Tea Cakes Recipe With Icing

Follow this beloved Southern tea cakes recipe and in no time you’ll be enjoying pillowy soft and slightly sweet tea cakes with delicious frosting.

Southern Tea Cakes with colored sugar.

If you’ve never had a Southern tea cake, rest assured we sometimes call them cookies but they’re nothing like a cookie (nor are they similar to a Russian tea cake). This tender little cake is soft and pillowy, with just a touch of buttery vanilla sweetness. A very simple and comforting flavor. You can eat them with or without the icing. They are equally satisfying. If you are looking for the crispy variety, click here for my old-fashioned crispy Southern tea cake cookie recipe.

Tea cakes by Mama Reed are something I dearly love to bake. One of the main reasons (despite the flavor and texture) is that I like a lower-sugar snack. These tea cakes are perfect because they are not loaded down with sugar and super-sweet taste as most sugar 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 add the icing.

Mama Reed (Adle Reed was her given name) made these on a regular basis and the day she made them all 10 of her kids were allowed to eat as many as they wanted as they were coming warm out of the oven. With a shortbread-like texture, it’s easy to see why these tea cakes are total crowd-pleasers. I love to make them around the holidays as they’re the perfect Christmas cookie.

Ingredients for Southern Tea Cakes recipe.

Recipe Ingredients

  • Butter
  • Sugar
  • Eggs
  • Vanilla
  • Self-rising flour 

How to Make My Southern Tea Cakes Recipe

Beat together the butter and sugar.

Begin by placing the room temperature butter in a large bowl with the sugar.

Beat this with an electric mixer or stand mixer until well creamed together and fluffy.

Add eggs and beat again.

Now add eggs and beat again until well incorporated. 

Add flour and vanilla and mix well.

Dump in all of your flour and the vanilla extract. Mix again. 

 Southern Tea Cakes dough.

A nice dough will soon form from this flour mixture

Roll out dough on a floured surface.

Turn your dough out onto a floured surface.

I like to line my countertop with parchment paper and flour so all I have to do is fold up the parchment paper and there is no mess left behind.

Cut out tea cakes from dough using a cookie cutter.

Roll out the tea cake dough to about 1/4-inch thickness or so. You can make them a little thicker if you like.

Cut out your cookies.

Place tea cakes on baking sheet.

Spray your baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Bake them at 350 until done, about 10 minutes or so.

Mama Reed's Southern Tea Cakes With Colorful Sugar Sprinkles

Here are the finished tea cakes.

As soon as you take them out of the oven you can sprinkle a little colored sugar on them if you like, but do it while they are warm so it will stick.

Otherwise, follow along as we add icing to our tea cakes.

Tea Cakes Icing Recipe

Icing ingredients for Southern tea cakes recipe.

Recipe Ingredients

  • Confectioner’s sugar
  • Vanilla
  • Butter
  • Milk
  • Food coloring bottle
Cream together the butter and sugar in a bowl before adding milk and vanilla.

Place softened margarine or butter in a bowl and top with confectioner’s sugar.

Cut in your butter with a fork and then add the milk and vanilla. Stir that until smooth and creamy.

Add food coloring to tea cake icing.

Add in food coloring if you like.

If it becomes too runny, just add another tablespoon or two of confectioner’s sugar. 

Pretty Iced Mama Reed's Tea Cakes

First, make sure your cookies are completely cool before you add icing.

Then, spoon the icing on the center of your tea cake (this icing is also excellent on sugar cookies). Spread it around with your spoon and top with colorful sprinkles.

Iced Southern Tea Cakes Recipe.

See how pretty these are? I feel like it’s my birthday or something (it’s not).

Tea Cakes with simple vanilla icing and sprinkles.

They are equally pretty with white uncolored icing as well.

Plate of Southern tea cakes.

Note: 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.


  • Store your cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.
  • You can also freeze either the unbaked cookie dough or the baked cookies for up to 3 months. You’ll just need to add a few minutes to the baking time for the unbaked cookies and simply thaw the baked cookies at room temperature.

Recipe Notes

  • This tea cakes recipe can be used for any holiday or occasion. I like to use a round cookie cutter with a bit of a frill when there isn’t a holiday coming up and I have a craving for tea cakes. But you can use heart cutouts for Valentine’s Day, trees for Christmas, or stars for the 4th of July. The possibilities are endless for these little beauties. 
  • While these are a great treat with a cup of coffee for morning or afternoon tea, they also taste great served with fresh berries and/or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
  • Feel free to make this Southern tea cake recipe your own. Add some lemon zest to enhance the flavors. Or how about a 1/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg? Another idea is a teaspoon of almond extract, lemon extract, or rum extract.

Tea Cakes

Follow this beloved Southern tea cakes recipe and in no time you'll be enjoying pillowy soft and slightly sweet tea cakes with delicious frosting.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Course: Dessert, Snack
Cuisine: American
Keyword: cakes, cookies, icing, tea
Servings: 4
Calories: 188kcal


  • 1 cup softened butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 1/2 cups self-rising flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Vanilla Icing (optional)

  • 2 tablespoons butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • few drops food coloring, optional


  • Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl with an electric mixer. Add the eggs and mix again. Then add the vanilla and flour and mix well.
    1 cup softened butter, 1 cup sugar, 3 eggs, 3 1/2 cups self-rising flour, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Roll your cookie dough out thinly on a floured surface and cut with a cookie or biscuit cutter. Place on a cookie sheet greased with cooking spray. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with colored sugar while warm or ice with the vanilla icing.

To make the simple vanilla icing

  • Cut the butter into the confectioner's sugar in a small bowl. Add the milk and vanilla and stir until smooth and creamy. If desired, add a few drops of food coloring and stir until blended.
    2 tablespoons butter at room temperature, 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar, 2 tablespoons milk, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, few drops food coloring, optional
  • Spoon a small amount of icing into the center of each cookie and spread with the back of the spoon. Sprinkle rainbow sprinkles over the top while still wet and allow to dry for about an hour before stacking the cookies.


Calories: 188kcal
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  1. Thank you so much for this PERFECT tea cake recipe! My grandmother in north Louisiana made these at Christmas time, with different holiday shapes and fancy icings. It is one of my favorite childhood memories. As we got older, we loved them plain, no icing. They are very difficult to describe if you don’t have a frame of reference for tea cakes!
    She would put them in a large glass cookie jar, surrounding an apple cut in half & cupped in a foil nest (not touching the tea cakes). Basically, this infused the tea cakes with a fresh apple moistness.
    Now I make them plain and ship them to other family members who share those fond memories or who just love tea cakes. My beloved spouse, born & raised in The Bronx, loved them at first bite!

  2. 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. My family’s tea cake recipe on my mother’s side also includes a pinch of nutmeg. My other grandmother also made tea cakes. I need to see about getting a recipe from one of my cousins, if they have it, that is.

  3. 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.

    1. My (first) husband’s grandmother Sahl had a cookie recipe calling for “about an egg.” Now how do you do that? At any rate, I use a whole egg & they turned out as wonderfully as that woman.

    2. Searching for an old fashioned petit four recipe — did Mama Reed by chance have a recipe for them?

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

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