All About Wedding Cakes
Believe it or not, there’s more to wedding cakes than a tasty, cakes actually evolved from what may only be described as a hard, brittle bread to the multi-tiered confections that are now de riguer in any fashionable wedding. Here’s a rundown of some of the surprising trivia related to wedding cakes.
The origin of the wedding cake can be traced to as early as the 1st century B.C.
- In Rome. During that time, a “cake” or what passed for one during that time, was broken over the head of the bride. It seemed that the cake — which was more akin to a hard, brittle bread — symbolized fertility, and is one way of assuring the bride and the groom that they would have many children.Some accounts have it, however that the said “cake” was actually “barley bread”, of which some were eaten by the groom, while the remaining pieces were broken above the bride’s head. No record as to how the bride might have felt while bread was being broken over her head survives though.
- It took quite a while before “wedding cakes” resurfaced after a hiatus of sorts. Considering that the custom had to survive the fall of the Roman Empire and subsequently, the Dark Ages; it was a miracle that the custom of breaking bread even survived. Not to mention that people managed to preserve the art of baking.Anyway, it was in the Middle Ages that a similar custom as practiced by the Romans began to be observed anew. These cakes were a bit mysterious in nature though, as they were merely described as flour-based sweet food (bread was described as flour-based but without sweetening to differentiate it).
As opposed to how “wedding cakes” look now, the cakes which were then used were actually stacked one on top of the other, in order to make a great big pile in front of the bride and groom. The couple were expected to attempt to kiss each other over this pile. It is expected that they would have many children if they succeed.
- During the 17th century, “wedding cakes” actually disappeared from wedding celebrations. In lieu of cakes, savory pies called “bride’s pies” were used instead. These pies were filled with either sweet meats, minced meat or even mutton. A unique conceit of the bride’s pie was the glass ring is said to be wed the next. Probably because of the rustic nature of pies, bride’s pies were found in less affluent homes and not in the estates of the aristocracy.
- There was also the so-called “groom’s cake” which was particularly associated with the countries of England and Ireland. It is actually a fruit cake with white icing and is served alongside traditional wedding cake. Today, this kind of cake is seldom served anymore. Nonetheless, there are receptions that still feature it. However, instead of the traditional fruit cake, the chocolate cake has now replaced it.
- Believe it or not, wedding cake in their present form only became popular in the 19th century. They were called “bride’s or bridal cake” to emphasize the fact that the focal point of the wedding was the bride. As expected, these cake were only single-tiered affairs and were usually “prune cakes”. With the growing affluence of Western society then, time came when the simple bridal cake eventually evolved into the multi-tiered affairs we know today.Of course, these elaborate cakes were also meant to be seen and not really eaten — as only a small portion was actually edible. Plaster and spun sugar was used for decorating them. Later on, cold porcelain was likewise used to great effect.
Lastly, it is no coincidence that most wedding cakes looked like buildings or structures. This is because the earliest French chefs actually deemed architecture to be a discipline of the culinary arts! Anyway, such is the power of tradition that wedding cakes or any cakes for that matter resemble idealized structures even today.
Did you know that. . .
Cakes are not the only foodstuffs that figure prominently in weddings and receptions? Rice for instance is also a staple in most wedding traditions not only in Asia, but in western countries as well. This is because since time immemorial, rice has been used as a symbol of fertility and of the couple’s desire to have a full pantry. As such, rice is thrown, or rather, showered to the couple after they have been married.
However, rice is not the only foodstuff thrown at the bride and groom. Wheat grains were also thrown at couples in France; while fogs and dates were preferred in Northern Africa. In Italy, dried fruit and candy, mixed with some coins were also thrown to the couple who were either elated or rueful of the metal thrown their way. Luckily for us, the European custom of throwing eggs at couples has not caught on. Otherwise, the bride and groom would have greeted the first day of their union with eggs on their respective faces.
Today, birdseed has replaced rice (the latter is said to be harmful to little birds); combined with flower petals, confetti, baubles and even small balloons.