The History of Wedding Cakes
The wedding cake - no wedding is complete without one and the cake is usually just as popular as the new bride. The wedding cake has a long tradition in which its history dates back to the Roman Empire. This was long before the cake was elaborately decorated with beautiful icing and bouquets.
The original tradition was that the bride and groom would share a piece of a barley bread loaf and then the groom would break the rest over the head of the bride. The breaking of the bread was a symbol of the breaking of the bride’s virginal state and the groom’s dominance over her. Of course, this belief has long ago been lost as we moved into a more modern era of beliefs and wedding cakes.
In the era of Medieval England, cakes were often breads that were unsweetened. There are accounts of several of these cakes or sweet buns being stacked in front of the newlyweds. The couple is believed to have had to kiss over the pile of cakes in front of them.
In the 17th century, there was a popular dish called a “Bride’s Pie” that was used in place of a cake. The pie was filled with sweet breads, mince pie or mutton pie. These pies would have a glass ring that would be hidden in the pie and the women who found it would be the next to be wed.
Wedding cakes reached their high popularity point in the 1800’s in both Europe and the United States. A very famous wedding cake of this time period was that of Princess Louise, Queen Victoria’s daughter. Her cakes stood five feet high and weighed about 225 pounds. Another famous cake was that of Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh. Their cake stood nine feet high and weighed 500 pounds! The cake was four tiers and featured sugar replicas of Buckingham Palace, Windsor Palace and Balmoral Palace.
The multi-tiered cake was originally reserved for the English royalty. They would also use these cakes for christenings, as the wedding and christening events would take place very near each other. This fact rationalized the thought that all weddings should have three tiered cakes. The bottom tier was for the wedding reception, the second tier would be distributed amongst guests and the third tier would be for the christening. As the wedding and christening became disassociated with each other, the top tier was then saved by the bride and groom for their first anniversary. The top tier is now considered a nice reminder of their wedding day.
Cake decorations also developed with the size and beauty of wedding cakes. Pillars were used in early-tiered cakes as a way to support the many upper tiers. In order to keep a cake from sinking, the bakers began to harden the icing for support.
The Groom’s cake began as a tradition in the United States. The cake was usually dark in contrast to the bride’s cake, much like it is today. Many Grooms’ cakes are chocolate if the wedding cake is white and vice versa. The origins of this tradition are unclear, but Groom’s cakes are very prevalent in Southern weddings.