Matrimonial Cake – Oaty Shortbread Date Squares

It’s wedding season – and even if it’s not, what better lovable treat is there to serve than sticky Matrimonial Cake, or oaty shortbread date squares, with your date?

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!

Matrimonial Cake or Date Squares

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.  Right?

Wrong. Moreover, it hasn’t helped that Lucie provides a daily reminder that they’re just sitting in the fridge. “Let’s just have a couple, Mum. Don’t worry – you’ll still get in to your dress for the next 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

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 Scottish wedding dancing

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.

matrimonial Cake in the snow

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!

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.

matrimonial cake (date squares)

If you love dates, then you’ll also love these Date and Apple Bran Muffins, another inspiration from Granny’s recipes. One day, I’ll convince Uncle Ronnie to give me his recipe for a rather famous Date Loaf. In the meantime, wishing them a most Happy Wedding Anniversary – 60 years and many more of matrimonial bliss! I even heard the Queen wished them Happy Anniversary, too!

5 from 3 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 from a lemon
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 a bit 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. 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 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.

Jill Colonna

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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19 replies
  1. Thomasina
    Thomasina says:

    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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. Bea
    Bea says:

    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.

  6. Auntie Shirley
    Auntie Shirley says:

    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!

  7. 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!

  8. 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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