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Homemade holiday cakes

By Staff | Dec 13, 2019

-Submitted photo by Lori Dunn Add a handful of black walnuts to top off Grandma Dobbs’ date cake.


Grit Magazine

The Christmas holiday season lends itself to all sorts of delicious sweets, and many recipes make an appearance only once a year. Maybe that explains why most cakes we enjoy during the holidays have such decadent ingredients: dates, lots of nuts, and candied fruits.

History generally reports the ubiquitous fruitcake appeared in the Middle Ages in England, when the ingredients were exotic, expensive, and difficult to find. So the treat was saved as a once-a-year extravagance. At that time, alcohol was used both as a flavoring and as a preservative; today, this ingredient isn’t necessary and is often omitted.

The baking process during this era also was arduous; a lot of preparation and hard work were necessary. Fruits were washed, dried, and the stone was removed. Sugar-which at that time was found in loaves or blocks- was cut, pounded, and strained. Butter-again, nothing like our modern sticks-was washed and rinsed in rosewater. Recipes often called for a cook to beat the eggs for at least 30 minutes. Yeast was temperamental in those days and took some coaxing to do its work. Then, of course, there were the wood-burning ovens to be managed. All in all, baking was a full day’s work.

Dates can be used for several cakes over the holidays, including a date and black walnut cake.

Another factor in the special nature of fruitcake is the fact that it is often-and it really should be-prepared far in advance of the holiday. The flavors blend and age, making each slice a rich, colorful treat worthy of a special holiday celebration.

Dried and fresh dates also are among the exotic ingredients generally available during the holidays. While not part of the ingredient list for fruitcake, dates are often combined with walnuts to create a delicious confection.

The beautiful date palm is found in desert regions; it likes the heat while its roots appreciate the wet conditions of an oasis. Believed to have originated around the Persian Gulf, the tree can be found in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, northern Africa, India, southern Italy, Sicily, and Greece. The plant is part of the national emblem of Saudi Arabia, representing vitality and growth, and fresh dates are an expected part of traditional Arabian hospitality, served with a small cup of Arabian coffee.

In whatever way fresh or dried dates are served, they are a treat you won’t forget.

Date nut cake

From Chuck Fuson, Granger Iowa

1 package dates, finely chopped

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup boiling water

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons butter

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon, optional

1 cup walnut meats


Heat oven to 350 F.

Combine dates and baking soda; pour boiling water over top and let stand awhile.

Combine sugar, butter, eggs, baking powder, cinnamon (if desired), nuts, and enough flour to make thick batter.

Pour into baking dish; bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until done.


2 cups chopped dates

2 cups chopped nuts

2 cups water

2 heaping tablespoons flour


Combine dates, nuts, water, and flour; add coconut to your liking. In saucepan over medium heat, cook until thick. Spread over cake while hot.

Date and black walnut cake

From Sylvia Edge, Laurel Hill, North Carolina

1 pound pitted dates

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 cups boiling water

2 eggs

2 cups sugar

4 tablespoons butter or margarine

3 1/2 cups flour

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup finely chopped black walnuts

Heat oven to 350 F.

Chop dates and place in bowl; sprinkle with baking soda and add boiling water. Let stand.

In another bowl, beat eggs, sugar, and butter.

Add flour and date mixture alternately to creamed mixture. Stir in vanilla and walnuts.

Pour in cake pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes.


1 cup brown sugar

1 cup white sugar

Dash of salt

1 cup half and half

1 tablespoons margarine

Place all ingredients except margarine in saucepan, and cook to soft ball stage.

Add margarine and beat until light. Spread on cake. Yields 8 to 10 servings.

Wall to wall fruit and nut cake

From Mary Ann Smith, Yates Center, Kansas

Helen Guthrie, Ames, Iowa, has lost her favorite recipes, including one for wall-to-wall fruitcake, which she says was nothing but nuts and dried fruit, and little else. “It was costly to make,” she writes, “but worth it.”

As luck would have it, one writer sends a recipe with that exact name. Mary Ann Smith, Yates Center, Kansas, writes, “I am enclosing my recipe for Wall to Wall Fruit & Nut cake. Very good.”

2 sticks butter (1 cup)

1 cup sugar

5 eggs

1 teaspoon almond flavoring

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 pound golden raisins

1 pound walnuts

2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 pound candied pineapple, red and green

1 pound candied cherries

1 pound pecans, with extra for decorating.

Heat oven to 300 F.

Combine all ingredients. Place in loaf pan and bake for 90 minutes.

Whipped sour cream cake

From Grit recipe archives

1 3/4 cups flour

11/4 cups sugar

4 tablespoons cocoa

1/4 teaspoon salt

11/2 cups sour cream

2 eggs, beaten

2 tablespoons melted shortening

2 teaspoons baking soda, dissolved in 4 tablespoons hot water

Heat oven to 350 F.

Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa, and salt.

Whip sour cream; add eggs, shortening and dissolved baking soda. Stir in dry ingredients.

Bake in a loaf or in layers for 20 to 25 minutes.

Aunt Vivian’s cocoa cake

From Marjorie Lear, Garden City, Kansas

4 eggs, beaten

2 cups sour cream

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups sugar

2 1/2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

4 tablespoons cocoa

Mix all ingredients and bake in large pan at 350 F for 30 to 40 minutes. I usually use two 9-by-9-inch pans, or one 9-by-13-inch pan, using rest of batter to make 12 cupcakes.

This cake is best when made with separated cream from the farm, rather than commercial whipping cream or sour cream because of less butterfat content in the latter. Cream that is too sour for butter making can be used in this cake.

Chocolate sour cream cake

From Beth Kulacz, Broadwater, Nebraska

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups sugar

11/4 cups sour cream

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

5 tablespoons ( 1/3 cup) water

2 cups flour

4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) cocoa

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt, optional

1 square bittersweet chocolate

Heat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour 2 9-inch-round cake pans; set aside.

Cream eggs, sugar, sour cream, and vanilla. Add water and mix well.

Sift flour. Measure, and sift with cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Add dry ingredients to moist ingredients, little by little, mixing well between additions.

Melt chocolate over boiling water or in microwave. Add to cake batter. Beat 150 strokes by hand, or about 3 minutes with cake mixer.

Pour into cake pans. Bake on middle rack of oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Remove from oven. Cool. Turn onto wire racks and allow cake to completely cool. Ice with frosting of your choice.

Bourbon fruitcake

From Sarah Vaughan, Waterville, Maine

2 cups red candied cherries

2 cups golden raisins

3 cups bourbon whiskey

8 eggs, separated

2 cups butter, softened

2 cups white sugar

2 cups packed brown sugar

5 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons nutmeg

4 cups pecans

Combine fruit and bourbon; let stand overnight, drain and reserve bourbon.

Grease and flour 4 9-by-5-by-3-inch or 9 5-inch miniature loaf pans. Heat oven to 275 F.

In small bowl, beat egg whites until stiff but not dry; set aside.

In 5-quart bowl, cream butter and sugars. Add egg yolks, reserved bourbon and dry ingredients; mix well. Fold in beaten egg whites. Add fruit and nuts.

Pour into prepared pans. Bake 9-by-5-by-3-inch pans for 2 hours; and 5-inch pans for 1 3/4 to 2 hours.

Remove cakes from pans and cool. Wrap lightly and store 2 to 3 weeks before serving. Bake before needed to allow flavor to develop.

Excerpted from Grit. To read more articles from Grit, please visit www.grit.com, or call 800-803-7096. Copyright 2019 by Ogden Publications Inc.

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