and, while beating at medium speed with an electric mixer, gradually add two cups sugar. Once it’s combined, add three large eggs one at a time. Stir in a teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl: three and a half cups all-purpose flour, one teaspoon baking soda, and a half teaspoon salt.

Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture—beating at low speed just until combined after each addition. Divide the dough in half, wrapping with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for an hour.

After it has chilled, roll half of the dough out on a floured surface. Use a cookie cutter to cut each of the cookies before placing on a parchment paper-line baking sheet.

Bake at 350 degrees until the edges have started to brown—around 10 to 12 minutes. Repeat with the remaining dough.

WATCH: How To Make Classic Sweet Tea

Soft tea cake cookies are the ideal accompaniment for a cup of tea or coffee. For even more tea-time nibbles, check out our Cookie Recipes collection. We have a cookie for every taste—and occasion.

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