This recipe for Mama Reed’s Tea Cakes was originally published in October of 2008. I updated the photos in May of 2019.
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. Note: Click here for my old fashioned crispy tea cake recipe.
Mama Reed’s tea cakes are something I dearly love to bake. One of the main reasons (despite the flavor and texture) is that I don’t eat a lot of sugar and therefore can’t really eat most of the yummy desserts I make for Southern Plate. These tea cakes are perfect because 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 add the icing.
Mama Reed (Adle Reed was her given name) made these on a regular basis and the day she made them all ten of her kids 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 tea cakes 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. Mama still talks about that every time I mention tea cakes. She had the pleasure of knowing Mama Reed personally. In fact, Mama Reed is the one who taught my mother how to cook. Though, I’ve only known her through my mother’s memories, we’ve talked about her so much over the years that I can’t help but feel a closeness to her, especially when I make these tea cakes.
Its very important when you make old family recipes like this, that you tell your kids all of the stories behind them. 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.
But first, remove them from the pan and let them cool somewhere because they do need to be completely cooled before you ice them. 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 in your butter with a fork and then add two tablespoons of milk and a little vanilla.
But you can also mix it up and do a little of each.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.
- 1 Cup butter softened
- 1 Cup sugar
- 3 eggs
- 3 1/2 Cup self rising flour
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Simple Icing (optional)
- 2 tablespoons butter, room temp
- 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- few drops food coloring, optional
- 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 colored sugar while warm or ice with simple icing.
to make simple icing
- Cut butter into confectioner's sugar in a small bowl. Add milk and vanilla and stir until smooth and creamy. If desired, add a few drops of food coloring and stir until blended. Spoon a small amount of icing into center of each cookie and spread with the back of the spoon. Sprinkle rainbow sprinkles over top while still wet and allow to dry, about an hour, before stacking cookies.
“You’ve got to work hard at being happy just like some folks work hard at being miserable.” ~Dolly Parton
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