Mama Reed’s Southern Tea Cakes


If you’ve never had a southern tea cake, they are rather difficult to describe. I can assure you though, despite appearances, it is nothing like a cookie. This tender little cake is soft and pillowy, with just a touch of sweetness. A very simple and comforting flavor, they are generally only iced for company or special occasions, at other times getting only a light sprinkling of sugar as they come out of the oven.

These tea cakes are something I dearly love to bake. One of the main reasons (despite the flavor and texture and…well everything else that is wonderful about these!) is that I have issues with sugar and therefore can’t really eat most of the yummy desserts I make for Southern Plate. These tea cakes don’t bother me, though, as they are not loaded down with sugar and super sweet taste as most cookies are. They are the perfect treat with an afternoon cup of coffee or as a snack. If you are expecting something really sweet, you’ll want to plan on icing.

Mama Reed (Adle Reed was her given name) made these on a regular basis and the day she made them her kids (all ten of them) were allowed to eat as many as they wanted as they were coming warm out of the oven (can you imagine the thrill of that?). After they cooled the would be placed in a large glass jar with a screw on lid and the children had to come ask permission before they got one, so they wouldn’t ruin their supper.

If you don’t have self rising flour, a substitution is listed at the bottom. :)
>Cream sugar and butter.
Until it looks like this. Now add your eggs and mix well.
Dump in all of your flour and mix again.
Pour in vanilla and mix until its blended in well.
Turn your dough out onto a floured surface. I like to line my countertop with waxed paper and flour that so all I have to do is fold up the waxed paper and there is no mess left behind.
Flour it really well so your dough doesn’t stick after you roll it out.
Sprinkle flour on the top of your dough so it won’t stick to your hands or rolling pin.
I pat mine out a bit before I roll it. I always try to be loving and delicate with these tea cakes. I don’t know if that’s because they require it or because of all of the wonderful stories I can’t help but think about as I roll them out and cut them. Whenever I make them, its as if there is a direct link between myself and those who have made them before me. I know I am sounding a bit on the looney side right now, but these tea cakes just represent a lot to me.
Its very important when you make old family recipes like this, that you tell your kids all of the stories behind them to your children. Even if its something simple like “Your grandaddy used to love these”, make sure they know. To young kids, this is a sort of “living history” that helps them to identify with their roots and ancestors. To be able to bite into the same kind of cookie or cake or pie that their great great grandfather used to beg for when he was a boy, now thats something that sticks in a child’s memory.
Don’t just tell them the story one time, either. Tell them each and every time you bake that particular item. Even today, whenever I smell fresh green beans, I remember stringing them as a child on my front porch with Mama while she told me the story of how she used to sit on Mama Reed’s front porch and string beans with her and how much she enjoyed that time they shared.


I’ll never be able to bake a cake without thinking about the story of the seven cakes on Christmas Eve when my grandmother was a girl. I hope you all have such great memories attached to your recipes. If not, why not start them now?
Roll them out with the rolling pin that your great grandmother bought for your mother with green stamps when she was thirteen years old.
another rolling pin if you don’t have one with that story attached to it.


Did I ever tell y’all the story about my great grandmother’s rolling pin? Not this one that she bought but the one she actually used? It was made of wood and had red handles. After my great grandmother passed away, both my mother and her sister really wanted that rolling pin. Imagine how much it meant to Mama when my Grandmother gave it to her. She cherished that rolling pin.
A few years went by and her sister happened to mention using”granny’s rolling pin” in conversation. Of course my mother was confused as she explained that she had the rolling pin which belonged to their grandmother. At the end of the conversation, both sisters were still quite certain that they had each been given the one of a kind rolling pin.
Oh well, I guess that’s one way to do it.
Spray your baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.
Cut out your cookies. I like to use a round cookie cutter with a bit of a frill but sometimes I make hearts. These cookies will be very tender and pillow when they are done baking so I wouldn’t use a cookie cutter that made a very narrow shape at any point, such as a swan’s neck or something.
I don’t suppose many of us make swan shaped cookies, though. Hmm..
Bake them at 350 until done, about ten minutes or so.
These are the done tea cakes.
Note how they are still very pale but have obviously risen up and crackled a bit across the surface to show they are done.
At this point, I just like to sprinkle a little colored sugar on them and be done. I love them this way. This is how Mama Reed did them for “every day”.
However, when company was coming she would mix up a little quick cookie icing and ice the tops of them in pretty pastel colors. Well folks, I can’t think of any better company I’d like to have than all of you so I guess its time to mix us up some icing!
But first, remove them from the pan and let them cool somewhere. I use cooling racks but you can use a plate or even the tabletop, whatever you prefer is fine.

