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Southern Tea Cakes with royal icing

Southern Tea Cakes

This recipe for Southern Tea Cakes is very old, handed down from one generation to another, its origins steeped in African American history.
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Prep Time: 35 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: African American baking, African American tea cakes recipe, African cooking, bake, baking, christmas cookie, cookie, cookie exchange, deep south, historical recipes, holiday baking, royal icing, southern bake, southern baking, southern cookie, southern dessert, southern tea cake, tea cake
Servings: 72 cookies, 2" round

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  • parchment paper or silpats
  • cookie sheets
  • Rolling Pin


Did you know that it’s super easy to print out a version of a half recipe or even a double recipe on Not Entirely Average? Hover over the serving size (highlighted in blue, it says 72 on this recipe) and then slide the the white line to the left to make less or to the right to make more. This "calculator" allows you to play until you get the number of servings you want. Easy. 

    Ingredients for Southern Tea Cakes

    • 4 cups flour
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 2 teaspoons baking powder
    • 2 cups sugar
    • 2 large eggs
    • 1/2 cup buttermilk
    • 1/2 pound butter 2 sticks, salted or unsalted, softened to room temperature
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract any extract may be substituted


      for Royal Icing

      • 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
      • 4 extra large egg whites NOTE** Must be pasteurized eggs
      • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
      • food coloring optional


      The Method

      • Preheat oven to 350 °F.
      • Line several cookie sheets with parchment paper or silpats. Set aside.
      • In a large bowl sift flour, baking soda and baking powder together. Add remaining ingredients and blend well. Dough will be very soft and somewhat sticky.
      • On a floured surface shape the dough into a disk, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Remove from refrigeration and cut disk into 4 equal quarters. Re-wrap and refrigerate 3 or the 4 quarters, working with one at a time.
      • Flour surface again and roll dough out until approximately 1/4 inch thick. 
      • Cut dough into desired shapes and bake on prepared baking sheets for 9 to 11 minutes, monitoring for browning bottoms and adequate spacing.
      • This recipe makes about 6 to 8 dozen tea cakes based on 2" rounds. If using larger cutouts and shapes, plan for fewer cookies.
      • Southern Tea Cakes are traditionally not glazed but they absolutely make fantastically decorated Christmas cookies. Follow my easy recipe for Royal Icing if you desire to decorate your tea cakes.

      for Royal Icing

      • Sift 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar through a fine-mesh strainer into a large bowl. 
      • Place 4 large pasteurized egg whites (or 1/2 cup liquid egg whites) in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. (Alternatively, use an electric hand mixer and large bowl.)
      • Whip on medium-high speed until foamy, doubled in volume, and opaque, about 2 minutes.
      • Turn the mixer off and add half of the powdered sugar. Mix on low speed until the powdered sugar is completely dissolved and no large lumps remain, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the remaining powdered sugar and continue mixing until completely dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes more.
      • Increase the mixer speed to high and whip until the icing is completely smooth, glossy, and slightly thickened, 4 to 5 minutes. The icing should hold a soft peak and slowly run off of the whisk attachment. If the icing is too loose, add more powdered sugar, 1/4 cup at a time, and continue mixing until completely incorporated.
      • Decrease the mixer speed to low and add 1 teaspoon extract and a few drops of food coloring, if desired. Mix until the icing is smooth and evenly colored, 1 to 2 minutes.
      • Decorate cookies with the icing by piping and let completely dry before touching them, at least 4 hours.

      Please note that the nutrition information provided above is approximate and meant as a guideline only.