The history of wedding cakes goes all the way back to the Roman Empire. During the ceremony of Ancient Romans, the bride and groom were fed morsels broken from a wheat biscuit or roll. The remainder was crumbled over the bride’s head as a symbol of fertility. The concept caught on, passed through the centuries, and was adopted by the various cultures of the civilized world. By the time the custom reached Elizabethan England, the wheat cake, a symbol of sharing and fertility, had become more than just tradition. The Elizabethans stacked the rolls high and placed them on their reception tables as centerpieces, for all their guests to admire and enjoy.
The wedding cake, as we know it today, was the brilliant idea of a genius of a French cook who was traveling through England. Stopping for a while in London, he noticed the inconvenience of piling hundreds of small spice cakes into one mound, and he conceived the idea of mounding them into one solid mass. During the middle ages, guests brought small breads and stacked them up. The high stack of cakes symbolized prosperity, and the groom and bride had to kiss over the pile of “cakes” to bring them good luck in their marriage. Only recently did wedding cakes as we know them come into existence.
The wedding cake as we know it today-with its fancy frosting and festoons-had its origins some hundred years later, in a confection that commemorated the marriage of one of Queen Victoria’s daughters in 1859. The tradition of the white wedding cake was also introduced in Victorian times with the affluence of wealthy families. For a white icing, only the finest refined sugars could be used so the whiter the cake, the more wealthy the family. A white wedding cake also emphasized the bride as the main focal point of the wedding, since she typically wore white as her own symbol of purity. Even today, the link between the bride and the wedding cake are reinforced when many couples request their cake to match the color and design of the wedding dress.
Early American wedding cakes were fruit cakes, part of a tradition that the Pilgrims brought with them to America. It wasn’t until the advent of white flour, baking soda, and baking powder in the 1800’s that white wedding cake, as we know it, became the norm. The tradition of fruitcake, however, has withstood the test of time (and is still popular in many parts of our country), and is the cake that later became popular as the groom’s cake. At the reception, it was cut, boxed and given to the guests as a favor. According to legend, single guests who placed the boxed cake under their bed would dream of their intended. So, it became popular as dreaming bread. Traditionally, the groom’s cake is placed beside the bride’s, and today, it may come in any shape or any flavor that the groom desires.
In the 1930’s, however, with the onset of World War II, often a bride would be forced to choose a more practical outfit rather than the typical fancy white wedding dress and the icing would be tinted a color to match. Perhaps the most well known tradition of wedding cakes is the task of cutting. In an effort to be the utmost gentleman, the groom “assists” the bride with cutting the first piece of cake and symbolizes their first task as a couple (not to mention an important photographic opportunity).
Originally, this duty rested solely with the bride, but over time, cakes became larger and the task more daunting. In addition, the larger cakes had stronger, more rigid designs and the task became one of necessity. Immediately after cutting, both the bride and the groom feast on the first slice to show their commitment to each other. Did you know that cutting the first piece of cake together represents your commitment to share whatever path life takes? Also, feeding each other a piece of cake is a symbol of love, honor and respect. Therefore, it is considered very poor taste to smash the cake in your spouse’s face.
Through all it’s changes, the wedding cake remains an important part of the symbolism of the wedding ceremony. As bride and groom cut the cake together and feed each other, they symbolize the joining of their lives and their commitment to each other. And in sharing with the guests, the groom and bride bring their friends and family into the covenant of mutual support and love.