Southern Tea Cakes are old-fashioned, simple sugar cookies. Tender and delicious, these classic cookies are a family favorite! 

Looking for more easy cookie recipes? I think you’ll love my Chewy Sugar Cookies, Best Chocolate Chip Cookies, and easy Peanut Butter Cookies.

Photograph of stack of teacake cookies on a white platter.

Count your blessings if you have ever had a traditional Southern tea cake! They are one of my all-time favorite cookies – and I’ve tried my fair share! They are so tender while not being too overly sweet. They are perfect for enjoying with a cup of tea, coffee, or even a mug of hot cocoa

What are Tea Cakes?

Tea Cakes is an heirloom recipe for a slightly sweetened sweet treat made of simple ingredients that most people have on hand. Tea Cake recipes are handed down through families, as is this one from my Grandmother. Some tea cakes are more cake than cookie, while others are more cookie than cake – it depends on the ratios of the ingredients included in the recipe. My family’s recipe is more cookie than cake, which I love.

Photograph of tea cakes on a white platter.

How Do You Make Tea Cakes?

To make them, you’ll use the following ingredients:

  • Butter – use good quality butter, as it lends so much flavor to these cookies. Use softened butter to cream together with the sugar.
  • Sugar – granulated sugar is used in these cookies.
  • Vanilla Extract – use good quality vanilla extract in this recipe and in all baking. I like to use my homemade vanilla extract. Do not use vanilla flavoring, as it can leave a bitter aftertaste in some recipes.
  • Eggs – allow your eggs to reach room temperature to combine more evenly into the cookie dough.
  • Buttermilk – your buttermilk should also be at room temperature for the best results. If you don’t have buttermilk on hand, you can use a buttermilk substitute. You’ll only need a little buttermilk in this recipe, but it serves an important part of the recipe for flavor and texture.
  • Flour – you’ll use all-purpose flour for this cookie recipe.
  • Baking Soda – works as a leavener in this cookie recipe.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Cream together your butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla extract and the eggs, one at a time, until just combined. Stir in the buttermilk.
  • Gradually add the flour and baking soda until well combined.
  • Divide the dough in half, wrap each half well in plastic wrap, and refrigerate it for at least 1 hour to overnight.
  • When ready to bake, remove from the refrigerator 15 minutes before rolling out on a lightly floured surface. Cut with a cookie cutter and place onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.
  • Bake in 350º F oven until lightly golden brown, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before transferring from the baking sheet.

Can You Decorate Tea Cakes?

Growing up, we never added a frosting to our tea cakes, but you certainly can if you wish to. I’d recommend my cookie icing recipe, which is so easy and delicious!

You may also consider adding other flavorings to your cookie dough, such as cinnamon or lemon zest, or substituting half of the vanilla extract with almond extract. You can also sprinkle the tops of the cookies with a dust of cinnamon sugar when you remove them from the oven, if you like.

How to Store

These tea cakes keep well on the counter in an airtight container for a few days.

Photograph of stack of tea cakes.

Here’s my family’s Southern Tea Cakes recipe. I hope you love them as much as we do!

Southern Tea Cakes

5 from 10 votes
Southern Tea Cakes are old-fashioned, simple sugar cookies. These classic cookies are a family favorite!
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Chilling Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
Servings: 40


  • 1 cup (226 g) butter, softened
  • 2 cups (396 g) sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (7 g) vanilla extract
  • 3 large (150 g) eggs
  • 2 tablespoons (28.4 g) buttermilk
  • 4 cups (480 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon (6 g) baking soda


  • Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Stir in the vanilla extract and then add the eggs, one at a time. Add buttermilk until incorporated.
  • Gradually add the flour and baking soda into the creamed butter mixture until just combined.
  • Divide the dough in half and wrap well in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for one hour to overnight.
  • When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350º. Remove the dough from the refrigerator 15 minutes before rolling out on a lightly floured surface. Cut the dough with cookie cutters and place onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until lightly browned, about 10 to 12 minutes.


