Matrimonial Cake – Oaty Shortbread Date Squares

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.

Matrimonial Cake or 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.



matrimonial cake Scottish wedding

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.

matrimonial Cake Scottish wedding dancing

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)!

matrimonial Cake in the snow

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.

matrimonial cake

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 or date squares

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! You can hack a WhatsApp account by app here and find out what anyone is doing on their accounts without any trace.

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.

matrimonial cake (date squares)

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!

matrimonial cake or date squares recipe from Granny's selection of Scottish recipes

Like the recipe? Have something to say about it? Just even want to say hello? I love hearing from you – it’s my motivation to keep this blog going as I don’t monetise it. So, don’t be shy and leave a reply below… thank you!


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5 from 13 votes
Matrimonial Cake or Date Squares
Matrimonial Cake - Oaty Shortbread Date Squares
Prep Time
25 mins
Cook Time
30 mins
Total Time
55 mins

Matrimonial Cake that Granny used to make. Whether it's Canadian or Scottish, the result is just as delicious: dates sandwiched in an oat shortbread crumble crust.

Course: Snack, teatime
Cuisine: Canadian, Scottish
Servings: 10 people (calories for 2 squares each @70g)
Calories: 275 kcal
Author: Jill Colonna
Date Filling
  • 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
Oat Shortbread
  • 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:
  1. 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:
  1. 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.

  2. Cream the butter and sugar together either by hand using a wooden spoon or better, in a food mixer/processor.

  3. Add oats, flour, soda and vanilla until well combined.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes or until the oats are lightly toasted.

  7. 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.

Recipe Notes

Like macarons, this is even better eaten next day - and the next and next...

Store up to a week in an airtight container in the fridge. Best eaten at room temperature so remove from the fridge about 20 minutes before serving.

Don't have dates? Then replace dates with prunes and add the zest of an orange.

Jill Colonna

Matrimonial Cake Date Squares


39 replies
  1. Patricia
    Patricia says:

    It’s called matrimonial cake because of the smooth base and the rough topping….. you have to take the rough with the smooth!!!

  2. Laura Dene Mchugh
    Laura Dene Mchugh says:

    My Canadian grandma made these. She always said it was called Matrimonial Cake because it was made with dates!

  3. Charlotte
    Charlotte says:

    5 stars
    My mom told me they were date squares before marriage
    Matrimonial soon after
    Grumble later
    We called it grumble cake
    Thx for recipe I’m going to make some grumble

  4. Christina Conte
    Christina Conte says:

    5 stars
    I’ve seen you sharing this recipe, so how did I miss leaving a comment?! Oh dear, maybe I was traveling? I’ve got everything to make these, but have had an idea as I have an inordinate number of jars of jam! I’m thinking of replacing the dates with jam? If I make them, will let you know if it works as if I don’t start using my jam soon, we’ll be in trouble! Thanks for sharing a lovely recipe, Jill!

    • Jill Colonna
      Jill Colonna says:

      Hehe, replace the dates and it’s no longer matrimonial cake 🙂 I know you don’t like dates but it’s like sticky toffee pudding – it’s not really datey as such; it’s the consistency that’s memorable. By all means on the jam (let’s do what we can!) but if you have juicy prunes then I’m sure that would be closer to the real McCoy.

  5. Kirsten
    Kirsten says:

    5 stars
    I misplaced Mum’s recipe & was happy to find yours. I’m another Canadian who grew up with matrimonial cake as a staple in my lunch. Mum made it quickly with just a touch of lemon juice–no rind or orange juice. No doubt the recipe nanded down from her Scottish ancestors, they came to Ontario from Inverness-shire in 1830.

    • Jill Colonna
      Jill Colonna says:

      Imagine having this as a staple for lunch? I’m in love! Thanks for popping in and sharing your story. It’s incredible the number of Scottish-Canadian connections there are. Have a delicious weekend.

  6. Helen Galbraith
    Helen Galbraith says:

    Love Matrimonial Cake. Grew up having it and now almost 80 I still make it. A panic in the oven right now!
    I used my Mom’s recipe. She copied her Mother’s cookbook and Grandma had copied her Mother’s. My Great Grandparents came to Canada fro Scotland in about 1865. The cookbook came with them and the Matrimonial Cake recipe was in that book so the recipe goes back that far to Scotland. They came to Quebec and very shortly after that moved to Ontario. My Grandmother left home and came to Saskatchewan. A copy of her Mother’s cookbook came with her. She married my Grandfather in Saskatoon in 1910.

