Updated: Jun 5
If you are planning on getting married you are no doubt thinking about ordering a wedding cake, or one of the more modern day alternatives such as a croquembouche, macaron or cupcake tower or even stacked rounds of cheese delicately decorated with fresh flowers and fruits. Cakes have played an important part in marriage ceremonies for hundreds of years but do you know where the tradition of the wedding cake comes from?
It hasn't always been flowers and ribbons. The ritual of the wedding cake in Britain can be traced back to medieval times when cakes were made of wheat and thrown at the bride as a symbol of fertility. I can't imagine anyone throwing a big four-tiered cake these days. The poor bride would probably end up black and blue!
It wasn't just cake that was eaten after the ceremony either. All baked goods, including scones and biscuits were piled up high and the couple would attempt to kiss over the mound. If they managed it and the pile didn't topple then they were assured a lifetime of prosperity. I feel sorry for those couples who knocked the pile over!
A French chef visiting in the 1600s thought the piling ritual was very uncouth and recommended a stacking system instead, using sawn off broom handles (yikes!! I hope they were careful with the splinters!). However, the use of tiers didn't really catch on until much later.
"Bride Pie" became popular in the 17th century. Fillings would vary from mutton to sweet breads to mince pies. A glass ring was hidden inside the pie and used in much the same way as the bouquet today in that whichever woman found it was meant to become the next bride. The pie was often the centrepiece for less well off families.
Legend has it that tiered cakes became popular as a result of a baker’s apprentice in late 18th-century London. William Rich was an apprentice in Ludgate Hill and he fell in love with his boss’s daughter. When he asked her to marry him he wanted to impress her with a large, beautiful cake and his inspiration came from the spire of St Bride’s church. There are no surviving records of this cake but it's a
The marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1840 really set the fashion for weddings. Wedding dresses and cakes both became big and white. I mentioned in this post that wedding dresses before this were not always white and that women just used to wear their best dress. Sugar was also now cheaper and it became much easier for working class families to imitate the weddings of the rich.
But of course this affluence didn’t last, and wartime rationing rather limited wedding cake options. During the Second World War there were strict rations so cakes were much smaller. The average person would have probably had some ingredients donated from friends and relations and others used deceptive tricks so their cakes looked the part. Gravy browning made fruit cakes look richer or cardboard cakes were rented and the real, smaller cake was concealed inside. Then in 1940 the Ministry of Food banned the use of icing on wedding cakes so people often just used the cardboard cover nicely decorated with crepe paper. They would stand a little vase on top which could be filled with fresh flowers. In those days, people used to make their own marzipan too but during the war years there was a shortage of almonds, one of the key ingredients in marzipan, so they had to make a mock marzipan. This is a good recipe for anyone with a nut allergy but the downside is that it could only be applied to the cake a maximum of two to three days in advance of the wedding day otherwise it would be too dry and hard to make pleasant eating. This, of course might rule out much of the elaborate decoration that we see on wedding cakes today for those who want a traditional fruit cake.
If you want to have a go at making mock marzipan, try the following recipe and let me know how you get on:
4 oz Margarine
4 tbsp Water
2 tsp Almond Essence
8 oz Semolina
8 oz Sugar
Heat the margarine and water in a saucepan and add the almond essence.
Then add the semolina and work it round until it has absorbed all the water and margarine.
Stir in the sugar.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and, tip the mixture into a bowl and leave to cool but do not allow it to get cold or it will harden.
Spread over the cake.
So through history, wedding cakes have come a long way to become what they are today and if you are looking to order the cake of your dreams then contact me here for a free, no obligation quote. If you prefer, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org of private message the Facebook page.
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Related: Fresh Flowers on Cakes - The Lowdown