By Andrée Kosak
The wedding cake is one of the oldest wedding-reception traditions, dating back as far as ancient Rome. At that time the wedding cake was more like a sugarless barley or wheat cake, which was crumbled over the bride and groom’s heads as a symbol of good fortune and a successful marriage.
By the Middle Ages, bready cakes had evolved into small spiced buns that were piled into a tower-like configuration. The bride and groom were expected to kiss over the top of the tower to ensure a prosperous future. Over time, the spiced buns evolved into more of a pie with a decorated pastry crust fillings with delicacies that varied with the bride’s family wealth and status.
As I have discovered with all wedding history, symbolism and superstition have long been connected to wedding cakes. Sharing the cake with family and friends increases fertility and prosperity. The bride who bakes her own cake is asking for trouble. A taste of cake before the wedding means loss of the husband’s love. A piece of cake kept after the wedding ensures the husband’s fidelity. Each guest must eat a small piece to ensure that the happy couple are blessed with children.
By the mid 16th Century, sugar was becoming plentiful in England. The more refined the sugar, the whiter the wedding cake. Pure white icing soon became a wedding-cake staple. Not only did the color allude to the bride’s virginity, but, as Carol Wilson points out in her 2014 “Gastronomica” article – Wedding Cake: A Slice of History – the whiteness was “a status symbol, a display of the family’s wealth.”
The confectioner in the royal establishment at Buckingham Palace created the wedding cake for the marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1840. It was described as “consisting of the most exquisite compounds of all the rich things with which the most expensive cakes can be composed, mingled and mixed together into delightful harmony by the most elaborate science of the confectioner.” The royal cake weighed nearly 300 pounds and was three yards in circumference.
Later, tiered cakes, with their cement-like supports of decorative dried icing, also advertised affluence. Formal wedding cakes became bigger and more elaborate through the Victorian age. In 1947, when Queen Elizabeth II (then Princess Elizabeth) wed Prince Philip, the cake weighed 500 pounds. To the left is a photo of her amazing wedding cake.
For many decades since, the traditional white wedding cake has been the norm. When I started doing wedding receptions in the late 1980s, the most-ordered cake (by A&A Bakery in downtown Athens), was white cake with pineapple filling and white icing.
It has only been in the last 15 to 20 years that the shift to less traditional wedding cakes has increased in popularity, using color and flavors like chocolate, carrot cake, almond cake, and of course here in the South, red velvet cake.
Today, the trend is moving away from the traditional stacked wedding cake and seems to be going toward dessert stations such as pie bars or layer-cake stations with a small cake as the centerpiece.
As usual, brides are keeping it interesting, creative and ever-evolving.
And, of course, always very sweet.
Till next time…