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The Speckled Palate
November 29, 2018

All-Butter Tea Cake Cookies

Last Updated on

Soft sugar cookies are the best thing to make for any holiday celebration. These traditional Southern Tea Cakes are the perfect not-too-sweet-but-so-delicious cookies. Makes 52 cookies.

Read on to learn about this simple-as-pie icing recipe, as well as our fundraising efforts in support of Cookies for Kids’ Cancer.

Decorated All-Butter Tea Cake Cookies are laid out on parchment paper to dry after icing and decorating

When I was a child, a family friend used to make the most wonderful cookies called Tea Cakes. At one point, she passed along her recipe, and we began baking Tea Cakes for holidays, specifically July 4th and Christmas.

After baking, we would take plates of decorated cookies to friends, family members and neighbors, spreading the love with all the people we loved.

When I was in college, I rediscovered these cookies during finals week. Since I was an art major, my final projects were due the week before finals, so I never ended up having exams during the finals week.

While my friends fretted, I baked. 

Ingredients for All-Butter Tea Cake Cookies are laid out on a grey backdrop, ready for mixing

Baking these Tea Cake Cookies became A Thing that I continued throughout my five years of undergrad and into adulthood, and I’ve been tinkering with the recipe ever since.

In Mississippi, two of my friends joined me for baking. When we hunkered down in my tiny galley kitchen, I was shocked to learn neither had ever made cookies before.

So I shared with them my tips and tricks for these lovely cookies, and we had a ball.

Whenever I bake these cookies, I think of those friends, Heather and Jason.

I think of my family and the memories we made baking for the people we loved when I was a kid.

And I always think about Ms. Debbie, the woman who originally passed along this delightful recipe; the same one who baked at least twenty dozen Tea Cakes for my wedding reception cookie table.

A man and a girl mix All-Butter Tea Cake Cookie batter in a kitchen

What tools do I need to make Tea Cakes?

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The dry ingredients are dumped into the wet ingredients to make All-Butter Tea Cake Cookies.

As I’ve been talking about all week, we’re raising money for Cookies for Kids’ Cancer this month and next. We’d love if you could join us in supporting a worthy cause this holiday season.

Cookies for Kids’ Cancer has inspired more than 8,000 fundraising events in all 50 states and 16 countries and has granted $15 million, funding 100 research projects, including 37 that are now treatments available for children battling cancer today.

And since it’s the season of giving and giving back, I’m thrilled to be supporting an organization that’s actively funding treatments for kids and their families going through the unthinkable.

Pink-and-gold The Sweetest Season 2018 banner

What are Tea Cakes?

Fluffy, super light, lightly sweetened cookies! They’re similar to sugar cookies, but they’re softer and less sweet. And—surprise, surprise—they pair nicely with a cup of tea because they’re a very mild and simple cookie.

According to Southern Living, they most likely hail from the rural South and date back to times when rations were meager. If pantries were stocked, they just included basics like flour, salt, etc., if that. (In fact, our family’s original recipe calls for vegetable shortening and water.)

These cookies are pretty simple on their own, but I love them all the same because they remind me of my childhood. And when iced, they’re lovely for any holiday gathering or cookie party.

A man and a girl mix the batter for All-Butter Tea Cake Cookies using a hand mixer

How do I make these Southern Tea Cake Cookies?

Combine the softened butter, sugar, vanilla, egg, milk and vinegar in a large bowl. Using a hand mixer, stand mixer or a whisk, mix until smooth.

In another large bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together. Whisk until combined.

Fold dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and continue mixing with the hand or stand mixer until just combined.

The refrigerated All-Butter Tea Cake Cookie Dough sits in a round, wrapped in plastic wrap, and surrounded by cookie cutters and a rolling pin

Stretch a long piece of plastic wrap out on the countertop. Dollop the cookie dough into it, and carefully wrap the plastic around it. Press into a round shape. (This will help you in rolling it out later—trust me!)

Chill the dough in refrigerator for 1-2 hours. You can refrigerate the dough overnight, as well, but you’ll need to take it out 30-45 minutes before rolling because the dough is challenging to roll out when it’s super cold.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat, and set aside.

