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. Need instructions for self rising flour as I have to use gluten free flour but am dieing to make these. They sound like the ones my mammy made. She used lard and kept them for the grandchildren. We loved them. Brings back wonderful memories. I can see her bent over the kitchen table with the dough bowl on the table and hands covered with flour. Oh, she made everyone call her mammy. Can’t wait to see her on the other side.

  2. It’s the stories like this with our mothers, grandmothers & (in some lucky cases) our great grandmothers that I think define “immortality.”

  3. My Granny’s recipe was similar but she used orange extract instead of vanilla gave them a wonderful Easter.

  4. Enjoyed your personal history of these tea cakes. I’ve never had these and want to try them. I also want to know if these could be used as a strawberry short cake.

  5. Speaking of rolling pins….many years ago when I lived in my husbands home town in Georgia…
    a dear sweet lady told me you don’t need fancy rolling pins……just use a beer bottle!! They actually work really well. I took her to heart, and in a drawer in every kitchen I have had since, there has always lain a brown beer bottle, ready and waiting to be used.

  6. I prepared some tea cakes using this recipe but I found it to have the taste of a regular breakfast biscuit, and too ‘flour tasting’. The icing turned out good though 🙂

  7. My greatest cooking fail was when I tried to make my grandmother’s tea cake recipe (I was 16 or so, and haven’t tried since). But then, she didn’t think that anyone needed the instructions to roll them out, etc, which is where I went wrong. Thanks to you, I now know what to do with the recipe. I’m going to make these.

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