    • Jill Colonna
      Jill Colonna says:

      Thank you so much for popping in and sharing this lovely family history with us, Helen. How wonderful to have so much knowledge of your own family history between Scotland and Canada. Wishing you a most wonderful Christmas and all the best for a most healthy and delicious 2020!

  7. Sue
    Sue says:

    5 stars
    Hi Jill. My great-grandmother’s ancestors emigrated from England to Connecticut in the 1600’s, then on to Saskatchewan in the 1800’s. Eventually, my great-grandparents and grandparents moved West to Vancouver, where I was born. When I was growing up, one of our Christmas baking traditions with Grandma and Great-Grandma, was Matrimonial Cake, along with Butter/Currant Tarts, and Date Bread. I am currently visiting my daughter in Pittsburgh, away from my recipes at home in San Diego, and a friend in Alaska remembers Matrimonial Cake from our childhood, and asked for the recipe, so that is what brought me to your website. I’m not sure about the amounts of sugar, and we never used lemon juice or any other flavoring in the filling, but the rest of your recipe looks like what I remember. Last time I made it was probably about 10 years ago. There was an ancestor from Scotland before the English ones, but that’s where the trail stops, so far, on ancestry dot com. I too, wish that I’d asked more questions before it was too late. Also, being an American now, I’d appreciate the measurements in cups. Thank you.

    • Jill Colonna
      Jill Colonna says:

      Lovely to have you join me here through matrimonial cake, Sue! That’s so impressive to be able to go back to the 17th century in your family line-up. I do hope you’ve got photos too, something that I realise now that’s difficult to find. As for measurements, I don’t believe in cups, I’m afraid. I do, however, give recipe quantities in ounces for you over the pond as when baking (especially French patisserie like we do here), we use digital scales which gives consistent results each time. I can’t encourage you enough to bake using scales by weight. See my article about baking using digital scales, which are inexpensive – and perfect for Christmas!
      Have a most lovely, delicious time with your daughter making recipes that rekindles childhood and happy memories. Thanks for popping in to say hello!

  8. Eleanor Charnell
    Eleanor Charnell says:

    5 stars
    My American mother from Grand Rapids, Michigan, told us that Matrimonial Cake was called this because it was “two crumbs brought together by a date” ! Idea: Uncooked oatmeal porridge. Equal parts rolled oats and cold water. Optional sweetening with honey or brown sugar. ( Suggest 1 cup oats, 1 cup water, 1 teaspoon honey. ) Mix in a tight container, overnight in fridge or cool camping tent or car. . READY TO EAT in 12 hrs. or 24. Regular “slow” rolled oats have more texture and mouth feel. When oats are rolled, they are heat treated enough that they are digestible.without further cooking. Handy to know when hiking or really busy. Nutritious and economical.

    • Jill Colonna
      Jill Colonna says:

      Love the reason behind the name for Matrimonial Cake, Eleanor. Too funny.
      Thanks also for sharing your uncooked porridge for camping or when on the move. Jx

  9. Thomasina
    Thomasina says:

    5 stars
    The Scottish wedding looked like a lot of fun. I love to see men in kilts. The recipe for matrimonial cake is so appropriate Jill. This has to be next on my baking list.

  10. Christel
    Christel says:

    This recipe has been a staple for years with my Canadian family.
    I always thought the cake was called Matrimony cake because of all the dates. 🙂

    • Jill Colonna
      Jill Colonna says:

      Nice one on the dates for the name – thanks so much for your feedback on the Canadian side. For us growing up in Scotland, this was something extra special from Granny!

  11. Suzanne Andre
    Suzanne Andre says:

    I grew up on the Canadian Prairies and Matrimonial Cake was served at every church Tea. I always thought the cake was described as Matrimonial since it was a very easy desert for a new bride to make. It required no sifting, beating and careful baking. Usually wedding cakes in much of Canada were fruit cakes and my mother Alice baked the best which was also served for Christmas.
    I use about 700 grams of dates, a little orange juice and zest in my date mixture and no sugar. I find the dates are sweet enough. The sugar is in the oat-flour mixture.

