A wedding just wouldn't be the same without a wedding cake - but have you ever wondered where the tradition of wedding cake got started? It's commonly thought that the custom is derived from Roman times, when the mother of the groom would break a thin loaf of bread (they didn't really serve sweet cakes then) over the bride's head as a symbol of fertility, and guests kept the crumbs as good luck charms.
Wedding cake - where it all started:
By the Middle Ages (12th-15th centuries), this practice had evolved from bread to a wedding cake - of sorts. Wedding guests would bring small cakes (actually what Americans today would consider biscuits) that were piled on top of each other at the wedding. Tradition demanded that the newlywed couple lean across the top of the wedding cake pile and kiss - if they could do it without knocking over the pile it was a sign of good luck and many children in their future. A clever French baker in the 17th century came up with the idea to cover all the cakes in frosting to hold them together and minimize the risk of toppling - this is believed to be the origin of the tiered cake that remains the wedding cake standard to this day.
Many of the wedding cake traditions still on display today began in England during the 19th-century Victorian Era. When Queen Victoria got married in 1840, newspapers gave detailed reports about her tiered wedding cake. The wedding cake itself would have been fruitcake, which for centuries has been served as a celebratory cake in Europe. In early America, wedding cake was originally a fruitcake as well, a custom the Pilgrims had brought with them to the New World.
The classic white iced wedding cake first came on the scene in England and America after baking powder and baking soda were invented in the mid-1800s. In its earliest forms, the white wedding cake was as much a sign of affluence as a supposed symbol of the bride's purity - white icing used a large amount of pricey white flour, egg whites and, most notably, refined sugar, which was a costly luxury item at that time. So the whiter the wedding cake, the wealthier the family! When refined sugar became less expensive and more accessible, middle-class brides and grooms eagerly adopted the custom as a way to showcase their own prosperity.
Freezing your wedding cake - a few tips:
Many couples like to save the top layer of their wedding cake to freeze and eat on their first anniversary. Some bakers recommend using fruitcake for the top layer - not as a nod to the early American wedding cake, but because fruitcake freezes better than layer cake. If you're freezing a wedding cake with rolled fondant icing, the icing should be removed, as fondant doesn't freeze well. The wedding cake layer should be wrapped in several layers of plastic wrap and then put into a plastic freezer bag. Put the bag in a small box or container (so it won't get crushed in the back of the freezer), then wrap the whole thing in foil and put it in a second freezer bag ... all this careful wrapping will pay off in a year when the thawed wedding cake tastes delicious - and isn't suffering from freezer burn!
Images courtesy: Graceful Cake Creations