“Classic, tender old-fashioned Southern tea cakes made with simple ingredients”
Watch me make these deep south old fashioned tea cakes from start to finish!
I love finding people who have never experienced a good old-fashioned, Southern tea cake so that I can de-flower them. Ok, that sounds kinda weird but you know what I’m talking about. You’ll never guess where I found my first Southern tea cake virgin? In my own home!! MY HUSBAND!!!!
What the heck is going on! This is the second time this month I’ve discovered a true Southern staple that he’d never had. Remember when he told me he’d never had fried green tomatoes? And now the man up and tells me he’s never had a southern tea cake!!!!! I’m really starting to feel some kind of way about him being a true Southerner. I think it’s time to hit up ancestory.com and do some research on who this person is I married!
It’s been a long time since I’ve made old fashioned tea cakes so I was really excited to make him some, plus I’ve been getting so many emails about them. Have you ever had a true southern tea cake? I’m talking about a real, deep south, old-fashioned, church potluck, make you wanna hum an old spiritual type tea cake?
It’s so crazy how people have such different takes on such a simple recipe! I’m not sure where these things originated from. They are so basic as with most vintage recipes. Some folks say they should be crunchy, some say soft, some say lightly sweetened, some say sweet like cake! Sheesh! This is one of those controversial southern recipes (but aren’t all Southen recipes that way lol!) Gotta love the South!
Let me give you the “tea” on them? Get it? Tea…and we’re making tea cakes! Gosh, I’m clever!
Anyway, tea cakes are as old-fashioned and southern as church funeral home fans and….and…well just think of something else that reminds you of the South. They aren’t cakes at all or cookies. Kinda like a threesome love child of a cake, cookie, and biscuit. Makes sense? Well, it will once you sink your teeth into these melt-in-your-mouth plain Janes.
What Does A Southern Tea Cake Taste Like?
For me, there is ONLY ONE WAY a true Southern tea cake needs to be and that’s soft, fluffy and tender on the inside, with a lightly golden bottom that is barely crisp and edges that are slightly chewy. YESSSS GAWD! And the taste? It needs to have some flavaaaaa but not too much!!! I seriously can’t deal with a tea cake tasting like a dry biscuit. It makes me sad, anxious and I have a hard time trusting the morals of the person that made it.
It needs to have the faint trace of nutmeg, lightly speckled with vanilla bean and hints of lemon zest to play up all the flavors. But hey…that’s just my opinion.
Some people say tea cakes remind them of sugar cookies but I think they remind me more of sweet cornbread or pound cake in cookie-biscuit form. They pretty much BEG for tea or coffee.
It seems every Southern family has their own take on the authentic way to make tea cakes and this recipe is how we make it! And let me tell you, IT’S THE BOMB DIGGS!!!
But the real question is: To add nutmeg or not to add nutmeg??
Some people say keep this recipe as simple as possible which means none of that nutmeg, cinnamon or any additional madness. I say YES YES YES to nutmeg….and lemon zest….and vanilla bean!!!!! JUST YES!!! DO IT!! You’ll thank me! It really bumps up the flavor of these tea cakes without losing that authentic taste and texture making them downright addictive!
I’ve tried so many bakery versions of Southern tea cakes that use a “secret family recipe” and honestly…these tastes exactly if not better than those. So if you’ve been having a hard time trying to find the tea cakes like the kind you’ve tasted in Southern bakeries then give this recipe a try.
Tips On Making The Best Southern Tea Cakes
- Don’t add extra flour. If your dough is too sticky to handle then roll it in between parchment paper. I’ve never had to add any extra flour to this recipe. Adding extra flour for rolling can result in a drier, cracked tea cake and we want a smooth, pretty, tender, fluffy, picture-perfect tea cakes!
- Chill the dough. Cold dough is what you want! Chilling the dough will keep the tea cakes from spreading too much in the oven and getting all weird shaped.
- Use both butter and shortening. True you can use all butter but there is just something that shortening or lard adds to the texture of these tea cake that all butter just can’t. Point, blank and the period!
- Add stuff! Don’t be afraid to flirt with different extracts and add-ins. For me, nutmeg and vanilla is a must!! The lemon zest just bumps up all those flavors so it’s a must as well. Sometimes I’ll add in a drop of almond extract or a bit of rum extract.
- ¼ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- ¼ cup butter-flavored shortening
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 egg, room temperature
- lemon zest (1 small lemon)
- ½ vanilla bean, scraped
- 2 cups flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ cup buttermilk
- In a large bowl cream together butter and shortening until creamy.
- Mix in sugar until well combined.
- Mix in egg.
- Mix in lemon zest and vanilla bean paste. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, sift together baking powder, salt, and nutmeg.
- Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, alternating with the buttermilk.
- Turn dough onto a smooth surface and knead until dough is soft.
- Shape into a disk and cover with plastic wrap.
- Refrigerate for 1 hour (or freeze for 30 minutes)
- Preheat oven to 350 F.
- Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
- Remove dough from fridge and plastic wrap.
- Knead dough to soften it.
- Roll dough to ¼-inch thick.( I roll the dough on parchment to prevent sticking)
- Use a round cookie cutter to cut out circle shapes.
- Place cookies on prepared pan about 2 inches apart. (see note)
- Bake for 8-10 minutes until bottoms are lightly golden. (see note)
- Remove from pan and place on cooling rack to finish cooling.
- Once cooled store in airtight container.
2. Do not over cook the cookies! They will not get golden on the tops and will continue to cook as they cool.
Adapted from these tea cakes