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One of the bits of paper flying around in the greater collection of stuff from Grammy was a little foldover, like something that might have been included in a gift or a package. Printed on this brittle, yellowed rectangle of paper is a recipe entitled Printed recipe for Queen Elizabeth CakeQueen Elizabeth Cake. The recipe itself is simple and interesting; the story, written as a “note” on the right-hand side of the foldover, is the mystery.

“This is supposed to be the only cake Queen Elizabeth makes herself.

The Queen’s request is that it not be passed on, but sold for CHURCH purposes only. Large amounts of this cake she makes each year for the CHURCH OF ENGLAND.

A piece of the cake is sold with a RECIPE. The idea is to have more and more cake in the Parishes throughout the Country. It always sells because it is so good, and because it is the Queen’s own. It originated in Buckingham Palace after the Coronation.”

Now, the world wide web is not encyclopedic, nor is it all accurate. But if this were indeed a big deal for church and crown, wouldn’t one find something on, say, the official site of the royal family? Or the Church of England?

Not only is there nothing there, a Canadian site includes a disclaimer, attributed to a representative of the current Queen: The recipe ain’t hers.

If I were Queen Elizabeth, I would claim this recipe in a heartbeat. It makes a killer moist cake; when you pour the icing over the top, you’re headed for sticky toffee pudding. (There are some recipes on line that talk about broiling the icing. Nah. Looks really ugly.)

I guess if one is the Queen, however, one must be very careful about endorsements. If one were to select a certain cake to bear one’s name, would that be to the exclusion — or at the least, slighting — of all others? One would certainly not wish that. One has too many desserts to enjoy in this world.

Queen Elizabeth Cake from Baking Family

Queen Elizabeth Cake

It may seem like you are not making enough icing, but you are. You can either leave this cake in the pan or turn it out onto a platter before you ice it — the parchment-tab strategy makes this easy. The platter approach allows the coconut to catch not just the top but the sides as well.

Makes one 9 x 12 inch cake

  • 1 cup chopped dates
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1-1/2 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/3 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts


  • 5 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 5 tablespoons cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 9 x 12 inch pan, or line the pan with parchment paper.

Combine dates and baking soda, and pour boiling water over them. Let mixture stand.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add egg and vanilla, and beat well. Add flour, baking powder and salt; pour in date mixture and nuts, and mix all together well.

Pour batter into the pan. Transfer pan to the preheated oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown on top. Remove from oven and let stand.

Mix all icing ingredients except for coconut in a small saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil; boil three minutes, until thickened. Pour icing over cake and spread. Sprinkle shredded coconut on top.

Photos and recipe copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC


For some reason, Grammy did not include her classic Christmas cookie recipe in the sheaf of recipes she gave to me. At the time, she was still baking, so I didn’t need the recipe. We got a tin-full instead. In 1994, however, after Grammy had stopped baking, no one but Grammy’s nephew Ted could put his hands on this recipe. I have Ted’s carefully typed-out copy of the classic recipe.

There were several types of cookies that showed up in December, but these bore the central title of Christmas cookies. Like the almond crescents, these rated a guilty grin from Dad as he popped one, whole, into his mouth. Oddly, the two cookies are very different. Almond crescents: Crunchy, delicate flavor. Christmas cookies: Soft, spicy, full-flavored. That contrast makes them a great pair on a cookie plate.

Now, I know I’m posting these after the fact, but these would also be a good January cookie. The recipe calls for a maraschino cherry right in the middle of the icing. I can’t stomach that. I made them with currants instead. You could use dried cranberries or cherries for a festive look, or for a January cookie, you could make them with a candied pecan or just a good walnut in the center of the icing. Muted, but delicious.

Aunt Helen’s Christmas Cookies

Makes 6-7 dozen cookies

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs, well beaten
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 3 tablespoons hot water
  • 1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped dates (from about 8-10 big dates)
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, or a bit more
  • Dried fruits, nuts or (shudder) maraschino cherries

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add beaten eggs, molasses, soda mixed with hot water, nuts and dates. In a smaller bowl, mix flour, cinnamon and cloves. Add flour mixture to butter-and-sugar mixture; add vanilla. Mix well.

Butter cookie sheets, or cover with parchment paper. Drop batter by teaspoonsful at least two inches apart on the sheet. Bake 12 minutes. After removing pan from oven, allow cookies to cool on the sheets for a few minutes before removing to racks or a plate.

To ice the cookies: Heat milk in a small saucepan on the stove, until just under a boil. Stir in 2 cups confectioners sugar and cook for 2-3 minutes, until icing is smooth. Take off heat and allow to cool for 15 minutes; if needed, add a bit more sugar. Drop by scant half-teaspoons onto top of cooled cookies. Place dried fruit or nut in center of icing.

Recipe and photo copyright 2009 Garside Group LLC.

Got a question from “a needy baker in Albany.” (This is NOT how I would characterize her — this woman is a baking machine.) She’s got a classic holiday-party dilemma, though:

I am having 75 people for a cocktail party this Saturday night (12/12). We are having some of it catered but I want to make holiday cookies that are easy (fast) and elegant. I have already made mint brownies, chocolate chip bars, cranberry orange bread and lemon blueberry bread – all are frozen in prep for Saturday. Any other suggestions?

See what I mean by “baking machine”? She’s got three key elements covered — chocolate, mint and orange — and there are great colors and shapes on that dessert table. I have two immediate recommendations from right here: Butterscotch Creoles and Almond Flats. Both fit the bill in a couple of ways: They add a new note to the table — nuts — and are elegant and fast (not tons of things to put together or ice). The added benefit of Butterscotch Creoles is the recipe makes a ton, eight to nine dozen cookies.

A couple of other ideas:

Ginger-ginger petticoat tails, from today’s Washington Post — who does NOT love shortbread, and this is the time of year to eat it.

Coconut macaroons, from Brown Eyed Baker’s blog — because they are elegant and easier than all get-out. I’d bag the chocolate-dipping for your table.

Good luck — tell what you made!

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