At today’s modern wedding reception, wedding cakes have become a centerpiece. They are tall, elaborate, colorful, covered in floral, and made of delicious flavors like chocolate cake with hazelnut butter cream or vanilla cake with raspberry coulis. What we know as wedding cake today is very different than its humble origins.
The history of wedding cakes is a bit strange. It is believed the first wedding cakes were likely from ancient Greece, but they weren’t the sweet confections as we know them. Originally wheat and barley buns, they evolved into savory pies. Finally, sweet cakes began rising in popularity during the 17th century when sugar was becoming more plentiful in Europe and England. Either pound cake or fruit cake with white icing or marzipan was the style of the times and was brought over to the Americas with the first settlers. It was in the 1700’s when Thomas Rich, a baker’s apprentice in England, wanted to create a cake to impress his fiancé and her father (his employer). Drawing inspiration from St. Bride’s Church of London, his elegant cake made way for the tradition of tiered cakes. While tiered cakes weren’t unheard of in the beginning of cake history, they weren’t popular among common people. Historically, tiered cakes were reserved for those high in social status – the taller the cake, the higher the rank. Thomas’ cake design made tiered cakes accessible to the low and middle class of the age. It was these few evolutionary moments in cake history that led to today’s more modern counterpart.
As the style of wedding cakes evolved, so did the traditions that accompanied them. Contemporary cake cuttings today are nothing like their historical origins. It actually started in Roman times when grooms would break bread over the bride’s head! Cake traditions have come a long way since Ancient Roman times. These wedding cake traditions are most popular today.
Cutting the Cake
Did you know the groom has no part in the original cutting of the cake? It used to be that it was the bride alone who set out with the task. Much like the first kiss and first dance, watching the couple cut their cake is a classic wedding moment that is sure to grace the pages of the wedding album.
Taking the First Bite
We can again thank the Romans for this act of love. It was believed that feeding their partner crumbs of their cake symbolized a mutual promise to provide for one another.
The Groom’s Cake
When sweet fruit cakes became popular in the 17th century, the groom’s cake began to pop up as a special favor for guests at the end of the night. Today’s groom’s cakes are often richer and themed around the groom’s passions or favorite things, and nearly always served with the wedding cake itself.
Saving the Top Tier
Today, couples often save the top tier of the wedding cake to enjoy on their first anniversary. This tradition began in the 19th century when couples would save this layer of their cake to be served at the christening of their first child.
The White Wedding Cake
During Victorian times, white icing was a symbol of social status. The fine white sugar needed to create white icing was extremely expensive at the time. The white of the cake was simply a representation of the bride as the main focal point of the wedding which led to its popularity. Many brides today still select cakes like this, however a variety of colors are used to often match the cake to the event’s colors, theme or décor.
Originally popular during the days of early America, the tradition of cake pulls made its way from England, Scotland and Ireland with early settlers. It’s a tradition that has lost popularity in many parts of the United States now, but remains a tradition in southern states like Louisiana. Charms are attached to ribbons and inserted into the cake before it’s decorated. Each charm carries special meaning, and a different kind of luck will fall on the guest who receives it. For example, a rocking chair ensures a long, happy life, and an anchor or airplane symbolizes a fun adventure is in the near future.