Flour a flat surface. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a 1/2″ thick round, then cut into shapes using cookie cutters. Transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheet, and bake.

Let the cookies cool on a wire cooling rack. Once completely cool, ice, sprinkle with your favorite sprinkles (and other decorations!) and enjoy!

A man presses a round of All-Butter Tea Cake Cookie Dough before rolling it out on a countertop

Can I make this recipe dairy free?

Our original recipe doesn’t call for dairy, but I’ve changed it over the years to include dairy. (I love butter. What can I say?) So yes, you can make it dairy free.

Instead of using butter, substitute in vegetable shortening. Instead of dairy milk, use your favorite non-dairy milk from the refrigerated section of the grocery store. I’m partial to unsweetened cashew and almond milks, but coconut milk or rice milk will work, too!

A child uses a cookie cutter to make a All-Butter Tea Cake Cookies in a round of rolled out cookie dough

Do you have to chill the dough? If so, why?

YES, you must chill the dough. (Sorry if you were looking for a Tea Cake recipe that requires no chilling—this is not what you’re looking for.)

When you chill the dough, you’re giving the flour and gluten a time to rest, as well as time to firm up before baking.

While you could probably roll these out immediately after making the dough, the cookies wouldn’t hold their shape, and that would be sad since you’re putting in the effort to roll ‘em out and cut them into individual cookies.

Cut out All-Butter Tea Cake Cookie Dough sits on a baking sheet before going into the oven

Is there a faster way to make these All-Butter Tea Cake Cookies?

Unfortunately, there’s not a faster way to make these. While the cookie dough comes together easily and quickly, it will still need that chilling time. And then once it’s chilled, it will take a while to roll out the dough and cut the cookies.

Sugar cookies, in general, are pretty time intensive compared to a drop cookie, but they’re certainly worth it if you have the time on hand (or helpers to assist and make the time go by faster!)

Just baked All-Butter Tea Cake Cookies cool on a wire cooling rack

How do you keep the dough from being too sticky?

Short answer: Flour.

Long answer: The dough will be kind of sticky when you turn it out onto the countertop. Combat this by sprinkling flour on the counter beforehand, as well as sprinkling some on top of the dough. Rub some on your rolling pin, too, just to ensure the dough doesn’t stick to the rolling pin.

I’ve found that I have to add more flour as I roll more, and that’s OK.

In related news, my 3-year-old would like you to know that handfuls of flour on top of the cookie dough works before and after rolling it out.

Overhead image of just-iced and decorated All-Butter Tea Cake Cookies drying on a piece of parchment paper, surrounded by decorating supplies

Can I make the dough ahead of time?

Yes! The dough is actually better this way because it has enough time to firm up in the fridge.

You can make this a few days in advance, too, but plan to take your dough out of the refrigerator 30(ish) minutes before you want to roll it because it’ll be hard as a rock. And while that’s good, it makes the dough almost impossible to roll. Let it warm up just a little bit at room temperature before rolling, then follow the instructions in the recipe card below.

Five white ramekins hold different colors of Easy Sugar Cookie Icing, ready for decorating

How do I make icing for cookies?

Oh, friend. This is easy peasy!

I recently shared my recipe for Easy Sugar Cookie Icing to help you out. It pairs perfectly with Tea Cakes because the icing is very sweet, and the cookies aren’t.

Iced and decorated All-Butter Tea Cake Cookies dry on a piece of parchment paper

How do I box these Tea Cakes up and store them?

We store our Tea Cake Cookies at room temperature in an airtight container and have done this for years without fail.

Christmas tree-shaped All-Butter Tea Cake Cookies are stacked on top of one another

I’m not sure if I like the simplicity of these Tea Cakes. What are some other cookie recipes I might like better?

Pinterest image for All-Butter Tea Cake Cookies, featuring text and a close up of the final decorated cookies drying

Ready to make these beauties? They’re easier than you think!

