Irish tea cake is a lightly sweetened vanilla cake that's perfect for serving with tea and coffee. Made with simple baking ingredients, this cake has a subtle flavor and a moist, tender texture.
If you keep ingredients like flour, sugar, butter, eggs, and vanilla on hand, you may already have what you need to make this Irish tea cake. It's buttery and lightly sweetened, but not so sweet that it overpowers the flavor of your tea.
This recipe makes a 9-inch round vanilla cake that's lightly dusted with confectioner's sugar. It's the perfect size for serving 8 to 10 guests and pairs well with tea and coffee.
Top your Irish tea cake with a dollop of whipped cream and fresh berries, or serve on its own with a dusting of confectioner's sugar. Perfect for any time of year, or for celebrating St. Patrick's Day.
Ingredients and substitutions
- Unsalted butter - I recommend using a high quality butter for this recipe, like Kerrygold brand Irish butter.
- Granulated sugar - Sweetens and attracts moisture to your cake.
- Eggs - Add structure and moisture.
- Vanilla extract - Adds depth of flavor to your cake.
- All-purpose flour - Adds structure to your cake. I do not recommend substituting with other types of flour. I have only tested this recipe with all-purpose flour, so I can't say for sure how it would turn out with substitutions.
- Baking powder - Helps your cake rise in the oven. Cannot be substituted with baking soda, they are not interchangeable.
- Salt - Enhances the flavor of your cake without making it "salty".
- Whole milk - Adds moisture and richness to your cake. I recommend using whole milk or 2% for best results. Lower fat milks can make your cake turn out dry.
What is Irish tea cake?
Much like coffee cake (which doesn't contain any coffee), tea cake isn't made with tea, but meant to be served with tea.
Irish tea cake is a simple vanilla cake with a mild, buttery flavor. It's not very sweet and doesn't have a strong flavor, so it doesn't overpower the flavor of the tea you're serving.
While Irish tea cake is traditionally served with tea (or coffee), it also makes a great lighter dessert or birthday cake for any time of year.
How to prevent dry cake
Dry baked goods are a common issue in baking, which is why I've dedicated an entire section to it! Here are a few tips to help your cake turn out moist and tender:
- Properly measured flour - Measuring too much flour into your batter not only dries your baked goods out, but it also dilutes the flavor of the other ingredients (like butter, vanilla, and sugar). For 100% accuracy, I highly recommend using a kitchen scale. This ensures you're adding the proper amount of ingredients to the recipe. If you don't have a kitchen scale, I recommend the spoon and level method. Give your flour a quick stir, then gently spoon the flour into your measuring cup until heaping. Level off the top with the straight edge of a knife.
- Don't substitute ingredients - Several ingredients in this recipe, including some you may not realize, add moisture and help your tea cake retain moisture after baking. Substituting, reducing, or omitting those ingredients can make your cake turn out dry. Eggs, sugar, butter, and milk all add moisture to this recipe. Sugar attracts and locks in moisture, which keeps your tea cake soft and moist for days.
- Don't overbake your cake - This may seem obvious, but if you've properly measured your ingredients and haven't substituted anything, the only reason your tea cake will turn out dry is from overbaking. Some ovens can run slightly hotter or colder than others, so my 350 degrees may be 330 or 365 for you. I highly recommend (for any new recipe, not just this one) checking for doneness a few minutes early, just in case your oven runs a little hot. The times listed in the recipe card are time frames that worked for me and can vary slightly oven to oven.
What to serve with tea cake
Leftovers and storage
Irish tea cake will keep for 2 to 3 days in a tightly sealed container at room temperature. Cake is best served the same day as baking and will dry out over time.
I recommend dusting your cake with confectioner's sugar just before serving. Stored cake will eventually absorb the confectioner's sugar and will need to be re-dusted before serving (if desired).
Cake can be frozen for up to two months in a tightly sealed, freezer safe container. Bring to room temperature on the countertop for an hour or two before serving.
Irish Tea Cake
- ½ cup (113 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup (198 g) granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 ¾ cups (210 g) all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup (120 g) whole milk
- 1 tablespoon confectioner's sugar, for dusting
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan and set aside (optionally, add a round piece of parchment to the bottom for easy removal later).
- In a bowl, add butter and granulated sugar. Using a hand mixer (or stand mixer) beat until creamed and fluffy, about 1-2 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla extract and mix until creamy and smooth.
- In a separate bowl, add dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, and salt. Whisk to combine and remove clumps.
- Add half of dry ingredients to butter mixture and gently mix until just incorporated. Add half of milk and gently mix to incorporate. Repeat once more to incorporate remaining dry ingredients and milk. Do not overmix.
- Pour batter into prepared 9-inch cake pan. Bake for about 26-32 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with crumbs, not batter. Or, gently press into the top of the cake with a finger. If cake springs back right away, it's done. If it leaves an indent, your cake needs more time.
- Cool cake in pan on a wire cooling rack. Once cooled, turn out onto a serving plate and dust the top with confectioner's sugar just before serving.
- Optionally, serve tea cake with a dollop of whipped cream and fresh berries.
- Cake is best served the same day, but leftovers will keep for 2-3 days in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator.
- Cake can also be frozen for up to two months. Thaw on the countertop for 1-2 hours before serving.
- Be sure to check out my 10 tips for baking cake, based on reader comments and questions!