Wedding season is upon us and we are busy, busy, busy making and creating all sorts of unique and delicious cakes to help make your special day perfect! Crafting these wonderful cakes and being up to our elbows in flour and icing has lead us to wonder about where the wedding cake tradition comes from and how it came to be. Believe it or not, looking into it we have traced wedding cake/bread traditions back to Ancient Rome! Check out the history of this modern must-have custom at weddings below, some of the customs we can’t believe!
Our modern version of the wedding cake has been developed from a variety of cultural traditions over the ages. The primary wedding cake tradition began in Ancient Rome where pieces of bread (which were the equivalent of cake back then) were broken above the bride’s head to offer good fortune to the couple. Following this wedding tradition, in Medieval England the guests would throw cakes made of wheat at the bride as a symbol of fertility. As well as this they would make a pile of cakes stacked as high as possible. After the wedding ceremony the bride and groom would attempt to kiss over the pile without knocking it over, if they were successful they would be guaranteed an affluent life together.
This tradition actually inspired a French pastry chef, who was visiting England, to create the first Croquembouche. This soon became a traditional French wedding cake, although in our present day it is usually positioned as the top tier to the cake foundations.
One of our Croquembouche designs
The wedding cake tradition then continued to evolve as in the early 1700’s a bakers apprentice fell in love with his employer’s daughter and asked her to marry him. In order to celebrate this proposal and express his love, he made an extravagant cake – clearly he was a romantic type!
Eventually it became traditional for the bride to show acceptance of the proposal by inserting a ring in the
couples portion of the cake. Soon after this cake became known as the “bride’s pie” and was served at most weddings between the 1700’s and the early 19th century. Regardless as to whether or not they wanted to, guests had to have a piece as it was considered to be the upmost disrespect not to eat it. Similar to the contemporary tradition of the flower bouquet, a glass ring would often be hidden within the cake, and the maiden who found it would be the next to marry. Over the years the “bride’s pie” became known as the “bride’s cake” as the dessert was slowly becoming sweeter and no longer took the form of a pie. Eventually the tradition of the glass ring died out and was instead replaced by the throwing of the flower bouquet that we know today! As the pies died out fruit cakes replaced it as they were a sign of fertility and prosperity, which was considered relevant at weddings because all married men and women were expected to want a lot of children.
Furthermore the bride’s cake usually took the form of a simple cake with white icing to symbolize purity and virginity – much like the symbolism surrounding the white dress. By the early 1800’s sugar was becoming more accessible to the general public leading to the increased popularity of the bride’s cake. Meanwhile the extravagance of the cake was a way for families to show their social status as the whiter the icing and the larger the cake, the more wealth that family had. Additionally the icing of wedding cakes took the name of “royal icing” after Queen Victoria used white icing on her own wedding cake.
However the contemporary wedding cake that our society knows originated from Prince Leopold’s wedding in 1882. Not only was his cake completely edible which was a new development, but it was also tiered. The first pillars between the tiers appeared a couple of decades after this and were constructed of broomsticks covered in icing. Price Leopold’s cake was the origin of the method we use today as each layer was made separately. Only once the icing had hardened would the layers be stack on top of one another.
Of course, given the size of our modern wedding cakes we also use extra support by inserting dowels in the centre of each layer.
Now wedding cakes are known for being a centre piece at the after party and a vital addition to the wedding day. Here at Contemporary Cake Designs we are dedicated to making yours the perfect cake in looks and taste – whether it’s unique to you or takes a more traditional form.
We absolutely love helping you design and create your wedding masterpieces! This time of year has to be one of our upmost favourites as we meet with the couples to personally discuss what they dream about and want for their own wedding cake. Give us a call even just for a consultation and we would be absolutely delighted to help!