In Western culture, weddings receptions are hard to be imagined without a wedding cake carefully displayed and served to guests following dinner. A strong symbolism of the wedding cake has contributed to its important place in tradition. It is supposed to bring good fortune to the newlyweds and all the guests. Since it occupies a central place on the wedding set, it comes in a wide range of sizes and designs. Pastry chefs compete who would make a more beautiful and delicious cake that reflects the uniqueness of the couple. Some ingredients are common while the others are rare and expensive, but it is the fact that wedding cakes are important and they draw attention to every wedding.
Various ethnic traditions had an influence on how the contemporary wedding cake looks like. Who would say that this standard part of every wedding dates 2000 years back in history? Yes, the first wedding cakes have been known in Ancient Rome. At that time, the wedding cake was bread like. It was made of wheat or barley and before eating it was broken over the bride’s head to assure good luck in marriage. Wheat and barley were symbols of fertility and prosperity. By eating a piece of the broken cake, the groom and the guests had believed in good fortune for themselves as well. Sharing the wedding cake with loved ones is a part of tradition ever since. Breaking a cake in Ancient Rome had an additional meaning – it provided benefits to the children born in such marriage. They had been gaining higher positions in the Empire.
Medieval England reveals some changes considering the wedding cake. It is made of flour in the form of small buns brought by the guests. They were used for many festive occasions not only for weddings. The newly married couple was challenged to kiss over the layers of sweet bans without knocking any down. If they succeed, good health and prosperity will follow them throughout their marriage. Close to the end of the Middle Ages, the bride was in charge of providing small cakes. They were frosted together to create a solid tower which was hard to crash. The couple suddenly increased their chances. Would you agree that some contemporary wedding cakes seem to look like towers?
Bride’s Pie was the next stage in the wedding cake’s evolution. It was popular from the mid 17th to the beginning of the 19th century. This cake was more a dish consisting of sweetbreads, mutton or mincemeat. An extra ingredient of every bride was a glass ring inside the filling. The ring had symbolized the acceptance of a proposal. Ladies among the guests were eager to find the ring since the lucky one was meant to be the next in line to find true love. In modern times, this tradition was replaced with catching a flower bouquet. However, Bride’s Pie was the choice of less wealthy people. The tower of cupcakes remained the symbol of status for wealthier couples.
A style of the wedding cake we know nowadays originates from the mid 17th century. According to a myth, an unknown French chef was impressed with the cupcakes towers during his travel through England. He was inspired to create a more solid, tired, and frosted cake. Grease he was using preserved the cake until the wedding reception, but it was removed before serving. Later on, the grease was combined with sugar which improved the taste. Such coating of a wedding cake looked like ice. We can only guess that this was a forerunner of a famous Croquembouche. It affected still popular traditional French wedding cake which base has been made from Profiteroles. Social importance was oftentimes reflected on wedding cakes, especially if they had a white coat. Over Victorian era, In England and America fruit cakes were sometimes topped with marzipan. The white cake was considered a highly desired luxury item. The color symbolized virginity and purity while fruits stood for fertility.
It is less known that there were two wedding cakes over the 17th century – one for the bride and one for the groom. The groom’s cake was smaller and darker but rich in fruits. Bride’s cake passed the test of time and became the main cake for the wedding day. Before the 19th century, it was hard to obtain sugar. That of supreme quality – refined and white was costly. Consequently, pure white coat was reserved for wealthy families only. A term royal icing came into use after Queen Victoria has chosen white icing for her wedding cake. It was not the only innovation of the time. Queen Victoria was the first one who chose to wear a white wedding dress as well.
Wedding cakes were not completely edible until the end of the 19th century and the wedding of Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany in 1882. The modern wedding cake was created at that time, and pillars between cake tires were introduced two decades later. Separate tires were a status symbol representing prosperity. Some added elements like dowels were in charge of supporting the weight of larger cakes.
Cutting of the cake is a custom which has also changed over the centuries. Originally, the bride was serving it among the guests. It became a joint venture over time along with the growing number of guests. The groom was intended to help in the ceremony. It was impossible for only one person to cut the large and heavy cake, and it was on the happy couple to share a piece before serving it to other guests. This gesture symbolized their union and the promise to take good care of each other forever.
There are a lot of different types of wedding cakes. Besides traditional ones, they vary in flavor and size. White wedding cake with matching decoration corresponds with tradition although some variations like butter or almond cream are common. Fruits are not anymore a must-have ingredient. Chocolate and vanilla are equal flavors. Even carrot has gained its place among wedding cake ingredients. Classic smooth frosting can be replaced by fondant. This firm sugar icing can be easily formed into almost any shape and be decorated in accordance with the couple’s wish. However, many couples choose to have a wedding cake out of cupcakes in the form of a tower instead of the classic piece created of several tiers. Medieval England tradition hasn’t died out apparently.