#3 of 40 Days of Baking: Nanny's Tea Cakes

#3 of 40 Days of Baking: Nanny's Tea Cakes

You can't get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me.

- C. S. Lewis


And I could add to that: a plate of cookies to go with the big cup of tea and extra long book!

For a few reasons, I always assumed tea cakes originated in England... They're not as sweet as most American desserts, they pair perfectly with a cup of tea (a very British thing), and they feel a bit ceremonial and fancy (also something I associate with European customs).


When I began researching and reading about tea cakes for this experiment, I discovered that while the earliest versions of tea cakes did, in fact, make their way across the ocean in the late 1700s, their popularity is attributed to the South. That makes perfect sense as this Texas girl adores them 🥰


Tea cakes are more like cookies than cake. Very similar to a sugar cookie, they differ in that they're not as sweet as typical cookies and might even be described as a bit bland. Tea cakes require basic ingredients, and very few at that, which made them ideal throughout history when food supplies and extravagances were quite limited in Southern kitchens.


The first known written recipe for American tea cakes appeared in Lydia Marie Child's The American Frugal Housewife published in 1830. The entire cookbook is available at no cost through Project Gutenberg, and it's a gem!


I fell down the rabbit hole reading it, but what fun I had doing exactly the opposite of what Mrs. Child endorses: using one's time wisely.


Here is my favorite excerpt:

“The true economy of housekeeping is simply the art of gathering up all the fragments, so that nothing be lost. I mean fragments of time, as well as materials. Nothing should be thrown away so long as it is possible to make any use of it, however trifling that use may be; and whatever be the size of a family, every member should be employed either in earning or saving money.”

- The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Maria Child, Introductory Chapter


The author's lessons in penny-pinching, making the most of what one has, and managing a waste-free home are priceless. While they might seem comedic or silly at first glance, they speak of a time when every item, experience, and gift one possessed was appreciated and cared for because the abundance and ease we take for granted today simply didn't exist.

I'm a hypocrite for saying it — sitting in my beautiful home with more than I can possibly eat in the kitchen, enough fabric to keep an army warm in my sewing room, and instantly hot water from an industrial-sized tankless hot water heater running throughout the pipes...not to mention the bajillion television options, gazillion books, and half-dozen sources of Internet surrounding me — but I think we could benefit from the mindset Mrs. Child speaks of in her cookbook. I know I could.

Even her recipe for Tea Cake speaks to the need to spend wisely and strive for financial efficiency:


There is a kind of tea cake still cheaper. Three cups of sugar, three eggs, one cup of butter, one cup of milk, a spoonful of dissolved pearlash, and four cups of flour, well beat up. If it is so stiff it will not stir easily, add a little more milk.


Nanny's Tea Cakes


The recipe I chose for my baking and blogging experiment is from my Aunt's mom, JoAnn. I knew her as Nanny.


Her version of tea cakes uses a few more ingredients than Mrs. Child's, but it's still a very simple — yet delicious — bake.


  • 1.5 cups Shortening
  • 1.5 cups Sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 0.5 cup Buttermilk
  • 1 tsp Vanilla
  • 4 cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 tsp Baking Soda
  • 0.5 tsp Salt
  • Powdered Sugar


  1. Cream shortening and sugar together.
  2. Add eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla to mixture.
  3. Sift and add flour, baking soda, and salt.
  4. Mix until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for several hours or overnight.
  5. Preheat oven to 375º F.
  6. Roll out dough with a little flour until 0.25" thick.
  7. Use a cookie cutter, biscuit cutter, or round glass to cut circles of dough.
  8. Place about 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.
  9. Bake 8–10 minutes, taking them out before they start turning brown so tea cakes are soft.
  10. Let cookies cool completely on a rack.
  11. Use sifter to dust tops with powdered sugar.


a few notes


The dough is very soft before chilling, so don't be alarmed if it feels almost like the recipe ❤️


The longer you chill the dough, the easier it is to roll and cut. I can't stand rolling dough on granite or marble, so I purchased this pastry mat. It's a game-changer!


I use an old-fashioned biscuit cutter for the perfect size of tea cakes, but any shape will work.


When dusting powdered sugar on the cooled cookies, I tap the side of my antique sifter instead of cranking the handle. I've found that I control the amount of powdered sugar better that way.


That's a wrap on Day 3 of my 40 Days of Baking 👩‍🍳 It was a fun one!


I've included a printable recipe card for Nanny's Tea Cakes. Let me know what you think, and I'll see you tomorrow!

With love and hugs,



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