This is just a simple cookie icing. Nothing fancy but it sure does taste good. You’ll need confectioner’s sugar, vanilla, margarine, and food coloring. Just use the cheap food coloring bottles, no need for the fancy stuff here.

Place two tablespoons of well softened margarine or butter in a bowl, top with 1/2 C confectioner’s sugar.

Cut that butter in with a fork.
Add two tablespoons of milk.
Stir that in well and add in a teaspoon of vanilla.
Add a few drops of your favorite coloring and stir that up to get rid of any lumps.
I still have some teeny tiny lumpies in mine but thats because I didn’t let my margarine get really soft.
I did that on purpose just to show y’all what not to do ~winks~
Spoon the icing on the center of your tea cake (this icing is excellent on sugar cookies).

Spread it around with your spoon.

Top with sprinkles and VOILA!

Now this icing is going to be very wet when you first make it and ice your cookies but it will dry after an hour or so. Just leave your cookies spread out to dry and once it does you can stack them in a cookie jar or on a plate.


Mama Reed’s Tea Cakes
  • 1 Cup butter or margarine
  • 1 Cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 3½ Cup self rising flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and mix again. Add vanilla and flour and mix well. Roll thin on floured board, cut with cookie or biscuit cutter. Bake at 350 for ten minutes. Sprinkle with sugar while warm or ice with simple icing.


SImple Icing
  • 2 Tablespoon softened butter or margarine
  • ½ Cup Confectioner's sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons milk (can add another if needed)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Few drops food coloring
  1. Cut butter into confectioner's sugar. Add milk and stir until lumps are gone. Add one teaspoon of vanilla and a few drops of food coloring, stir until combined. Spoon onto cookies or tea cakes and spread with back of spoon. Top with sprinkles while still wet, if desired. Let dry before stacking.

This has absolutely nothing to do with cooking or Southern Plate but I thought you moms might appreciate it!!

We’ve all come down with our first good coughing cold of the season and my husband came home from Wal Mart with a real gem!!!

Now keep in mind, I am a veteran of Robotussin ~shudders~, which likely holds the record for most disgusting taste in the history of mankind. Think I’m kidding? Go buy a bottle and try it. Better yet, get some and wait until your spouse is dead asleep but coughing in the middle of the night. Now wake him/her up and say “Here honey, take this” and pour it down his or her mouth before they realize what hit them. THATS WHAT MY MOTHER USED TO DO TO US!!

Alright, I have a point here. We have discovered a Cough syrup that actually WORKS for TWELVE hours and tastes GOOD. Seriously, it tastes good! I’m not saying it “doesn’t taste bad”, but that it tastes good! Kids will actually LIKE this stuff! Lord, I’ve been using it and it works like a miracle cure! I am posting a photo of the box (that I had to look up on the internet because I gave the actual box to my mother so she could get some) so you will know just what to get. Its so hard when your kids are sick and coughing their little hearts out and then you have to try to force them to take this horrid medicine. This is just a life saver. I thought it was a little expensive (close to ten dollars for the bottle), but once I tasted it I knew it was well worth the money. I just took two teaspoons this afternoon and my cough has been completely gone (it was horrible all day today).

Anyway, I just wanted to share this with you because it really is amazing and I know those of us with little kids nee
d all the help we can get when they are sick!

It is Delsym Grape Twelve Hour for Kids, but adults just take two teaspoons of it. I’m not sure what the adult version tastes like, but I’m sticking with the good stuff!

I hope y’all had a great day today (its evening for me right now) and have a great day tomorrow as well! I’m getting ready for my Katy’s fourth birthday party this weekend and we are so excited!

Thank you so very much for taking the time to read Southern Plate!


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  1. Tammy Blackwell says

    I remember going to my grandmother’s best friends’s house. She always had these around and they were huge and so yummy. She had sugar and nutmeg on the top of hers. This brings back so many warm memories. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Shauna says

    This is my first post but I just HAD to tell you a story from MY childhood regarding cough medicine. Back in the earily 1960s when I was 5 or 6 I would get terrible coughing spells during the winter and sometimes so bad I’m sure my mother was scared to death (my dad was a farmer and worked 24/7 so he didn’t ever hear me cause he was a sleep!), well, for her cough syrup she would take a teaspoon of sugar and take a coal oil lamp which was a little cottage with Santa Claus coming down the chimney and pour a little oil on the sugar and in between spells she would poke it down me and take me out side in the cold and hold me in freezing weather until I could catch my breath. Now I KNOW Robitussin does not taste good but try sugar and coal oil one time and it won’t taste near as bad! Love your wonderful website.

