The tradition of a wedding cake goes back to Roman times when a cake of meal was crumbled over the bride’s head to provide good luck. The wedding cake symbolizes good fortune and fertility. It also brings good luck to everyone who eats it. The wedding cake should be made with an abundance of good quality ingredients to symbolize a long-lasting, rich, and happy marriage.
The bride cuts the first slice of cake to provide good fortune in the marriage. Nowadays, her groom helps in this task to ensure that he shares the good fortune. This also shows they will share all their worldly goods in the future.
There are a number of pleasant traditions surrounding the wedding cake. One is that the bride puts aside a slice of cake to ensure that her husband remains faithful. A tier of the cake can be put aside for later use as a christening cake. This ensures future children. Any unmarried women at the wedding should take a piece of cake home with them and place it under their pillows. This may produce dreams in which they see their future partners.
A gorgeous wedding cake is often the centrepiece of a wedding and it typically sits in a place of honor at the reception. This carefully planned confection is a longstanding tradition dating back to Roman and Medieval times.
Back then, a stack of buns was used instead of a multi-level culinary masterpiece, but the symbolism was generally the same. Over the centuries, there have been many traditions created surrounding the cake, and it still remains an important aspect of any wedding.
It’s important to take the time to plan a cake that reflects the couple and keep in mind all the various customs created around wedding cakes.
The History and Meaning of Wedding Cakes
The first wedding cakes were actually the result of traditions to encourage the bride’s fertility. According to Emily Lael Aumiller, the owner of Lael Cakes, “In Roman times, grains of wheat represented fertility and were thrown at the newly married to ensure fruitfulness.” Similar traditions involving loaves of grain were used in Ancient Greece to promote prosperity and fertility. As weddings evolved, “the wheat was eventually baked into cakes.”
Those Roman and Greek wheat cakes morphed into the more traditional cakes we see today. “Over the years, as a sign of prosperity, families began to stack the cakes,” Aumiller says. Of course, some couples forgo the wedding cake, pairing a cutting cake with alternative desserts like “mini caramel apples, chocolate tarts, coconut macarons, and shortbread cookies,” to name a few.
However, a wedding cake remains a staple at most modern-day weddings. It’s not uncommon for newlyweds to preserve the top tier of their wedding cake for their one-year anniversary. This tradition also goes along with the notion of spreading good-luck and prosperity.
Cutting the Cake
Along with the first dance and bouquet toss, this charming tradition is one of those photo opportunities that graces every wedding album. The cake cutting represents the first activity done as a couple, although historically the bride did this act alone to symbolize the loss of her virginity.
Cake cutting became a more complicated process as cakes became multi-tiered and the number of guests reached the hundreds. These days, the bride requires the groom’s assistance, and usually, they do not cut the entire cake up, but instead leave that duty to the caterer.
The Bride and Groom Feeding Each Other Cake
The second act of the traditional cake cutting ceremony is when the bride and groom feed each other a small bite of cake. This can be romantic and sweet, symbolizing a commitment to provide for one another and a show of love and affection.
Unfortunately, this custom has evolved in some cases to the groom or bride grinding the cake into his or her partner’s face. Unless each person agrees beforehand to participate in this type of show, it is best to stick with a simple feeding.
The Groom’s Cake
Early American weddings had groom’s cakes and southern states in the U.S. continue to perpetuate this wedding tradition. Many modern weddings have resurrected the tradition of this cake to showcase the groom’s hobbies, individual taste, and even their favourite sports teams.
Groom’s cakes are usually chocolate to contrast the actual wedding cake, although any flavour is acceptable.
Saving the Top Tier
Most couples cannot resist saving the top tier of their wedding cake to eat on their first anniversary or a christening ceremony. In the past, christenings were often within a year of the wedding, so this made perfect sense. Now, most couples are more likely to create a small cake eating ceremony around their first anniversary. Sharing this small cake is a charming reminder of a special day.
A well-wrapped cake can easily survive a year in the deep freezer without too much damage, as long as the cake has no mousse layers or delicate fresh fruit fillings.
Sleeping With Piece of Cake Under the Pillow
It is thought that a person sleeping with a piece of wedding cake under her pillow will dream of her future partner that night. This custom dates back almost 300 years and is often practically combined with wedding favours being tiny, perfect replicas of the wedding cake.
Cakes in modern times are sometimes not as firm as the traditional fruitcake used in the past, so having it under a pillow could get messy! A favour in a box is a much neater solution.
Wedding Cake Charms
The custom of baking charms into wedding cakes is a longstanding one which has fallen into disuse. It is an delightful tradition to try as long as you warn the guests to be careful and remove their charm before eating the cake!
A more practical variation is pushing the charms into a baked cake with a ribbon attached so the guest can simply pull the charm out.
Several charms are used traditionally, and each has a specific meaning:
- Heart: true love
- Ring: upcoming engagement
- Wishing Well; wishes coming true
- Highchair: children
- Clover or Horseshoe: good luck
- Rocking Chair: long life
- Anchor: adventure
- Flower: new love
- Purse: good fortune
- Wedding bells: marriage
The White Wedding Cake
White icing was also a symbol of money and social importance in Victorian times, so a white cake was highly desired. The fine white sugar needed to create white icing was extremely expensive, and the lighter the cake, the more wealthy the family would appear to their guests.
The white of the cake was simply a representation of the bride as the main focal point of the wedding. Many brides today mimic this continuity by creating cakes in the same hue as their dress or bouquet.
