One of the many decisions a bride must make, alongside her dress, bridesmaids, hairstyle, bridal makeup artist, flowers and guest list, relates to the wedding cake. No wedding is complete without what is really the centrepiece of a wedding reception … and it has a long tradition behind it.
Weddings have traditionally been celebrated with a special cake since ancient times. The ancient Romans had a cake made of barley or wheat which was broken over the bride’s head at the end of the marriage ceremony; this was to symbolise good fortune. The bridal couple then ate a few crumbs of it together, before the guests gathered the pieces to take for good luck.
Mediaeval England saw small spiced buns stacked into a tower as an early form of wedding cake. The tower was made as high as possible, and if the bride and groom could reach over the top to kiss, they’d enjoy a lifetime of good fortune.
The earliest wedding cake recipe in existence is for Bride’s Pye, dating to 1685. It was an elaborate pastry pie with a filling of pine kernels, oysters, sweetbreads, lambs’ testicles, and spices. Less wealthy couples had pies of mutton. Yorkshire weddings had bride pie, which was essential to the happiness of the couple in future. It was a pastry pie containing a hen full of eggs and surrounded by fruits, nuts, minced meats, and a ring; every guest had to partake. Whoever got the ring would be next to marry.
In the 1700’s, pie was replaced by bride cake. These fruited cakes, which symbolised fertility and good fortune, were the centrepiece of a wedding celebration. Bride cakes were also made with pastry sandwiched with currants and sugar. Yorkshire Matrimony Cake was a pie case made with apples, spices, dried fruits, and breadcrumbs.
At this time, wedding cakes were also made in pairs, one for bride and one for groom. Groom’s cake was fruitcake, dark and heavy, not iced, and served alongside the bride’s cake but for the guests to take home. Bride cake was covered in white icing, usually of a type of meringue. The first almond “royal” icing appeared in 1769.
Modern wedding cake is traditionally fruitcake, but today we see many variations – including red velvet, chocolate mud, croquembouche, and more.
There are many superstitions relating to wedding cakes. A bride must never bake her own cake. Newlyweds must cut the first slice together. Tasting the cake before the wedding means the loss of the groom’s love. Keeping a piece of the cake after the day means a faithful husband. Every guest must eat a piece of the cake to ensure the bridal couple’s fertility.
Next time we will look specifically at tips for choosing your own wedding cake…