  3. Carol says

    I remember as a child my grandmother would make tea cakes every Saturday for all the grandchildren (and there were a passel of grandkids!). She kept them in a big wicker basket that had a wicker top on it. She’d have a clean dish towel in the basket with all those delicious cookies wrapped inside. The wicker basket was kept on top of her china cabinet. As a small child I remember standing at the china cabinet and looking up at the basket. It seemed so high up. After church all her children and grandchildren would meet at her house for dinner. Each family brought something to add to what she had. After dinner she’d get down the wicker basket and all the kids would line up for 1 or 2 tea cakes depending on the age of the child. What a precious memory she left for all her grandchildren, and even great grandchildren. I’ve tried to duplicate her recipe but they don’t taste quite a good as my grandmother. It must be the love she added to her recipe.

  4. Faye says

    Hi Christy!! I am so happy to be a recipient of your Southern Plate blog. Today’s just brought a burst of joy to me. My sister introduced me to you, and I just love it. Mama Reed’s tea cakes are the absolute most. I’m on up in age now and don’t get to do too much cooking in the kitchen, but I may have to do this recipe. These tea cakes are such a favorite of mine. Another I enjoy is shortbread. I remember both of these from years ago. I hobble about on my own still and live alone – my son and his wife live close by. Wouldn’t I just knock their socks off if I could pull this one off……. :-) You are a great comfort to me and it makes me feel like you’re my daughter or granddaughter. Love your format, pictures and easy recipes. Keep ‘em coming, Gal. You’re the tops!!!

  5. Teresa says

    Ok I am gonna give this a try. My husband is from Tenn and is forever talking about these tea cakes his granny made. He is not very good at explaining them… But I bet these might be close. Thanks Christy.

  6. Susan says

    My grandmother use to make these all the time for us as “a treat”. Seeing this recipe brought tears to my eyes! My grandparents raised me and I have been searching for this recipe for years. NOONE in our family had it. She would make these and put homemade choc frosting in between them … ahhh I cant wait to get home and make these for my kids and tell them stories of my grandmother making these when I was a kid.

  7. says

    I was just reading about the red handle rolling pin. My mom had one too. I watched her use it many times and what wonderful memories that rolling pin has. One day a relative made her a beautiful handmade rolling pin so the red handled one was put aside. My mom decided to have a yard sale and low and behold I looked on the sale table and there was the red handle rolling pin. I screemed NO WAY and ran toward the pin before anyone could pick it up. I saved one of my richest memories of my mom. She passed away in May of 2010. I since have bought a rolling pin holder to display and rememember the wonderful work that her tender hands and heart rolled out for me and others. Isn’t it comforting how a piece of wood could bring such comfort :example – a rolling pin and The Cross.

  8. Jacqueline Adams says

    Forever trying to keep our family tradition of good old home made goodies alive (Thank God my son really loves to cook southern foods.) Grandma’s gone but her teacakes are not forgotten. This recipe must have been smuggled from the great beyond. Thanks for the memories!!!!.

  9. Jody says

    I add about 1 tsp of white syrup to my icing..makes it taste great and they won’t stick together.
    by the way, I have a red handled rolling pin..and no kids..Hmm who will inherit it??lol

  10. Emma says

    This is the greatest story. My grandmother and her daughter ( my father’s side ) would make these everytime we went for a visit. My mother also made tea cakes and she would let us help with them. We would always slip and get a pieace of the dough. Wonderful momeries. I also make them and share with my sister and brothers. It is so great that you share your recipes that your grandmothers made. Thank You

  11. LaSundaMcGahee says

    OH I am just thrilled and very happy to have accidentally stumbled upon your blog; I remember well how my grandmamaw baked such beautiful desserts like cookies, cakes, butter rolls (not the rolls many of us think of when seeing the word but an actual sweet and buttery dessert) she made for us grandchildren when we were so young. I wish I could find or actual make that butter roll dessert today but like so many wonderful cooks & bakers; even to this day she can only tell how to make it by adding a dab of this a little of that and not by actual measuring. I can still remember those beautiful tea cakes my grandmamaw baked for us and how they would just melt in my mouth. THANK U SO MUCH Christy for bringing back an old time favorite and now I can share and bake them with my 7 yr old niece. I really stumbled on something amazing by fonding your blog.

