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WEDDING CAKE LORE AND HISTORY

Drop Cap The wedding cake is one of the oldest and most beloved traditions of todBreaday’s wedding ceremony. Bread and cakes have been associated with weddings throughout history, often representing the bride’s fertility. Ancient Romans shared a plain bread made from wheat or barley, salt, and water during their wedding ceremonies. The bread was broken over the bride’s head by the groom, symbolizing both his dominance over her and the taking of her virginity. Later, this custom evolved to include the bridesmaids covering the head of the bride with a white cloth prior to the breaking of the bread. Some believe that this practice led to another tradition: the wearing of the bridal veil.

CroquembpucheIn medieval England, sweet rolls were piled high between the bride and groom during the wedding celebration. The couple would try to kiss over the top without tumbling the rolls; a successful embrace was supposed to ensure a life of happiness with many children.

During the reign of King Charles II, it is rumored that a French chef visiting London observed this cake-piling ceremony. Upon his return to France, he transformed the pile of sweet rolls into today’s classic French wedding cake—the magnificent croquembouche.

currant pieMany argue that the wedding-cake tradition as we know it started in Great Britain. Simon R. Charsley writes in his book Wedding Cakes and Cultural History that the earliest recorded British recipe for a wedding cake (dated 1665) was, in fact, a pie. Eventually, the customary British wedding cake became a fruitcake.

The wedding cake tradition has spread around the world, and has been adapted in a variety of forms into many cultures.

indiafeastIn India, for example, the wedding cake is present at Christian ceremonies. However, most of India is Hindu, and wedding feasts in that tradition feature an abundant variety of sweets but no wedding cake per se.

 

lotuspastebunAt Chinese wedding banquets, the food served is symbolic of happiness, longevity, and fertility. Dessert features a sweet, steamed bread filled with lotus paste, which represents fruitfulness, but no wedding cake as we know it.

 

mexicanweddingcakesIn Mexico, the Mexicans indeed has their share of a sweet tooth. There are many cakes and some are very simple to make; the traditional wedding cakes are small melt-in-your mouth pastries made from flour, a high quality butter, pure vanilla extract, and almonds. The pastries are wrapped in brightly colored tissue so that the guests can take them home.

 

The classic style of a wedding cake, with successively smaller, stacked tiers, is believed to have been inspired by the spire of the fourteenth-century Saint Bride’s Church in the city of London. Although the church had been in existence for centuries, the multi-tiered wedding cake first appeared at nineteenth century royal weddings.

An 1840 edition of the London Times reported that Queen Victoria’s wedding cake was more than nine feet in circumference, with a second tier arising from a plateau supported by two pedestals. The second tier was not a cake at all, but a sugar sculpture of the mythical Britannia gazing upon the royal couple exchanging their vows. Also adorning the massive cake were sculpted doves, representing purity and innocence, and a dog, representing faithfulness and loyalty.

Since early nineteenth-century bakers lacked the engineering skill to stack cakes without the tiers crushing one another, it was customary for the bottom of base tier to be cake, while the top part of the cake consisted of sugar sculptures, spun sugar, or faux cakes made of pure sugar. It was not until 1870 that the wedding cake became an actual tiered cake, and not until twenty years later that tiers of cake were separated by columns.

Like the bride’s dress, the classic wedding cake is white. The white icing originally symbolized virginal attributes, and a link was made between the whiteness of the cake and the purity of the bride. However, status was another reason for the cake to be white. During Victorian times, the finer wedding-cake ingredients were scarce. White icing revealed that only the most expensive, refined white sugar was used, instead of the less expensive and more common brown sugar. The whiter the cake, the more affluent the family.

Although the wedding cake is still a prominent part of the wedding ceremony, many couples no longer opt for a traditional cake. Today’s cakes may reflect a couple’s dreams or their ethnic heritage. Cakes can range from understated to elegant to wildly imaginative. The modern couple in no longer limited by societal rules and scarcity of materials; their cake can be anything and everything they desire.