    • Jill Colonna
      Jill Colonna says:

      You’ve no idea how thrilled I am to hear from you and to hear your feedback on the recipe from the Canadian point of view. To be honest, I’d heard that it was an easy dessert for brides but didn’t know if it was true so I’m happy to hear from you on this! Thanks also for the tips on the recipe. I agree on the sugar and have now added, as a result, that the tablespoon of sugar in the date mix is optional. Thank you for popping by to share your Matrimonial Cake expertise.

  12. Dianah
    Dianah says:

    Hi Jill. I was looking at the original written recipe and it shows 1 cup of oats, but you only show 3 oz on the typed copy, is that because when you made it you changed the quantity? I want to make this anyway, will see how it is with your recipe first.

    • Jill Colonna
      Jill Colonna says:

      You’re quite right to check, Dianah. Yes, this is correct. I developed this recipe of Granny’s slightly and especially moved away from cups. As with all recipes, I much prefer weighing out ingredients in grams so that we can all have consistent results. Enjoy the recipe!

  13. Bea
    Bea says:

    5 stars
    Hi Jill, well according to sources these date squares actually were from a Jewish cookbook in 1871. The Canadians then claimed the “oaty date” squares in the early 1900’s. After that in the 1930’s the Americans were given permission to use the recipe in a newspaper article in Ohio. They were referred to as Matrimonial Cakes and it was said to be from two things according to the Jewish community. The expenses incurred buying flour so oats were used and the other was about marriage being a little rough from beginning to end with a sweetness in the middle. That’s all I know. The Old Northern England had a Matrimonial Cake but it was a large round cake with currents between the layers then covered in sugar. I’m just thrilled because they are sooo DELICIOUS! I like dates and oats period so it’s a win win for me. The original recipe was almost identical to yours but with 2 cups of almost everything to start with and was cooked over a “slow fire and baked in a low oven”. Hope this helps. P. S. The Scots also laid claim to it around the same time as the you for sharing ?

    • Jill Colonna
      Jill Colonna says:

      Oh my goodness. Thank you ever so much for your history of the Matrimonial Cake, Bea. That’s fascinating! Isn’t that funny about the Scots, too? Absolutely thrilled you found out this info on my favourite date squares.

  14. Auntie Shirley
    Auntie Shirley says:

    5 stars
    This brings back so many great memories Jill – mum loved baking and I am so so glad you have her “black book” and finding it so useful – mum would be so proud that you are carrying on her cooking skills. Jill the way you present all your the recipes to make them easy to prepare and the photos showing the end results is such a talent and please continue with your good cooking as it is very much appreciated. Loved seeing you at Lindsay and Eddies’ wedding looking super. Auntie Shirley x

    • Jill Colonna
      Jill Colonna says:

      Auntie Shirley,
      You’ve no idea how happy I am to hear from you here. Thank you for your lovely words of motivation. It’s a lot of work here in the engine room but hope it’s all worth it to share all my favourite recipes. It has been great fun going through the Black Book – and that included the non-recipe parts with sewing pattern cuttings in there, too! Now, I have a problem with shortbread, as there must be at least 6 different recipes!

  15. June S
    June S says:

    Catherine and Kathleen were the names of the children as far as I remember. Irene means peace – she was born as war started and June was named after the month. I wrote that recipe in the black book when I was a child and many others too but from where, I don’t know.

    • Jill Colonna
      Jill Colonna says:

      Thanks, Cynthia. Let’s hope that we see the light on the name soon but in the meantime – yes, they’re delicious. Hope you make them!

    • Jill Colonna
      Jill Colonna says:

      I know I’m so lucky, Liz – especially as we’re a big family and so feel so privileged to have her recipe book, full of newspaper cuttings (nothing even to do with recipes) and notes to herself. So precious!

  16. Gee
    Gee says:

    I have a similar recipe from my mom and that i do at holidays and anniversaries! I use any fruit with seeds(dates, strawberries, blackberries)and walnuts! The seeds, oats, walnuts represent abundance &prosperity! This is the fav of my daughters and i prepare it using 1/2 of dough, scraped !! The perfect sweet squares represent a perfect sweet life! For you, Jill with love and admiration, Gee x

    • Jill Colonna
      Jill Colonna says:

      That sounds absolutely divine, Gee. Thanks for your kind words. Tell me, did your Mum call her version with fruit and walnuts Matrimonial Cake?



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