Ever wonder why we always have cake following a wedding reception meal? Our modern day wedding cake has come quite a long way from its origins. One of the first traditions involving cake began in Ancient Rome, where a cake of wheat or barley was broken over the bride’s head to bring good fortune to the couple. Thankfully we have moved on from those bygone days to a decadent dessert.
Originally, the wedding cake was a luxury item, a sign of celebration and social status. The larger and more elaborate the cake, the higher the social standing. Wedding cakes in England and early America were traditionally fruit cakes, often topped with marzipan and icing with tiers. These traditional wedding cakes made from this rich fruitcake have ingredients that last without degrading. This allows for the top tier to be stored after the wedding, and then to be eaten at the christening of the couple's first child.
The earliest known sweet wedding cake is known as a Banbury cake, which became popular in 1655. It looks more like a flat pastry filled with currants, brown sugar, rose water, rum, and nutmeg. This oval cake was once made and sold exclusively in Banbury, England. These cakes have been made in the region from secret recipes since 1586 and are still made there today, however, we can trace the first back to Edward Welchman, whose shop was on Parsons Street.
In Medieval England cakes were stacked as high as possible for the bride and groom to kiss over. A successful kiss meant they were guaranteed a prosperous life together. From this the Croquembouche was created. The myth behind this cake tells of a Pastry chef, visiting Medieval England who witnessed their tradition of piling sweet rolls between the bride and groom, which they attempted to kiss over without knocking them all down. The pastry chef then went back to France and piled sweet rolls up into a tower to make the first Croquembouche. The modern croquembouche is still very popular in France, where it is now common to place the croquembouche tower on a bed of cake and make it a top tier. This traditional French wedding cake is built from Profiteroles and given a halo of spun sugar.
Cutting the cake was also an important part of the reception. Traditionally the bride would place a ring inside the couple's portion of the cake to symbolise acceptance of the proposal. During the mid-17th century to the beginning of the 19th, the “bride's pie” was served at most weddings. Guests were expected to have a piece out of politeness. It was considered very rude and bad luck not to eat the bride’s pie. One tradition of bride’s pie was to place a glass ring in the middle of the dessert and the young lady who found it would be the next to marry. Sound familiar? This is where our modern tradition of catching the bouquet comes from. Bride’s pie would eventually evolve into the bride’s cake. At this point the dessert was no longer in the form of a pie and was, thankfully, sweeter than its predecessor. The myth that eating the pie or eventually, the wedding cake, would bring good luck is still common, but we are delighted that the tradition of the glass ring slowly died out and the bouquet toss replaced it. It's certainly better for photos, wouldn't you agree?
In the 17th century, the practice of a wedding cake and a groom's cake became popular.The groom's cake was typically a darker colored, rich fruit cake. The bride’s wedding cake was usually a simple pound cake with white icing because white was a sign of virginity and purity. White icing was also a symbol of money and social importance in Victorian times, so a white cake was highly desired and one of the reasons why it is considered traditional nowadays.
In the early 19th century, sugar became easier to obtain during the time when the bride’s cake became even more popular. The more refined and whiter sugars were still very expensive. so only wealthy families could afford to have a very pure white frosting. This display would show the wealth and social status of the family. When Queen Victoria used white icing on her royla wedding cake in 1840 it gained a new title, royal icing. The color white, since then, has been associated with wedding ceremonies. It was as the same time that Queen Victoria also chose to wear a white wedding dress when she wed Prince Albert. Having her wedding portrait featured in the popular fashion magazine of the time, Godey's Ladies Book, launched the fashion of white for weddings from symbolic to tradition.
The modern wedding cake as we know it now originates at the 1882 wedding of Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany. His wedding cake was the first to actually be completely edible. Pillars between cake tiers did not begin to appear until about 20 years later. The pillars were very poorly made from broomsticks covered in icing. The tiers represented prosperity and were a status symbol because only wealthy families could afford to include them in the cake. Prince Leopold’s wedding cake was created in separate layers with a very dense icing. When the icing would harden the tiers could then be stacked which was a groundbreaking innovation for wedding cakes at the time. Modern wedding cakes still use this method, with an added form of support with dowels imbedded in the cake to help carry the load especially of larger cakes.
How many tiers will your wedding cake have? What flavors will you select? Will you stay with traditional white or will you incorporate color? Will you have a groom's cake? We want to hear all about your wedding desserts! Comment with your sweet treats below.
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