Unless you’re a really radical bride, a wedding cake is going to be a key feature on your big day. As you try to decide between having a tower of macarons or a flower-covered sponge cake, you’re continuing a matrimonial tradition that began in Roman times.
Throughout history, wedding cakes have always played an important role in wedding celebrations. However, they haven’t always been a beautiful, delicious, and decorative centerpiece. The Romans marked their wedding with a simple barley or wheat cake, which was crumbled over the bride and groom as a symbol of good fortune and a successful marriage. By the Middle Ages, these bread-like cakes had evolved into small spiced buns, which were piled high into a tall tower. The newlyweds then faced the challenge of kissing over this stack of buns — a successful kiss was a sign of good luck. A “bride pie” was also a key part of a medieval wedding. This savory pie would be filled with various fillings depending on your wealth and status, and the pastry crust was always ornately decorated.
Gradually, the towering spiced buns and the decorated pastry fused together to create a “bride cake.” These cakes became more and more elaborate over time, until they began to resemble a wedding cake we would recognize today: a sturdy fruit cake wrapped in a layer of almond paste, and covered with white icing.
It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that the term “wedding cake” came into use to describe a multi-tiered, white cake. It was in 1840, at Queen Victoria’s wedding, that a hard, bright white icing was created, and named ‘royal icing,’ and in 1882 at another royal wedding, the first tiered wedding cake where all the layers were edible was served. The rest, as they say, is history.
Since the 1900s, tiered, entirely edible, white wedding cakes have been the norm. For a while, the fashion was for the biggest, tallest, most ornate cake possible, the showiest of which could be up to 10-feet wide and weigh up to 800 pounds.
Thankfully, since then, cake fashion has changed, and wedding cakes can now be whatever you want them to be, whether that’s a towering white structure, a classic French croquembouche, or a conical collection of cupcakes.