Like many wedding traditions, the wedding cake is often said to have originated with the ancient Greeks and Romans. The tradition has since evolved from its earlier bread-like form to the beautiful and delicious concoctions we have come to expect today. And, just as every other aspect of wedding planning is subject to both seasonal and yearly changes, so do wedding cake trends change as time passes.
Back in the days of the Roman Empire, the wedding cake tradition began in the form of a loaf of wheat or barley bread which would often be broken over the heads of the newlyweds to bring the couple a life of luck and prosperity. The crumbs of this ‘wedding cake’ that fell to the floor were eaten by guests for good luck. And, single female guests would also fight for the grains for luck in their own betrothals.
The groom sometimes also broke a loaf of the bread over the bride’s head. This was a symbol of the husband’s dominance over his bride. The tradition of breaking bread over the bride’s head continued for centuries and is reported to have been in use in Scotland as recently as the 19th century.
In the tradition of the ancient Greeks, the newlywed couple would cut a sesame cake together. A symbol of fertility and happiness, this is perhaps where our modern tradition of wedding cake cutting originated.
In the middle ages, wedding cakes consisted of simple biscuits, scones or sticky buns. At that time, the cakes were provided by the guests, each bringing one small cake. These small cakes, which were somewhat larger than today’s cupcakes, would be piled in a heap, and were often pasted together with apple sauce. The bride and groom would kiss over the top of the cakes as a symbol of the guests’ wish for a long and prosperous marriage with many children.
In the 17th century, French bakers began to stack wheat buns, pasting them together with icing. These were the first cakes that began to resemble what we would recognize as a wedding cake today. Since those early days, the wedding cake has evolved from bread to the sweet cake we recognize today. And, as the cake itself has evolved, so have the traditions surrounding it.
To learn more:
-Visit Smithsonian Magazine for more interesting tidbits about wedding cake history. For example, “One early British recipe for “Bride’s Pye” mixed cockscombs, lamb testicles, sweetbreads, oysters and (mercifully) plenty of spices.” Aren’t you glad those days have passed?
-Check out, The bizarre origins of 8 Wedding Traditions.
–Wedding Cake History and Traditions at Romance Fire.