The tradition of the wedding cake began in Ancient Rome. Originally it was just a loaf of bread, which was broken over the head of the bride: it was believed to bring good fortune for the new couple. Many centuries later, in Medieval England, guests were stacking cakes, creating a tower as high as possible for the bride and groom to kiss over. A successful kiss meant they were guaranteed a prosperous life together. Those guests who were unmarried, could take home a piece of the cake and put it under their pillow, to bring them luck in finding a bride or groom.
Initially not a culinary delight, and not necessarily sweet, the wedding cake has changed significantly in flavor, substance, and shape over time.
When sugar became rather readily available in England, towards mid 16th century, it became popular to refine it, which made it pure white. Refined white sugar -- a more expensive option, affordable for only the wealthy layers of society -- was soon being used in pastry shops. It then led to the birth of white icing, which became the top choice of wedding cake frosting. The white, sugar-based icing symbolized the bride’s purity and innocence, while also indicating that her family was well-to-do.
Soon, tiered cakes, decorated with flowers, fruits, and figurines, became a wedding’s staple item. Elaborate designs required special skills, and led to some quite amazing creations. In the 19th century, wedding cakes also started to grow in size, alluding to the prominence of the couple and their families’ status in society.
Formal wedding cakes became larger, taller, and more extravagant through the Victorian era. When the future queen of the British Empire, then Princess Elizabeth, wed Prince Philip in 1947, their wedding cake weighed 500 pounds. Princess Diana and Prince Charles had a different type of extravaganza: they had 27 wedding cakes! The official wedding cake was supplied by the Naval Armed Forces, and made by David Avery, head baker at the Royal Naval cooking school. Avery’s 5-foot-tall creation took more than 14 weeks to complete, and was decorated with detailed Windsor coats of arms made of marzipan. In fact, there were two identical cakes made, in case of any damage!
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the world’s largest recorded wedding cake weighed 15,032 lbs, and was created by chefs at the Mohegan Sun Hotel and Casino, Uncasville, Connecticut. It was displayed at the New England Bridal Showcase in February 2004.
Modern cake designs can range from the understated and delicate, to the completely extreme, including replicas of hamburgers and fries, Halloween horror scenes, car parts, etc. To cut costs, complex cakes are sometimes made of Styrofoam or other inedible materials, with just one layer -- or even just one slice! -- used for the cake-cutting ceremony. The guests’ servings come from a simple single sheet cake, cut by the caterers in the kitchen.
It seems that when it comes to the wedding cake, there is no limit to fantasy, imagination, and personalization! Wedding cakes have been adopted by many cultures, and differ significantly across the world. I look forward to sharing stories about wedding cakes from various countries, in my upcoming blog posts.
For the pictures of some historical and spectacular wedding cakes, check my Pinterest board: https://www.pinterest.com/primaveradreams/wedding-cakes/