Southern Buttermilk Tea Cakes

Time 30 minutes, plus 1 hour chilling
Yields Makes 3 dozen
A basket of Southern buttermilk tea cakes.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times; prop styling by Leah Choi)
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These simple cookies get most of their flavor from the buttermilk and extracts or spices you use. Swap the nutmeg for cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice or even cardamom, if you like. Once they’ve cooled, you can dust them with powdered sugar or glaze them with a plain white icing flavored however you like.

Though this recipe calls for both butter and butter-flavored vegetable shortening, which gives them a distinctive crispness at their edges, you can use ½ cup total of either butter or the shortening if that’s all you have.


Sift the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the sugar and nutmeg and beat on low speed with a hand mixer or the stand mixer fitted with a paddle until combined. Add the butter, shortening, buttermilk, egg and vanilla extract and mix on low speed until the dough forms and there are no dry patches of flour left. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days.


Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a 1/2-ounce cookie scoop or slightly heaping tablespoon, portion the dough and roll it into balls in your hands. Arrange 15 dough balls on each baking sheet, spaced equally apart.


Bake, rotating the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through cooking, until the edges are just golden and the centers are puffed and still pale, 12 to 13 minutes. Transfer the baking sheets to racks and let the cookies cool completely. Repeat baking the remaining cookies.

Cook's Note
When measuring flour or powdered sugar, spoon it into a dry measuring cup and level off the excess. Scooping compacts the ingredients, resulting in dry baked goods. And if using a stand mixer, use a rubber spatula to scrape the bottom of the bowl and the paddle after beating the butter and sugar together and after the dough is mixed to ensure the ingredients are evenly mixed throughout.