Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Date Nut Cake {an attempt at mastering Cleveland's famous cake}

Anyone who has worked with me knows that I like to bring in goodies to work.

I jokingly say its to make and keep friends.

But there is some truth to it :-)

I work every weekend, while everyone else works every other.  My one set of weekenders knows to watch for the Tupperware with the red lid.  That means there are cookies or some sort of treat. One night I stepped of the elevator and heard:

 "LOOK there's the red Tupperware!!!"

Um...glad to see you all too.  Haha.

I have a variety of things I bake and have gotten bored with them.  I could make most of them in my sleep while teaching a monkey to do it.  So one night I asked them what they like...I wanted a challenge.

Jerry told me about this cake that is made by 2 bakeries in Cleveland.  The story is that years ago a man by the name of Dick Baker had a bakery that sold a famous Date Nut cake.  After he retired (or passed...not sure) his daughters bickered and split.  They both took the recipe and now there are 2 bakeries in Cleveland that sell this cake: Dick's Bakery.  And Baker's Bakery.  I guess each claim to sell the best date nut cake in Cleveland.

Jerry went on to tell me that all Irish Catholics from Cleveland have a date nut cake for every birthday and every celebrations.  I'm not sure if the *all* was exaggerated or not, but this cake seemed very special to him. It was obvious that it is a big deal to have a date nut cake.  Who woulda thought?

I immediately was up for the challenge.  I started researching it and trying to find a recipe. I found all kinds of information on this cake.  But no recipe.  I did find that there are people who live all over the country (Cleveland natives) that will FLY IN to Cleveland just to pick up one these cakes for their birthday.  So maybe he wasn't exaggerating when he said *ALL* Cleveland natives love this cake.

I finally found a blog that claimed to have made up a recipe that mimicked it.  The author's wife was from Cleveland and agreed it tasted exactly the same.

Jerry kept laughing while I was getting information from him about this cake. I'm still not sure if he was laughing at me or laughing because he was so excited to get a date nut cake.

I couldn't wait to make this cake.  I love a challenge and I love to bake.  It is my stress reliever. Not to mention how awesome would that be if I actually made a cake that was the same as a famous bakery?

Date Nut Cake 
(This is single layer cake, double for layered cake)
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/3 cup shortening
1/3 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup white sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour your pan.

Warm the milk and dates in a pan or microwave until warm.  Let sit for 10 minutes.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.  Cream the shortening in the mixer.  Add sugars and continue to cream for 2 more minutes.  Add vanilla and one egg.  Mix until combined.  Scrape.  Add another egg.  Mix until completely combined.

Add 1/3 of the flour mixture.  Mix on low until combined.  Scrape the bowl.  Add 1/2 of the milk mixture.  Mix until combined.  Continue until all the flour and milk is added.  Mix in the walnuts making sure everything is combined. 

Pour into a 9" round or 8x8" square.  

Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes.  Let cool for 15 minutes before removing from pan.  

I sliced off the tops to make a nice even cake for layering. 

Nibbling on the cut off tops, I was pleased that it wasn't disgusting.  It tasted good.  Jerry described it as a spice cake, and this cake has no spice and didn't taste like a spice cake.  I knew then it was not the same as a Baker's Bakery cake.  But since I had never had one, I wasn't 100% sure.  I decided to journey on and finish the cake.  

White Frosting
*I doubled this recipe.  I should have make a third batch.

1/3 cup shortening
1/3 cup butter at room temp
5 oz powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
3-4 Tbsp warm water

Cream shortening, butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla. (Use the whisk attachment.  It fluffs up so much better).  Add water, 1 Tbsp at a time, to the creamed mixture.  Once all the water is added, whip on high for a few minutes until light and fluffy.

  It layered nicely and went together perfectly.  I put it in the freezer to firm up before putting on the final layer of frosting and the decorative walnuts.


Once it was nicely firm,  I took it out of the freezer and put the final layer of frosting on the cake.  I have never used nuts on the sides of a cake, so I wasn't sure if I was going to mess up the entire cake at this point.

I thought it turned out pretty good.  For a first attempt at a layered nut cake.  Edible at least.


