Spinning Cake: “Queen Mum’s” Date & Walnut

The Spinning Ladies of Sanday love this cake – and so has everybody I ever baked it for. It’s a great “tray-bake” for bazaars etc. and a brilliant stand-by for when you run short of eggs, as it takes just the one egg to make it.

I first came across this recipe in the 1970s, when my then Mother-in-Law passed it on to me. The story was that this was Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother’s favourite cake and that she had bestowed the recipe upon the WI, and that it must only ever be “sold” for charitable donations and never given away.

That story has since proved to be apocryphal.

Having lost my copy of the recipe, I Googled one day and found this recipe (given verbatim first) that has one or two problems..

“Queen Mum’s” Date and Walnut  Cake

Pour one cup of boiling water over 8 oz of chopped dates and add one tsp
of bicarbonate of soda.  Let it stand while the following is mixed:-

8 oz sugar (dem or caster);
3 oz butter;
1 beaten egg;
1tsp vanilla essence;
10 oz plain flour;
1 tsp baking powder;
half tsp salt;
2 oz chopped walnuts.

Add to date mixture and mix well.

Spread in a greased and floured 9 inch square cake pan.
Bake in 350F oven for 40 minutes or until tester comes out clean.


5 tbsps brown sugar;
2 tbsps butter;
2 tbsps cream.

Mix together and boil for 3 mins.
Spread on top when cake is cold and sprinkle with chopped nuts.

This cake is fine without the topping, but oh-so-much-finer with it. I recommend that you do not stint.

My notes

Clearly, the recipe as given is ambiguous. May I suggest:

  1. Allow extra weight of chopped walnuts for topping the cake
  2. Pour boiling water over dates and soda; let stand until lukewarm. Use a standard 250ml “cup” measure.
  3. In bowl, cream the butter with sugar until soft and light. I use soft light brown sugar, usually – but have used Muscavado too. Rarely do I use white caster or granulated. Sometimes I use the recommended Demerara sugar, but not often.
  4. Beat in the beaten egg and vanilla essence.
  5. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt
  6. Add the flour to the creamed mixture alternately with the date mixture. Use all the liquid. Stir in the chopped nuts.
  7. Bake in a foil-lined tray, 9″ by 12,” in a moderate oven 160°C  for a half to three quarters of an hour.
  8. The cake is done when firm to the touch and still springy. Testing with a skewer can be problematical, due to the gooeyness of the dates.

As for the  topping – use top of the milk if you don’t have cream. (Don’t be stupid and sub marg for the butter – if you can’t do dairy, forget the topping.)  Boil rapidly, don’t be scared of it. I like to beat the topping as it cools, in the same way that I would if making ordinary fudge. I add the topping to the cake while still a little runny – that way, when I add a sprinkling of chopped nuts to the top, they tend to stick on better.

A little touch of vanilla essence does the topping no harm whatsoever.

(If you want to donate  a pound to a favourite charity in exchange for this recipe, feel free. I doubt that the Queen Mum would turn in her grave over it – no matter how apocryphal the original story.)


  1. SpinningGill
    February 8, 2009

    Would you like to add ‘Jubilee’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie’ recipe. She said to share it…

    • February 9, 2009

      @SpinningGill, I would – I was going to ask you at the point when my current set of recipes run out.

      Are we spinning here this week? Do I need to make cake?

  2. February 9, 2009

    Mmmm, this sounds delicious and I will definitely give it a try – never done a topping like that before, I am intrigued!

    On another note, have you ever done, or will you ever do a knitting needle review? I have a feeling your opinion would be most interesting!

    • February 9, 2009

      @Kari, the cake is quick, easy, and delicious. You won’t regret it.

      I have a needle review in the pipeline, actually. It’s half-written. I just need time and space in which to finish it – and to be fair to the manufacturers, to test a replacement that they sent me before I publish.

      My dream is to get hold of some of those Signature needles. I’d love to review those. Heck – I’d love to *use* some of those. But until the exchange rate improves, they are off-limits.

  3. kris
    February 17, 2009

    I ordered some Signature needles just for the heck of it because I love the jewel colors (I ordered fire-engine red), They are lighter than I thought (good) and my stiletto tip is incredible. The body of the needle has a bit of tooth, or grab to it, sort of like Addi Lace…. My only problem is that I don’t use straight needles except for swatching.

    I hear, however, that circular needles are in the works! Yaaay!!!!

    • February 17, 2009


      I’d have some like a shot if it were not for the fear of import charges. One pair at the current exchange rate comes to just over £18, which is the limit for free imports. I don’t have a problem paying my dues but I do resent paying the extra £8 to the post office for collecting those dues. It would make the needles ridiculously expensive. And so I wait for the exchange rate to improve… it might be a v long wait!

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