The traditional wedding cake as we know it has been around for hundreds of years. Although many variations on the theme have sprung up since it first became popular, the tiered, white-iced, classic has stood the test of time. But how did it all start?
Use Your Loaf
In Antiquity, the very first wedding cakes appeared. They were nothing but thin loaves made of wheat or barley – more like bread. The ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians would bake a bread cake in the shape of a bird or grain, and break it over the bride’s head as a symbol of her fertility, fruitfulness and good fortune. Guests then scrambled for the pieces of cake hoping to secure good luck for themselves.
In Anglo Saxon times, sugar made its appearance in the wedding loaf, turning it into more of a sweetened bun. It became the tradition for guests to bring these little cakes to the wedding and pile them up one on top of the other as high as they could. The bride and groom would attempt to kiss one another over the tower without knocking it down. If they were successful, it meant a lifetime of prosperity.
From there, the birth of the tiered wedding cake as we know it is somehow uncertain. The story goes that in the 1660s, during the reign of King Charles II, a French chef was visiting London and observed the cake piling ceremony. Appalled at the haphazard manner in which the British stacked baked goods, often to have them tumble, he conceived the idea of transforming the mountain of bland biscuits into an iced, multi-tiered cake sensation. British papers of the day are supposed to have deplored the French excess, but before the close of the century, British bakers were offering the very same magnificent creations.
The Icing on the Cake
During the Renaissance, edible centerpieces became popular. These centerpieces grew to enormous heights amid the general extravagance of the age. It became customary to build the wedding cake as a palace, iced with white sugar to symbolize purity, replete with figures of the new “Lord and Lady of the Manor”, miniature gardens, and horses.
Whiter Than White
Purity was not the only reason white icing was all the rage – it was also a sure way to tell everybody you had more than a few pennies. White icing had to be made using only the most refined sugar – a very expensive ingredient at the time. So the whiter the cake, the wealthier the bride’s family had to be.
In the 1700s, it became tradition to box up small pieces of cake for the maids and bachelors to take home and put under their pillows. Before going to sleep, a prayer was said, which, with the aid of God, the saints, angels, or Venus, would allow the sleeping person to dream of their future marriage partner.
Wedding Cake Prayer
But Madam, as a present take
This little paper of bride-cake;
Fast any Friday in the year,
When Venus mounts the starry sphere,
Thrust this at night in pillowbeer;
in morning slumber you will seem
T’ enjoy your lover in a dream.
It’s fun to see some of the wedding cake styles that have been popular in more recent times with examples from celebrity weddings.
Today’s wedding cakes can take any size, shape, or style, limited only by the imagination of the wedding couple and their baker. While using fondant has been the more popular cake decorating trend for quite some time, much skill and creativity is also now being used in designing beautiful wedding cakes with only buttercream frosting, like these examples below by Little Bliss Cakery in Granite Bay.
To find your source for cakes, cupcakes, pies, chocolates, or other sweets, visit the Sacramento Wedding Cakes and Desserts page!
Excerpts from Modern Wedding Cakes magazine.