  12. Michelle says

    I just made these and they were delicious, everyone loved them–none left over for the cookie jar :-) I used 1/2 real butter and 1/2 coconut oil for the cup of margarine or butter and I used 1/2 coconut flour and 1/2 unbleached flour for the 3 1/2 cups of all purpose (just added 3 tsp of baking powders). My grandmother used to make these exactly like your recipe (my mom still does) and they are just as delicious that way too. Love your recipes, my mom said they are so many of her favorites on here that she has grown up eating.

  13. Phylis Bellamy says

    Tea cakes were also kept in a glass gallon jar. Mom always added molasses to hers and shortening. This is also the same recipe used for her Christmas Apple Stack cakes. Never have been able to mimic them, but mine are pretty good

  14. Missy says

    I was so excited when I found your website. My great-granny made these when I was a child, and she passed away when I was 5. No one in the family had her recipe, and I have been searching to find something that even resembled it. Everything had cinnamon and other spices so I knew they were wrong. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this recipe. I cannot wait to try it out and go back in time.

  15. rackell says

    You’re kids will appreciate you so much when they’re older! They’ll have so many memories and such a rich heritage to share with their grand children……cook on Mrs. Christy! And keep sharing…sometimes your stories drown out the sorrow in our own lives…..and that’s what it’s all about, right? ;)

  16. Jerry Jackson says

    Hi Christy, So glad I found your website. Do you by any chance have a recipe for the dessert Butter roll? My mom used to make this when I was a child. I was delighted to find your recipe for tea cakes. I never thought to get the recipes from my mom before she passed. I would be entirely grateful. Thanks again. Jerri

  17. Denise says

    Christy, can these be made in advance and frozen? With or without the icing? I have family coming for Christmas, and would like to get as much done in advance as possible…..any other suggestions for make ahead recipes?

  18. Alice says

    “If you don’t have self rising flour, a substitution is listed at the bottom”

    I couldn’t find this, did I overlook it?
    Anyway, I found a useable sub for it on the trusty internet, so I went ahead and made these. What I was looking for originally was a recipe for these big,soft, NOT rolled vanilla sugar cookies that my grandmother used to bring whenever she visited. I thought maybe tea cakes were the answer. Not the same, but good nevertheless.
    I got a little tired of rolling and cutting so for the 2nd half I just scooped little mounds with a small cookie scoop. Both the rolled and the scooped/mounded results were good. I felt they needed the icing so I made some. Actually I think most things taste better with icing!
    The scooped tea cakes did turn out more cake like, which is what I wanted.
    Good basic recipe.

  19. cindii says

    Hi Christy :-)

    Humm, I made your butter roll and was completely blown away. I didn’t know anyone else knew about that particular dessert. Well…now you have tea cakes too??? :-). I agree that its not like a cookie..but the way MY mom made them I would say it is more similar to a biscuit only slightly crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside. Lots of nutmegy flavor and not at all sugary sweet. So good on a cold fall day. I will try your recipe and get back to you.:-). I LOVE fall!

  20. Barbara says

    I sprinkled my first pan with colored sugar. When the cookies were cool and I picked up a cookie, most of the sugar fell off. I sprinkled the next pan with the colored sugar before baking, with much better results. I also tried the frosting. Mine was kind of thin, and I thickened it some with more sugar. My sugar lumpy, so the icing was not very attractive. As far as taste, I preferred the ones with sprinkles. Thanks for sharing your recipe!

  21. Purple orchard says

    I just stumbled upon your recipe tonight, while searching for uses for self-rising flour. So excited to try this. You also gave me some terrific wisdom about sharing stories while baking ;-) Many thanks.
    Merry Christmas!

  22. Delane OShields says

    On Sundays when my family would visit with my Grandma and Aunt Estelle there were always tea cakes in the warming cabinet of her wood burning stove. Oh, what a treat!! When my Mother would make them for my brothers and sister, she would always save about 1/2 of the dough because it was just as good as the cookies. She would keep it in the refrigerator and we would sneak by for a pinch!
    I share stories with my Grandson as we cook, because I want him to know his heritage. My Father and his Paternal Grandmother were both in Heaven when he was born and I love how he speaks of them like he knew them personally.

