Where Did The Tradition of Wedding Cakes Begin?
The contemporary wedding cake has grown out of several different ethnic traditions. One of the first traditions began in Ancient Rome where unsweetened barley bread was broken over the bride’s head by the groom to bring good fortune to the couple and to symbolise the grooms dominance over her. In Medieval England cakes were stacked as high as possible for the bride and groom to kiss over. A successful kiss meant they were guaranteed a prosperous life together. From this the Croquembouche was created. The myth behind this cake tells of a Pastry chef, visiting Medieval England who witnessed their tradition of piling sweet rolls between the bride and groom, which they attempted to kiss over without knocking them all down. The pastry chef then went back to France and piled sweet rolls up into a tower to make the first Croquembouche. The modern croquembouche is still very popular in France, where it is now common to place the croquembouche tower on a bed of cake and make it a top tier. This traditional French wedding cake is built from Profiteroles and given a halo of spun sugar.
The modern wedding cake as we know it now originated at the wedding of Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, in 1882; his wedding cake was the first to actually be completely edible. Pillars between cake tiers did not begin to appear until about 20 years later. The pillars were very poorly made from broomsticks covered in icing. The tiers represented prosperity and were a status symbol because only wealthy families could afford to include them in the cake. Prince Leopold’s wedding cake was created in separate layers with very dense icing. When the icing hardened the tiers were then stacked; this method had never been used before, and it was a groundbreaking innovation for wedding cakes at the time. Modern wedding cakes still use this method, but because of the size of today’s cakes, internal support is added to each layer in the form of dowels.
Traditionally the bride would place a ring inside the couple's portion of the cake to symbolise acceptance of the proposal. During the mid-17th century to the beginning of the 19th, the “bride's pie” was served at most weddings. Guests were expected to have a piece out of politeness. It was considered very rude and bad luck not to eat the bride’s pie. One tradition of bride’s pie was to place a glass ring in the middle of the dessert and the maiden who found it would be the next to marry, similar to the modern tradition of catching the Flower bouquet. Bride’s pie eventually developed into the bride’s cake. At this point the dessert was no longer in the form of a pie and was much sweeter. The bride cake was traditionally a plum or fruit cake. The myth that eating the pie would bring good luck was still common but the glass ring slowly died out and the flower bouquet toss replaced it.
Fruit cakes were a sign of fertility and prosperity, which helped them gain popularity because married men wanted to have plenty of children. The bride’s cake eventually transformed into the modern wedding cake we know today. In the 17th century, two cakes were made, one for the bride and one for the groom. The groom's cake eventually died out and the bride's cake turned into the main cake for the event. When the two cakes were served together, the groom's cake was typically the darker coloured, rich fruit cake and generally much smaller than the bride's. The bride’s was usually a simple pound cake with white icing because white was a sign of virginity and purity. In the early 19th century, when the bride’s cakes became popular, sugar became easier to obtain. The more refined and whiter sugars were still very expensive, so only wealthy families could afford to have a very pure white frosting. This showed wealth and social status of the family. When Queen Victoria used white icing on her cake it gained a new title, royal icing.