A light texture and buttery flavor make these cookies truly special.
When we get a craving for cookies, there is nothing like homemade to truly satisfy. And, when a cake-like cookie is what you have your heart set on a crispy cookie simply won’t do.
Southern tea cake cookies have that wonderful light texture and buttery flavor. But, these cookies also have a centuries-old history in the South. Tea cake cookies are thought to have been created as the South’s answer to European tea cakes (the latter of which are more like cupcakes that are served with hot tea).
Enslaved peoples during the 18th and 19th centuries would have served these cookies to the guests of the plantation owners. But when slavery ended the tradition for these cookies continued. Using what they had on hand, the cookies have a simple ingredient list. During the 19th century these cookies were often made with flour, lard, molasses, and a little nutmeg or vanilla and that’s it.
African Americans spread the easy-to-remember recipe by word of mouth and the cookies became an integral part of Juneteenth celebrations in the years following the Civil War. Today the ingredient list may look a little different, but these treats still hold a special place in American culinary history.
The flavor is like a spiced butter cookie, but with a tender, caky interior that melts in your mouth. These cookies really are very well-suited to have with a cup of hot tea, but of course if you don’t have one ready you shouldn’t let that stop you!
To make Southern tea cake cookies you will need all-purpose flour, salt, baking soda, nutmeg, butter, sugar, 1 egg, and vanilla extract. After combining the dry ingredients, save for the sugar, then you cream together the butter and sugar, adding in the egg and vanilla at the end.
Then add dry ingredients to the butter mixture a little at a time. Once the dough is mixed you’ll need to let it chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. If you miss this step the cookies are likely to spread too much in the oven, so definitely don’t skimp on the refrigerator time.
Once the dough is properly chilled it’s time to form the cookies. You can use a melon baller or two spoons to scoop out roughly 1-tablespoon portions of the dough. Quickly roll the dough in your hands to make a ball before placing the cookies about 1 1/2″ inches apart on a greased cookie sheet. Then flatten very slightly with the bottom of a mug or other flat surface. Don’t press too hard or else the cookies with loose that tender interior they’re known for.
These cookies only take about 10 minutes to bake, so make sure you keep a close eye on them. The beauty of these cookies is the texture, so you definitely don’t want to over-bake these.
For the perfect treat with tea or milk, make these Southern tea cake cookies and see just how fast they go.
Southern Tea Cake Cookies
Makes 12 cookies
10m prep time
10m cook time
- 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 stick unsalted butter room temperature
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- In a medium bowl whisk flour, salt, baking soda, and nutmeg together.
- In a large bowl or stand mixer bowl cream together butter and sugar (4-5 minutes with an electric mixer on high).
- Turn mixer to low and add egg and vanilla. Add flour mixture little by little to the creamed sugar mixture.
- Refrigerate dough for 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 325˚. Using a small ice cream scoop, melon baller, or two spoons, measure out 12 1-tablespoon portions of dough. Roll each one into a ball using your hands.
- Place 1 1/2” apart on lined or greased baking sheet. Flatten each cookie very slightly with the bottom of a cup or mug.
- Bake for 10 minutes or until edges of cookies are just beginning to brown.
Recipe adapted from Grandbaby Cakes.