The History of Wedding Cakes

“Imagine a wedding breakfast without a fabulously designed wedding cake as the centrepiece. It wouldn’t be right, would it?”


Image right: A modern 3 Tier Wedding Cake

The history of wedding cakes is a fascinating one, with a story that starts with the celebration of nuptials as far back as ancient Roman times when a simple cake of wheat or barley would have been broken over the bride’s head in order to ensure her future fertility. Guests would scramble to obtain a crumb for themselves, a custom that led to the sharing of the modern traditional wedding cake. Eventually the cake evolved in both size and decoration until breaking it over the bride’s head became impractical, if not impossible.

Medieval England saw the introduction of mounds of small buns, a fashion that has gone full circle with the re-introduction of the individual cup cake tower as a popular alternative to the traditionally tiered wedding cake.

The bride and groom would traditionally try to kiss over the top of the tower without knocking the cakes down. If successful, prosperity and health would await the lucky couple. For convenience the small cakes were eventually frosted together with sugar.

Thanks to a visiting French chef during the mid-1600s, wedding cake design took a distinct turn towards the style of cake we’re familiar with today. The Frenchman’s aversion to cakes falling to the floor prompted him to design an alternative, the tiered and frosted cake, a wedding cake design that quickly caught on and that has since held its popularity.

The history of wedding cakes then started out on its last leg before reaching the traditional wedding cakes we have today, mostly due to brides striving to outdo each other. The more admiration a wedding cake design received, the greater the chance of a marriage steeped in good fortune and peace.

Demands for larger, more elaborate wedding cakes appeared as the number of guests celebrating the happy couple grew. Big receptions meant big wedding cakes that often took months to create. Understandably, without the luxury of modern refrigeration, cakes made from dried fruit and fats became popular because of their longevity in the larder. A thick sugar frosting helped prevent moisture loss, ensuring the cake would be moist and tasty when finally served and devoured. Wedding cake history had taken the final step along the road to the cake we know today.

Previous to the Victorian era, only the rich could afford the very finest sugars needed to make pure white icing. This resulted in the white wedding cake design becoming a symbol of wealth rather than purity, as is often believed.
The Second World War forced brides to be imaginative in order to have a beautiful wedding cake using limited ingredients. As sugar was rationed and therefore scarce, cakes were generally reduced in size and, so as to resemble a traditional wedding cake design, served inside a box decorated with plaster of Paris.

Whenever we see a bride and groom cutting the wedding cake, we’re witnessing a very long tradition of the bride vowing to help her groom wherever possible, and when the proceed to feed one another from that first slice they’re committing to provide for one another for.

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