These tea cakes keep well on the counter in an airtight container for a few days.


Calories: 131kcal | Carbohydrates: 20g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 5g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 26mg | Sodium: 74mg | Potassium: 21mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 10g | Vitamin A: 162IU | Calcium: 6mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Robyn xo

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About Robyn

Robyn Stone is a cookbook author, wife, mom, and passionate home cook. Her tested and trusted recipes give readers the confidence to cook recipes the whole family will love. Robyn has been featured on Food Network, People, Southern Living, and more.

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Recipe Review


  1. 5 stars
    I’ve always enjoyed “tea cakes”!!! My grandmother and aunt always made some of the BEST!!!! They are both gone now and how I wish I had paid attention to their baking as for learning to make them myself. Nevertheless, I have tried many and many were good but your simple recipe has come the closest to the ones my grandma and aunt made than any other recipe I’ve followed.
    Thank you for sharing.

    1. I’m so happy this recipe is so similar to the ones your grandmother and aunt always made, Cecelia. I am so thankful that I have my grandmother’s recipe.

  2. Could these beautiful cookies also be frosted / decorated and enjoyed as Christmas cookies? I absolutely LOVE the basic old fashioned recipe that ‘Cookies By Design’ sells, but the franchise near me closed down . (I know, I know…I should make my own!) There are SO MANY sugar cookie recipes and I’d love to have one that is close to that one….sweet, dense, decadent, and delicious….I believe these southern tea cakes may be THE ones! And thank you for your beautiful memory and beautiful quote…”Just enjoy the beauty while it lasts…it will be gone quickly.”……………………………………sigh.

    1. Hi Rachel,
      You can frost these and decorate the Tea Cakes if you wish. They are a special cookie – with special memories.
      If you’d like to decorate sugar cookies, I have a recipe on here that are rolled out, cut and decorated if you’d like to look at both. They are both very delicious! I know it’s a little early, but I hope you have a Merry Christmas! xo

  3. What a beautiful story… my grandmommie made tea cakes for me as I was growing up… always loved them .. can’t wait to make these and just sit back and enjoy my memories… thank you again

  4. My mom’s grandmother raised her and made these tea cakes when my mom was a little girl. I loved having them when I was a little girl, with their slightly sweet taste. My mom was a wonderful cook but I’ve never tried to make them. I don’t think I have her recipe so I’m not sure yours is the same, but I want to try it and find out. Just the thought of those delicious cakes brings back such warm memories.
    Love being a Southern girl.

  5. 5 stars
    My son and his girlfriend were arriving this morning for the long weekend here at the Sunshine Coast Qld, Australia. I decided to try your recipe. The tea cakes came out perfectly and my son ate 6 in a row!
    In Australia, tea cakes (which are cakes not cookies) are covered on top with melted butter, cinnamon and sugar.
    For one tray, I added the cinnamon sugar on the top of each tea cake as my husband loves the flavour. These were thoroughly enjoyed as well.
    Plain or with cinnamon they were wonderful and will be a regular treat at my place. Thanks for the great recipe.

  6. 5 stars

  7. Every food we eat has also memories as you have described your Aunt Myrl and her tea cakes.Life has changed so much everywhere whether one comes from the East or West,North or South.
    We all yearn for those days gone by for there was a warmth and charm that is really missing in today’s harried and hurried lifestyle.
    Just a query could one prepare these tea cakes without the egg?
    Could you post a few recipes without the inclusion of eggs?
    My heartfelt thanks to you in advance.
    Robyn your blog is beautiful and I like your warm style and your dedication which many many women lack due to change in thinking and lifestyle.

  8. My great-aunt Ida used to make tea cakes and taffy when she came to visit my grandparents. She never used a recipe. Unfortunately, no one ever wrote the directions. I’ve never been able to find a recipe that even compared. I’ll have to try this one to see if it’s like I remember.