The History and Traditions of the Wedding Cake
by Michael Kabel
The wedding cake is the one of the most revered and ubiquitous symbols of the wedding celebration. So much so, that most people take it for granted that the cake has always been a symbol of matrimonial joy.
While the tradition of bringing a cake to the wedding celebration is thousands of years old, the cakes themselves have often changed quite a bit over time.
Today, the wedding cake is a fantastically designed symbol of all the different parts of a happy marriage, and a centerpiece for the reception. But in the days of the Roman Empire, guests were treated to many small cakes and pastries served separately. In some traditions, a single large cake was dropped over the head of the bride, as a way of bringing good fortune to the new couple.
During the Middle Ages, each wedding guest brought a small cake to the reception. The cakes were piled atop each other, making the beginnings of the tiered wedding cake familiar to current times. It was considered good luck if the bride and groom could kiss each other over the stacks of cakes.
With the coming of refrigeration and preservatives that could keep pastries and sugar fresh for much longer periods, wedding cakes became even more sophisticated and elaborate. The modern wedding cake is tiered with several layers, as homage to the tiered spire of St. Bride’s Church, a famous English medieval chapel.
Modern wedding cakes are often fantastically elaborate, and may require the work of one or more skilled pastry chefs to complete. Many newlywed couples choose to have their cake represent a particular interest of their favorite pastime. In turn, this creates a new demand for ever more elaborate wedding cakes. Couples planning their wedding are advised to contact a pastry chef up to three months in advance to finalize any special details.
Wedding Cake Traditions
Different cultures and nations have their own traditions for cutting and serving the wedding cake to the new couple and their guests. Some popular traditions and superstitions include:
- A bride should not cut her own cake, or she will have to work hard all her life.
- The groom lays his hands over the brides while she cuts the cake, as a way of saying they were share all possessions. The bride should cut the first piece as a way of hoping for children.
- In Russia, the bride and groom take a bite of the same piece of bread at the same time. Whoever bits off the bigger piece is said to “be the boss” in the new marriage.
- In parts of the Southern United States, the cake is baked with small charms inside attached to ribbons leading to the cake’s exterior. Bridesmaids will pull the ribbons and uncover charms wishing them children, travel, wealth, and marriage.
- In Jamaica, the wedding cake is soaked in rum for up to a year before the wedding day, to preserve and saturate all the fruits and nuts baked inside.