Tea Cakes
Yield: 52 cookies

Tea Cakes

Prep Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Chilling Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 2 hours 20 minutes

Soft sugar cookies are the best thing to make for any holiday celebration. These traditional Southern Tea Cakes are the perfect not-too-sweet-but-so-delicious cookies. The lightly sweetened dough puffs up in the oven and holds its shape beautifully, so these cookies are perfect to pair with sweet Easy Sugar Cookie Icing. Whether you're hosting a cookie decorating party or baking for July 4th, All-Butter Tea Cake Cookies are a family favorite.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened (1 stick)
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • Easy Sugar Cookie Icing

Instructions

  1. In a large glass bowl, combine the softened butter, sugar, vanilla, egg, milk and vinegar. 
  2. Using a hand mixer, stand mixer or a whisk, stir until smooth and incorporated. 
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together into another large bowl. Whisk until combined. 
  4. Fold dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, all the while mixing with the hand or stand mixer, and stirring until just combined.
  5. Stretch a long piece of plastic wrap out on the countertop. Dollop the cookie dough into it, and carefully wrap the plastic around it. Press into a round shape. 
  6. Chill the dough in refrigerator for 1-2 hours. (You can refrigerate the dough overnight, as well, but you'll need to take it out 30-45 minutes before rolling because the dough is challenging to roll out when it's super cold.)
  7. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat, and set aside.
  8. Flour a flat surface. 
  9. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a 1/2" thick round, then cut into shapes using cookie cutters. (We love these snowflake ones and this set.) Transfer the cookies onto the prepared baking sheet.
  10. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until cookies have firmed up. You do not want them to brown.
  11. Transfer to a wire cooling rack.
  12. Once the cookies have completely cooled, ice with Easy Sugar Cookie Icing, sprinkle with your favorite sprinkles (and other decorations!) and enjoy!

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

52

Serving Size:

One 2" cookie

Amount Per Serving:Calories: 52 Total Fat: 2g Saturated Fat: 1g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 1g Cholesterol: 9mg Sodium: 43mg Carbohydrates: 8g Net Carbohydrates: 0g Fiber: 0g Sugar: 4g Sugar Alcohols: 0g Protein: 1g
Nutrition facts are an estimate and not guaranteed to be accurate.

Be sure to follow along and see all the recipes being shared for this year’s Sweetest Season Cookie Exchange!

The photos and recipe for these Tea Cake Cookies were originally published on December 19, 2011. The photographs, along with the text and recipe, were updated on November 27, 2018. It was republished on November 29, 2018.

12 Comments

  1. Jessica

    Um your cookie decorating skills are very impressive! They look amazing and look delicious.

    • Erin

      HA! Thank you, friend! They’ve gotten a little better over the years, but I’m nowhere close to being a professional!

  2. Jenna Owens

    Awww I loved scrolling through these photos! Baking cookies as a family is such a special thing, especially during the holiday season. These cookies sound SO GOOD too!

    • Erin

      Thank you! 🙂 It really is such a sweet and special tradition to have, and I’m so happy to have introduced it to my daughters. Hopefully, we’ll continue this for years and years.

  3. Madison Wetherill

    I don’t know how I have never made cookies like this. But I am DIGGING this recipe and can’t wait to make these!

    • Erin

      I don’t know how you’ve never made cookies like this, either, but you definitely should! We love a good cut out, especially if it’s good for decorating. And the cut outs are ALWAYS good for decorating! (Can you tell I’m a girl mom, haha?)

  4. Meggie Gilstrap

    Can’t get enough of these cookies!

    • Erin

      You and me both, friend! They’re just SO good… and the dangerous thing is that they’re good for every holiday or gathering, not just Christmas.

  5. Jami Boys

    Oh gosh, I don’t typically care for sugar cookies, but I just printed this off to make tonight with my daughter! Soft and tender cookies to decorate? Yes, please. 🙂

    • Erin

      Oh my goodness, Jami! I hope you and your daughter enjoyed making these, baking them AND decorating them. I’m all for a soft, tender cookie to decorate, especially one that’s not too sweet, so I hope y’all dug these!

  6. Vanessa | Zest & Simmer

    I love reading how many memories these cookies hold for you – that makes them truly special!! You’ve decorated them so nicely, that must be so much fun to do!

    • Erin

      Aww, thank you, Vanessa! These are my go-to cookie, and they’re good for all seasons and occasions. I had a lot of fun decorating the ones for the photos, and my daughter had a blast decorating the leftovers. 🙂 It’s a good time had by all!

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