I took it in to work and we had to wait awhile until things quieted down long enough to cut in to the cake.  Not to mention it was still a little (or a lot) frozen.

I passed the test.


He said it was really good but it wasn't the same as a Baker's Bakery cake.

Their's was fluffier (I noticed this batter was more like a banana bread batter, not a cake batter) and their's had a spice to it.

I need to do some more research.  Or make up my own recipe.


Making an exact replica of the cake wasn't really about the cake.  Its about accepting challenges and going for it.  It is who I am.  I thrive on them. It is what makes me tick and what keeps me going.

It is when someone tells me that no one can do something, in this case make a cake just like the famous Cleveland one, that I look them in the eye and say 'watch me'.  It is about doing what it takes to succeed and beat a challenge.

Even though this cake was not an exact replica, it still felt like a success.  I've only make 2 other layered cakes before in my life.  One was a MASSIVE flop and the other one a friend (professional cake decorator) helped me layer it.  I've always been afraid of making layered cakes.

Now that I know I can do it, I'm ready to take on my next challenge of a layered cake for this weekend.

Stay tuned :-)


  1. I live in a Cleveland suburb and, except for college and a short time after I was married, I've lived here my whole life. Date nut cakes were very popular when I was growing up and have virtually disappeared. Every birthday my mom would order a date nut cake for me from Parma Bakery. I'm not sure if this bakery (sadly long gone like the others) was one of the two you refer to above. When I was a kid and my parents would go to a wedding, I knew the next morning my beautiful mom would have a piece of date nut cake wrapped in a napkin with the names of the bride and groom waiting for me for breakfast. For my own wedding in 1991 I ordered a date nut cake. I have not had a piece since and have often looked online for a recipe. It's cold here (again) today so I'm going to run up to Heinen's and pick up a couple things I don't have and make this cake. I'm not sure about the frosting though - I think a general sugar frosting was the usual. Thank you so much for posting and I will let you know how my cake comes out. Sue

    1. Thanks for the comment Sue! Let me know how your cake turns out!
      The Date Nut Cake story continues in an April 2014 post when my co-worker Jerry brought in a cake as a farewell gift to me. I have to say he was correct....that their cake was much lighter with a spice to it.
      I haven't tried making another one since. I live in New England now so maybe I will have to try to make one and introduce a Cleveland tradition to my friends here!

  2. Since all bakers bakers have vanished this is my go to cake and frosting is so good too.thanks so much.post if any news about bakers grew up in Cleve also

  3. I've lived in the Cleveland area my entire life. I can totally relate to Sue's post. Several years ago, I found myself working with two other ladies that had the same obsession with having only a date-n-nut cake from Baker's Bakery or one of their affiliated stores for their birthdays. We actually celebrated their birthdays at work with "THE" cake!. After several birthdays without my beloved cake, last year I set out on a mission to buy myself "THE" birthday cake. Alas, I found that Baker's Bakery was no more. I believe that the history you cited, Julie, is correct. Here is the latest: a son-in-law (?) of the Baker's Bakery went out on his own & opened a pizza place in Fairview Park. Since he had the official recipe for "THE" cake, he also had a small bakery in his restaurant from which he sold "THE" cake. This past summer, he opened a place called, "Tony G's" bakery in Parma Heights. My birthday is Friday, so I scoped out the location. It looked like they might have already closed. I just telephoned them & it was confirmed as their number had been disconnected. Last year, I took myself to Dick's Bakery in Berea & enjoyed my luscious date-n-nut cake. This year, I have invited friends over to join me in my indulgence. Alas, Tony G's is closed & I might be too lazy to go to Dick's Bakery in Berea, besides now that I've found the unofficial recipe, I just might give it a go & make my own birthday cake!

    Thanks for sharing a very special obsession of mine & that of some very special former co-workers.

  4. I know this is old but the reason the icing is fluffier is because Bakers uses a meringue buttercream like ...Swiss buttercream or Italian buttercream and I'm just going to guess but I think they may use 1/2 brown sugar in the recipe I am also from Cleveland ��