Granny's Matrimonial Cake. Whether this date recipe is Canadian or Scottish, the result is delicious. Made healthy with less sugar, these old fashioned date squares are sandwiched in an oat shortbread crumble crust. Plus discover readers' ideas where it got its interesting name.
Dates Recipe that's a Wedding Cake?
Each time I make these oaty date squares, I ask myself why I don't make them more often. Granny called this date recipe "Matrimonial Cake" and it was my personal favourite of all my childhood baking in Scotland.
It was wonderful to be back in Scotland celebrating my cousin, Lindsay's wedding to Eddie in Edinburgh.
Lindsay is the life and soul of every family party and at Christmas time, before you know it after Auntie Catherine lights up her homemade Figgy Pudding with brandy, there's no snoozing by the fire. You can pretty much guarantee that Lindsay puts you into a team as she's organised party games, quizzes and prizes. Eddie, you're in for a most fun-loving life together and wish you both matrimonial bliss for a long, healthy and happy vie en amoureux.
As they say in Scotland to wish the married couple well, "Lang may yer lum reek" (long may your chimney smoke)!
Back home in France - as the honeymooners had found the sunshine - we were unexpectedly snowed in. For the first time in five years, Paris was briefly coated in a giant duvet of snow and with the girls' lycée closed, it meant I turned to Granny's Black Book of Scottish Recipes for our golden sunshine in the cosy kitchen.
Still in wedding mode, it had to be Matrimonial Cake!
Why is it called Matrimonial Cake?
Goodness knows why the recipe is called "Matrimonial Cake". Do you know of its origins? If you do, then please leave a comment below this post - I'd love to hear from you.
Its name is probably just because it was served at weddings. It's ideal for a winter wedding, as dates are easy to keep in store. My theory is that it's simply so deliciously addictive that it had to be kept for weddings or special occasions.
Already there are many ideas below from you as to why it got its name. Here are some wonderful readers' examples:
- it was a popular budget wedding cake made during the Depression
- like matrimony, you had to mix the rough with the smooth
- the cake was so simple, any newly-wed could make it
- it was a matrimony cake recipe after a lot of dates
- a date between two sheets (oh-là-là !)
- any more? Tell us below.
Where Do Date Squares Come From?
All I know is that this date square recipe is popular in Canada, with some Canadians mentioning that the recipe originally came from Scotland.
This is when I wish I could have asked Granny tons of questions today, as this recipe probably has a lot more to it than meets the eye. All I know is that before life with Grandpa, she'd left Scotland and lived in Canada for about 3 years with a most adventurous life as nanny to five children of a business tycoon of a canning factory, originally from Kinlochleven in Scotland. Mr & Mrs Stewart loved entertaining and while travelling in their private plane, Granny had full control of their children, taking them on holiday, baking, sewing etc. and keeping up with the glamorous life.
When she baked these date squares with us, who knows what was running in her mind of memories? Questions were taboo back in these days but knowing this now, I'd be dying to know the children's names. Were they named after her own 5 children later: Ronald, Shirley, Irene, June and Catherine?
So, these date squares or Matrimonial Cake looks like it came from her previous life in Canada.
Whatever its origins, this Matrimonial Cake is just as addictive as I remember it. Now my own children ask for this recipe, now that they're away from home.
For more treats, see teatime (goûter) recipes
Matrimonial Cake: Healthy Recipe with Dates and Oats
As Granny's recipe used cups, I've double-checked the quantities to also provide measures in French grams.
As always, I've reduced the sugar to make this a healthy recipe. Oats also provide a good amount of soluble fibre.
I see in other Canadian recipes that they use orange juice instead plus even some zest but I prefer keeping it simple as I remember it. If you feel some zest coming on, then go for it!
Once the delicious shortbread-like oat crumble is pressed in to the bottom of the tin and spread with the date paste, just drop on the crumble topping. Only gently pat it down so that the effect is a bit crumbly on top.
Granny didn't use much crumble on top - if you like a lot then increase the crumble recipe but the magic is the recipe below. This meant that you could still see the date nectar underneath. The crumble was more of a slightly sparse hint - which is why we craved even more!
Don't have dates for Matrimonial Cake?
No worries if you don't have dates - although it's still best with them. Make a different matrimonial cake with:
- prunes and add some orange zest (I have a prune, orange & Armagnac recipe for macarons in my first book, Mad About Macarons!)
- spread on sweetened chestnut & vanilla paste (Clément Faugier or Sabaton), known as Crème de Marron. See more about chestnuts. Most top patisseries in Paris also sell them in jars.
- no-suet mincemeat - using dates in the ingredients
How Long Do Date Squares Keep?
I can also safely make Granny's Matrimonial Cake and leave it sitting in an airtight box for up to a week.
During winter, I can leave them out of the fridge as it's cool enough but otherwise keep them in the fridge and take them out 30 minutes before eating to enjoy them at their best at room temperature.
Dates Recipe Collection
If you love dates, then enjoy more of these recipes:
- Healthy flapjacks (with fruit and nuts)
- Moist Date and Apple Bran Muffins, more inspiration from Granny's recipes
- Sticky toffee pudding with apple
- Snowballs (coconut no-bake bites)
- Vegetarian mincemeat for mince pies, a Christmas macaron filling - and great as an alternative filling for these date squares.
Matrimonial Cake (Date Squares)
- non-stick baking tin 27x19cm tin (7.5 x 10.5 inches) with lip of at least 3cm (1 inch)
- 255 g (9 oz/2 cups) Pitted dates either in a block or separate in packets
- 110 ml (4 fl oz/½ cup) boiling water
- 1 tablespoon soft light brown sugar (optional)
- 1 lemon juice of lemon only
- 110 g (4 oz/½ cup) butter (unsalted) softened
- 100 g (3.5 oz/½ cup) soft light brown sugar
- 90 g (3 oz/1 cup) porridge oats
- 120 g (4 oz/1 cup) plain flour all-purpose
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 good pinch salt (fleur de sel)
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract (or vanilla powder)
For the Date Filling:
- In a saucepan, cook together all the ingredients except the lemon juice. Cook gently until soft (about 20 minutes). It's ready when the dates soften into a paste. (If you prefer having a perfectly smooth paste, then blitz it for a few seconds in a food processor.) Set aside to cool then add the lemon juice.
For the Oat Shortbread Crumble:
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/360°F/Gas 4 and grease a baking tin (I use a 27x19cm tin) with either butter or even better, use a non-stick tin.
- Cream the butter and sugar together either by hand using a wooden spoon or better, in a food mixer/processor.
- Add oats, flour, soda and vanilla until well combined.
- Press no more than half of the mixture into the greased baking tin - either with your fingers or using a flat spatula to make the bottom layer even and thin. Spread on the date paste using a spatula and smooth it out until even.
- Top with the oaty shortbread crumbs and gently pat it on top to keep it in place but not too much - it's better to have a crumbly look to the light topping.
- Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes or until the oats are lightly toasted.
- Cool on a wire rack then place in the fridge for about 30 minutes, remove from the tin and cut into squares - or bars, if you prefer.
Have you made this recipe? Please leave a rated review below - it means the world. Thank you!