Ahh the wedding cake. Traditionally served at the wedding reception after dinner, it is oftentimes the center of attraction and most anticipated event for wedding guests!
Wedding cakes range in size, flavors and definitely price all dependent upon the couple’s personalities and guest count. They can range from the traditional white, to something more modern and classy or whimsical and wild.
Why do we eat this sweet treat?
How did this cake tradition begin?
The original concept of the wedding cake can be traced back to the ancient Roman Empire. At the time, Romans began baking wheat or barley (which was a symbol of fertility) and salt into small cakes to be eaten. During the ceremony, the groom would eat part of a loaf and would then break the rest over his bride’s head as a symbol of his dominance in the marriage. This was also taken as a sign of good fortune and a blessing for a long life and many children. Guests would eat the fallen crumbs to share in the couples good fortune.
In medieval England, sweet buns or rolls replaced the plain wheat cakes. These sweet buns were stacked in a tall mound between the bride and groom and if the couple was able to kiss over the stack without knocking them over, they would be blessed with many children and much prosperity.
Interestingly, the tradition of the sweet bun pile also gave birth to a famous delicacy. It is said that this custom was witnessed by a French pastry chef who returned to his country and created what is today’s classic French wedding cake—the Croquembouche (croque-en-bouche). It is made out of a tower of profiteroles (cream puffs), topped with a halo of spun sugar.
Another interesting tradition probably first witnessed in the 17th century was keeping a piece of cake under an unwed girl’s pillow in the night. For this, the cake was broken into tiny pieces, which then were passed through the bride’s wedding ring. These pieces were offered to the female guests to be placed under their own pillows and as a sign of fertility. By following this ritual, it was believed that they would dream of their prospective husband.
The modern wedding cake, as we know it, originated from the wedding of Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany. He was married in 1882 and his cake was the first in recorded history to be completely edible.
Multi tiered cakes were originally reserved for the English Royalty. They would also use these cakes for christenings as the wedding and christening events for take place very near each other. This fact rationalized the thought that all wedding cakes should have three tiers. The bottom tier was for the wedding reception, the second tier was distributed amongst guests and the third tier was reserved for the christening. Nowadays the top-tier is more often used by the bride and groom to celebrate their first anniversary.
More Wedding Cake Fun Facts
Why is cake white? The color of the cake is typically white to symbolize purity. By the mid sixteenth century, sugar was becoming more abundant in England. The more refined the sugar, the whiter it was. Pure white icing eventually became a wedding cake staple, yet was still expensive. Only wealthy families could afford to have pure white icing. Consequently, it became something of a status symbol. This was proven only further when white icing was dubbed ‘royal icing’ after Queen Victoria used it for her own wedding.
Why does the bride and groom cut the cake? The joint task of the bride and groom cutting the cake is meant to symbolize their first joint task in married life.
Why does the bride and groom then feed each other the cake? The gesture of feeding cake to one another is a symbol of the commitment the bride and groom are making.
Over time, the wedding cake has evolved from a simple symbol of fertility and status now to a sweet, artistic delight.