  23. Sharon Carson says

    Hey Christy, I just made Mama Reed’s Tea Cakes this past week and they went like hotcakes, er, Teacakes! My kids loved them and packed them in their lunches. We had some neighbor kids come over after school because they forgot their housekey and let’s just say, after they left, the cookie jar was a bit lighter, haha! Never tried tea cakes before now, but I will definitely make them again. Thanks for another great recipe.

  24. Penny says

    I made these for our Labor Day cook out and they were delicious with my brother-in-law’s homemade peach ice cream. My youngest grandchild loves butter cookies with the hole in the middle so I cut a hole out of a dozen with an apple corer. She gobbled a couple up in no time.

    This was my favorite dessert at my maternal grandmothers house but like so many, she kept the recipe in her memory, not her recipe box (which I was privileged to get when she went to be with the Lord). Now that I’ve found a good copy, I look forward to teaching my three grandchildren about their great-great grandmother and my cooking memories.

  25. Pamela F. Tucker says

    You saved the day!!!
    From the bottom of my heart thank you for this recipe!! Our church always gives a couples shower for our brides to be. They are wonderful affairs more akin to a dinner/cocktail party than the ladies only showers I grew up attending. However, we also have an afternoon shower that the older ladies enjoy.
    For our latest shower we have decided to have an afternoon tea. Mrs. Harriet said “We will need teacakes, of course.” Volunteering was the only way to be certain there were no sugar cookie impostors masquerading as the real thing. You see, I have my grandmother’s recipe, which of course, is a “real” teacake in taste and texture.
    Well tragedy struck as, lo and behold, I could not find the recipe card. After hours of scouring the internet for “the” teacake recipe I finally found your blog. As soon as I saw the photo and read your description I was almost positive I had hit pay dirt. Well last night was the test batch … and … drum roll please … SCORE!!!
    My mother, my husband, and a friend of his (all southerners), all agreed with me. Perfect taste, texture and color. So much so that after their sampling I had to make another batch. But how could they be denied something they had not tasted for so long?

    Delicate perfection….no icing required!!!

    Forever Grateful,

    p.s. Oh, I did add about 3/4 teaspoon of almond flavoring. And I refrigerated the dough before rolling, so as not to need so much flour to prevent sticking.

  26. Edna says

    As many others have said, thank you, thank you so much for this recipe. I have been looking for years for this recipe. Friends have suggested, “you mean like a scone?” and I’d say same rough idea, but not so dry and crusty. I’d try to explain that tea cakes were neither cookie nor biscuit, but something miraculously in between. When my grandmother made these, it was better than Christmas. I remember how happy I was when I’d come home from school and smell tea cakes baking. My grandmother didn’t use a recipe. Like everything else she cooked, she simply made it so her teacakes were lost to the family. My mother and my aunts tried to duplicate, but their tea cakes turned out more like cookies, pretty tasty actually, but just not the same. I’m almost out of flour or I’d make them tonight. Tomorrow for sure. Thank you again. I just discovered your blog this morning when I googled pintos in a crockpot because I was down to the bone on my Easter ham. I’ve already made that recipe and the Georgia (Dawgs) cornbread for supper tonight. I love the recipes, and I love the shared stories even more.

  27. Sharian says

    I have a tea cake recipe given to me 40 years by a lady who was almost 100 yrs old. They are made with lard, not butter.She didn’t have a recipe. But, she very graciously “figured” one out. The icing is just powdered sugar mixed with a tiny bit of milk and some flavoring. I use almond. My daughter calls them Christmas cookies because we only made them at Christmas time. We always put sprinkles on them. She wants me to start this tradition with my granddaughter, who is now 3.

  28. Laurie says

    Memories of watching my Great grandmother make tea cakes whenever she came to stay. She would make a pan every night while helping to prepare supper. No recipe of course, just make a well in the flour and fill it up! In my 60 years I have never found anything close. I haven’t made these yet, but your description of Mama Reed’s sounds just like my Mammaw’s tea cakes! She always added a little nutmeg. I can smell them cooking right now! Bless you for sharing.


  1. […] 137 Thanks Amy!! I am really hoping this means I am stabilizing…the tea cake will be the test, LOL! A tea cake is sort of like a sugar cookie with less sweetness and fluffier. My grandmother in Mississippi used to make them all the time. You can find them at alot of southern "hole in the wall" restaurants as well. Here is a recipe that I use for them. They are addictive to eat (I add cinnamon and extra vanilla extract to them):-) Mama Reed’s Southern Tea Cakes | Southern Plate […]

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