The History of the Wedding Cake

The history of the wedding cake goes back as far as the
Roman Empire
, well before the concept of elaborately icing a cake, was
invented. Through the years, the wedding cake has become the focus of a variety
of customs and traditions. Some of these customs have survived through time.
Some have not. The custom of breaking the cake over the bride's head, is no
longer practiced. The tradition may have its roots as far back as the Roman
Empire. The groom would eat part of a loaf of barley bread baked especially for
the nuptials and break the rest over his bride's head. History tells us that
breaking the bread symbolized the breaking of the bride's virginal state and
the subsequent dominance of the groom over her. As wedding cakes evolved into
the larger, more modern version, it became physically impractical to properly
break the cake over the bride's head. The tradition disappeared fairly quickly
in some places, but there were still reports of breaking an oatcake or other
breakable cakes over the bride's head in Scotland, in the 19th century. It's
reported that in Northern Scotland, friends of the bride would put a napkin
over her head and then proceed to pour a basket of bread over her. It's hard to
say why some traditions endure and some do not, but the obvious male
chauvinistic bent of this particular tradition probably leads to its early

By the late 19th century, wedding cakes became really popular, and the
use of the bride's pie disappeared. Early cakes were simple single-tiered plum
cakes, with some variations. It was a while before the first multi-tiered
wedding cake of today appeared in all its glory..

The notion of sleeping with a piece of cake underneath one's pillow dates
back as far as the 17th century
and quite probably forms the basis for
today's tradition of giving cake as a "gift." Legend has it that
sleepers will dream of their future spouses if a piece of wedding cake is under
their pillow. In the late 18th century this notion led to the curious tradition
in which brides would pass tiny crumbs of cake through their rings and then
distribute them to guests who could, in turn, place them under their pillows.
The custom was curtailed when brides began to get superstitious about taking
their rings off after the ceremony..

In the minds of most people, wedding cakes are "supposed to be"
. The symbolism attached to the color white, makes explaining this
tradition rather simple. White has always denoted purity, a notion as it
relates to white wedding cake icing that first appeared in Victorian times. Another
way in which a white wedding cake relates to the symbol of purity, has its
basis in the fact that the wedding cake was originally referred to as the
bride's cake. This not only highlighted the bride as the central figure of the
wedding, but also created a visual link between the bride and the cake. Today,
that link is being further strengthened as more contemporary brides have their
wedding cakes coordinated with their wedding gown color, even if it's not

Previous to Victorian times, most wedding cakes were also white, but not
because of the symbolism. Using the color white for icing had a more pragmatic
basis. Ingredients were very difficult to come by, especially those required
for icing. White icing required the use of only the finest refined sugar, so
the whiter the cake, the more affluent the families appeared. It was due to
this fact that a white wedding cake became an outward symbol of affluence..

Wedding cakes take center stage in the traditional cake cutting ceremony,
symbolically the first task that bride and groom perform jointly as husband and
wife. This is one tradition that most of us have witnessed many times. The
first piece of cake is cut by the bride with the "help" of the groom.
This task originally was delegated exclusively to the bride. It was she who cut
the cake for sharing with her guests. Distributing pieces of cake to one's
guests is a tradition that also dates back to the Roman Empire and continues
today. Following the tradition of breaking the bread over the bride's head,
guests would scramble for crumbs that fell to the ground. Presumably the
consumption of such pieces ensured fertility. But, as numbers of wedding party
guests grew, so did the size of the wedding cake, making the distribution
process impossible for the bride to undertake on her own. Cake cutting became
more difficult with early multi-tiered cakes, because the icing had to be hard
enough to support the cake's own weight. This, of necessity, made cutting the
cake a joint project. After the cake cutting ceremony, the couple proceed to
feed one other from the first slice. This provides another lovely piece of
symbolism, the mutual commitment of bride and groom to provide for one

The once simple wedding cake has evolved into what today is a multi-tiered
. The multi-tiered wedding cake was originally reserved for
English royalty. Even for the nobility, the first multi-tiered cakes were real
in appearance only. Their upper layers were mockups made of spun sugar. Once
the problem of preventing the upper layers from collapsing into the lower
layers was solved, a real multi-tiered wedding cake could be created. Pillars
as decoration existed long before multi-tiered cakes appeared, so it was a
natural progression for cake bakers to try using pillars as a way to support
the upper tiers. To prevent the pillars from sinking into the bottom tier,
icing was hardened to provided the necessary support. .

Some brides can't resist saving the top layer of her
multi-tiered cake
. Most couples freeze the cake with the intention of
sharing it on their first wedding anniversary. The tradition has its roots in
the late 19th century when grand cakes were baked for christenings. It was
assumed that the christening would occur soon after the wedding ceremony, so
the two ceremonies were often linked, as were the cakes. With wedding cakes
becoming more and more fancy and elaborate, the christening cake quickly took a
back seat to the wedding cake. When three-tiered cakes became popular, the top
tier was often left over. A subsequent christening provided a perfect
opportunity to finish the cake. Couples could then logically rationalize the
need for three tiers --- the bottom tier for the reception, the middle tier for
distributing and the top for the christening. As the time between the weddings
and the christenings widened, the two events became disassociated, and the
reason for saving the top tier changed. Regardless of the underlying reason,
when the couple finally does eat the top tier, it serves as a very pleasant
reminder of what was their very special day.

Filed under: Weddings

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