Juneteenth Tea Cakes

June 19: Juneteenth

We stumbled upon a nearby tea cake café in our town when we had a hankering for boba tea. But we were pleasantly surprised when we walked in and found that it was completely different from one of the dozen or so (yes—that many!) Taiwanese tea shops in our culturally diverse area. This tiny tea cake café was an actual bakery that sold Southern-style tea cakes, which aren’t cakes but more like a cake-like sugar cookie: soft to the bite and slightly sweet. The display case had an array of tea cake flavors, from berries to citrus and spiced to iced (frosted tops). The hospitable owner, an Afro-Caribbean lady whose forebears settled in the Gulf Coast of Texas, suggested we try the traditional flavor as a starting point and then taste the others (like glazed lemon, pink strawberry, nutmeg and Caribbean rum, of course). We ordered a few for our afternoon snack and still got our cold tea drink—not boba but iced hibiscus tea (the owner said the red color represents the blood of the slaves)—plus an edible education! We appreciated learning about tea cakes as much as eating them!

Tea cakes are the quintessential Juneteenth dessert. Now that it is an official federal holiday in the United States, more people can commemorate the emancipation of slaves and celebrate African American culture. We are fortunate to live an hour’s drive from Galveston, Texas, where Juneteenth began. But there have been a variety of events for many years before (it has been a state holiday since 1980) closer to home and we try to attend the freedom festivities to sample Soul and Southern food!

For our blog post, we made simple tea cakes, as the ingredients represent what most of the original plantation cooks may have had on hand in their meager pantries. For example, sometimes they had to do without real butter and used lard or vegetable shortening or had to substitute refined sugar for molasses instead. Now household staples, those ingredients were considered luxury items for the poor slaves. We kept things straightforward and followed an easy and adaptable recipe. Tea cakes are simple but have a special meaning and are now part of our observation of Juneteenth.

(Adapted from Food Network)


  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter, unsalted, room temperature
  • 1/3 – ½ cup sugar, granulated white
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 1 ½ cups flour, all purpose
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda


In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter with white and brown sugar. Stir in the vanilla, molasses and egg.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking soda. Gradually add the dry to the wet ingredients and mix until a dough comes together. Avoid overmixing. Scoop into balls (1 inch for mini tea cakes or 2 inches for larger). Place on parchment paper lined baking sheet.

Slightly press down on the dough balls. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for 8-10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in tightly sealed container until ready to serve.


  • The tea cake café has had to close permanently, another small business that was the victim of the pandemic era’s economics. That is why it was important for us to learn how to make tea cakes so we could continue to eat them and share its historical and cultural significance with others (Islander gives them to her ESL students and food club friends and explains the snack’s significance).
  • The original Food Network chef rolled the dough into a log and sliced them before baking. We formed them into balls, as suggested by some Southern members of the food club. They turned out just like the tea cakes sold at the café we used to go to—slightly domed with a soft center.