Are you looking for perfect date ideas? As it’s wedding season upon us soon, I can’t think of a better lovable treat to serve than this sticky Matrimonial Cake, or oaty shortbread date squares.
I’ve baffled even myself as to why I haven’t made these oaty date squares until recently. Granny called the recipe “Matrimonial Cake” and it was my personal favourite of all of my childhood baking with her and Auntie Shirley in Musselburgh. There was only one problem and so it comes with a warning to you: it’s so blooming addictive!
By now, if I’m able to control myself like the French women with sumptuous Parisian macarons, Lemon Passion Meringue tarts, Strawberry & Elderflower éclairs, double chocolate tartlets, buttery financiers and Madeleines (all in Teatime in Paris), plus the likes of palets bretons butter biscuits, I can safely make Granny’s Matrimonial Cake and leave it sitting in the box for up to a week.
It’s hard to believe it’s already two weeks ago that I was back in Scotland celebrating Lindsay and Eddie’s wedding in Edinburgh.
My cousin, 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 being put into a team as Lindsay puts on the entertainment for the rest of the evening with a whole variety of 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 à deux en amoureux.
As they say in Scotland, “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.
Thinking of the wedding, it had to be Matrimonial Cake! As the recipe calls for cups, I’ve double- checked the quantities in more modernised measurements in grams and ounces and, as always, reduced the sugar slightly.
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! All I know is that it’s 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 just 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, Matrimonial Cake looks like it came from her previous life in Canada. Its name is probably just because it was served at weddings at some time. 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 – what do you think?
Whatever its origins, this Matrimonial Cake is just as addictive as I remember it and Lucie is pleading we make it again. We have a good excuse, as tomorrow Antoine’s cousin is coming over with her fiancé for a goûter before we see them at their French wedding during the next holidays near Paris. More matrimonial cake bliss is ahead…
Matrimonial Cake: The Recipe
Granny mentions using lemon juice so I’m sticking with it – and even added a bit more which made the date paste turn a bit pinkish in colour but I loved this, as it ended up being rather appropriate for Valentine’s Day, too. 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 and only gently pat it down so that the effect is still 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) which meant that you could still see the date nectar underneath and the crumble was more of a slightly sparse hint – which is why we craved even more.
Baking with Dates from the Pantry
If you love dates, then you’ll also love these Date and Apple Bran Muffins, another inspiration from Granny’s recipes.
Don’t have dates?
No worries if you don’t even have dates. Make matrimonial cake with prunes and add some orange zest. The combination is wonderful – I even have a prune, orange and Armagnac recipe for macarons in my first book, Mad About Macarons!
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Matrimonial Cake - Oaty Shortbread Date Squares
- 255 g (9 oz) Pitted dates either in a block or separate in packets
- 110 ml (4 fl oz) boiling water
- 1 tbsp soft light brown sugar (optional)
- 1 lemon juice only
- 110 g (4 oz) butter (unsalted) softened
- 100 g (3.5 oz) soft light brown sugar
- 90 g (3 oz) porridge oats
- 120 g (4 oz) plain flour all-purpose
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 good pinch salt (fleur de sel)
- 1/2 tsp 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 spray with baking oil.
- 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.