THE HISTORY OF THE WEDDING CAKE
The history of the wedding cake goes back as far as the Roman Empire. At that time, the cake was actually unsweetened bread made of flour, salt and water. The bride and the groom first tasted the cake and then it was broken over the head of the bride by the groom in order to ensure her future fertility.
Medieval England saw the introduction of mounds of small buns, a fashion that has gone full circle with the re-introduction of the individual cup cake tower as a popular alternative to the traditionally tiered wedding cake. The mid 17th century saw the advent of the plum cake as a wedding cake - a fashionable French import usually gracing the tables of the rich. These plum cakes were quite literally sugar coated with white icing and as such proved to be indicative of affluence, as refined white sugar was difficult to acquire. White also came to symbolise the purity of the virgin bride, a tradition that is still very much recognised today. However, for those less wealthy, the bride's pie was a more familiar dish. Often the bride's pie was filled with mincemeat or sweet breads, in which a ring was placed. It was said that the lady who found the ring would be the next to wed. Previous to the Victorian era, only the rich could afford the very finest sugars needed to make pure white icing. This resulted in the white wedding cake design becoming a symbol of wealth rather than purity, as is often believed.
The plum cake remained in vogue as a wedding cake into the 19th century, but by the middle of the century wedding cakes were beginning to once again stack, but this time into a neat multi-tiered cake. The multi-tiered cakes were originally only meant for English royalty, and often the top layers were only sugar. The first wedding to see a wholly edible multi-tiered cake was a royal wedding of 1882. It was during this era that it became more popular to distribute the cake amongst guests both present and absent from the ceremony.
The popularity of the multi-tier wedding cake as we know it today continued into the early 20th century - however these were still the centrepiece of choice of the rich. The introduction of supporting columns also appeared around this time, as a means to support and separate the tiers. From the 1930s onwards, wedding cakes began to take on all manner of shapes and sizes, and gradually the frosting and decoration of the cake became more elaborate throughout the twentieth century.
The Second World War forced brides to be imaginative in order to have a beautiful wedding cake using limited ingredients. As sugar was rationed and therefore scarce, cakes were generally reduced in size and, so as to resemble a traditional wedding cake design, served inside a box decorated with plaster of Paris.
Whenever we see a bride and groom cutting the wedding cake, we're witnessing a very long tradition of the bride vowing to help her groom wherever possible, and when the proceed to feed one another from that first slice they're committing to provide for one another for.
Superstitious Beliefs related to Wedding Cakes
Around 17th and 18th century an interesting superstitious belief was related to the wedding cakes. Bride used to pass a piece of cake through her wedding ring and gift it to unmarried girls. They would keep the piece under their pillow in the hope of seeing their future spouse in the dream. The custom stopped when the brides became superstitious about taking off their rings just after the ceremony.
In the UK a ring was baked inside the cake. It was believed that person who found the slice of cake with the ring would be next to get married and find happiness and luck.
Tradition of saving a portion of the Wedding Cake
There is also a tradition of saving a portion of wedding cake. The custom began years ago and is still practiced. Newlywed couples freeze the upper tier of the cake and use it on their first anniversary. Since normal cakes do not last so long and taste good too, bakers prepare a special layer that can survive upto one year in a freezer.
The tradition is rooted in late 19th century when grand cakes were baked for christening of the first child.