Wedding cakes can be any colour, but most people still feel the base color beyond the decorations should be white. White is, of course, the colour of purity, and traditionally this cake was referred to as the “bride’s cake.”
Why is the cake served at a wedding?
Around Shakespeare’s time, the bride’s friends would each bring a sweet bun to the wedding, with the bride’s popularity reflected in the number of buns received. The invention of icing may have come about when early bridesmaids sought to ensure the pile would not be toppled by adhering the buns with honey and applesauce.
Why are wedding cakes so tall?
One invention changed the very essence of what we know to be cake today: baking soda. Because of baking soda, cakes were empowered to grow to heights never before seen.
Why are wedding cakes white?
During the Victorian era, white icing became prevalent on wedding cakes as white represented purity and virginity.
Are wedding cakes more personal than we realize?
Pause and recall your very own wedding cake or the one you so desire. Is the cake fussy and trying a bit too hard, is it basic and straight-forward, or is it from Costco? Odds are, your wedding cake vision reveals a great deal about yourself.
Loria Stern, a professional chef and caterer, echoes this sentiment. “They represent a huge part of wedding tradition, and the bride and groom can make the flavours and design personal, reflecting themselves as individuals becoming a couple.”
Why is Cake Cutting So Important?
- The wedding cake tradition is far older than many of you may even believe. In fact, the first “wedding cakes” date as far back as the Roman Times, when the groom broke bread over the bride’s head. This used to symbolize the end of the bride’s purity, as well as the beginning of her being submissive to her husband.
- Later on, during the Middle Ages, couples had high-stacked cakes at their wedding. Tradition said that the newlyweds should kiss over the cake stack and that if they succeeded, they would be blessed with many children.
- In modern times, Cake Cutting has a slightly different symbolism. The hand of the groom is placed over the hand of the bride when cutting the cake to symbolize his support for her and her promise to take care of him and their family. Furthermore, the fact that couples are encouraged to cut from the bottom tier symbolizes the longevity and continuity of their relationship. Last but not least, the custom according to which the bride and groom feed each other from the cake symbolizes their commitment to take care of one another.
Wedding cakes today are in the news and legal briefs, as same-sex couples occasionally conflict with caterers with religious objections who refuse to prepare a cake for their wedding.
The nature and resolution of this dispute is not the subject of this essay, at least not directly; rather, I want to address a question in the conflict which has been largely ignored. For in the same-sex couple’s desire for a cake, to the point of offense at being denied one, and in the baker’s considered refusal, at the risk of fines and sanction, to prepare one, both parties acknowledge the fundamental importance of a wedding cake to a wedding celebration.
Why is it the cake, and not some other element of the wedding celebration, such as announcements, flowers, seating, meals, or music, which is the occasion of conflict? The couple and the baker may disagree about the marriage, but they agree about the cake. If they are like most Americans, neither party could explain fully why they feel it is important, though they sense, correctly, that it is.
How to Choose a Wedding Cake?
A quick scroll through social media for wedding cake stories yielded a wide array of responses, ranging from a groom’s cake shaped like an iPad with the screensaver depicting an Olan Mills portrait of the groom holding his cat while wearing a sweater and glasses to an enormous homemade wedding cake baked by the bride because she didn’t have time to cook the entire dinner for 100 guests. Have we vastly underestimated cakes, which are mirrors to our souls?
Before planning out your dream wedding cake, be sure to do your research. “My advice is to compile as many photos as possible of your favourite cake designs and make sure the cake baker/designer you choose has those sorts of designs in their portfolios,” Stern says.
Moriah Michelle of Wildflower Cakes in Denver concurs, “Go into your cake tasting with an idea of what you’re looking for, but be open to ideas that your baker may have. Be prepared to talk about the venue, guest count, and even the dinner menu.” Additionally, she suggests brides should start looking for a cake baker once they’ve secured their wedding venue and caterer. “These are the two biggest factors because the venue can influence the cake design, and catering can influence the cake flavours. Bakers will recommend choosing a cake flavour that compliments the food menu so that the flavours flow nicely together with the other foods that are being served,” Michelle says.
Cakes know us better than we know ourselves. By seeming so innocent, so inconsequential, they’ve gotten inside our heads. The next time you attend a wedding, do not forget to get a glimpse of the cake and do not just chew it mindlessly as you sip your coffee, because, in the end, a cake is worth a thousand wedding vows.
In the foregoing, I have made the case that, beyond its existence as a work of applied culinary art, the wedding cake is an essential element of a ritual system that expresses the public establishment of marriage, utilizing a form and ritual use which signifies the procreative sexual relationship, with its expectation of fertility in the body of the bride, which is being publicly legitimated by the wedding. In the words of the celebrated food historian William Woys Weaver:
“. . . the Great Cake and its layers upon layers of sublimated meanings—erotic to commemorative—are certainly here to stay. It is a food that has become a veritable institution. A wedding without it would be a wedding without protocol, a rite without confirmation.”
All effective ritual signification expresses meaning which is “taken for granted,” that is, assumed without conscious proposition or, usually, disagreement. It focuses, for a moment, part of that diffuse substrate of cultural meaning—what “everyone knows”—which it is the particular competence of sustained anthropological analysis to reveal. The power of such rituals, as with the wedding cake, does not lie in the possibility that everyone understands them or interprets them in the same way, but in the fact that virtually everyone enacts them, or more precisely, that everyone expects them to be enacted, perpetuating traditions of embedded meaning that, taken together, comprise what we understand as a culture.