Wedding Cake Traditions, History & Superstitions

 In History, Wedding

We bake a lot of wedding cakes every year, in all different colours, sizes and flavours. But as varied as the modern wedding cake can be, a lot of history and tradition has gone in to shaping the wedding cakes we know today. So why not take a break from wedding planning and dive in to the fascinating history of the wedding cake and find out where some of those well known traditions came from.

History of the Wedding Cake Part I: Ready, Aim… Hurl!

Today brides and grooms enjoy a slice of wedding cake on their big day, but historically brides had a much less pleasant experience. Cakes have been a big part of weddings since medieval times. However the early wedding cakes weren’t so appetising… they were made of wheat and rather than being eaten they were thrown at the bride as symbol of fertility. Even if they managed to avoid having the cake thrown at them, it was common for the cake to be crumbled over the bride’s head!

In Roman times, small wheat and salt cakes were common. During the ceremony the groom would eat part of the loaf and break the rest over the bride’s head as a sign of good fortune and a blessing for long life and many children. Guests would try and keep a crumb for themselves to share in the good fortune and future prosperity of the couple. [source: Maisie Fantasie]

White Wedding Cakes

We often think of a white wedding cake as a symbol of purity. But there is another much simpler reason why iced wedding cakes are traditionally white. Refined sugar was a very expensive ingredient in the 1700s and 1800s. To get an immaculate white finish required a very fine expensive sugar. And so a white wedding cake became a symbol of wealth and affluence, showing that the family could afford the most expensive ingredients.

Saving the Top Tier

Saving the top tier of a wedding cake is a tradition that continues today. Many couples freeze the top tier after their wedding and enjoy it later on. Traditionally the top tier was saved for the christening of the first child, but today it’s more commonly saved for the first anniversary… or just a post-honeymoon pick-me-up!

Saving the top tier of a cake is still so popular than when we’re talking with couples about what size cake they need its one of the factors we take in to account. Our tier guide allows customers to work out the number of portions per tier, so it’s easy to exclude the top tier from calculations.

Wedding Cake Symbolism

Historically small wedding charms were baked in to cakes, each with a different meaning attached to them. Whilst this tradition is much less common these days, the same objects regularly make their way on to a wedding cake’s decoration.

The Spruce has a great guide to what each of these symbols means:

  • Heart: true love
  • Ring: upcoming engagement
  • Wishing Well; wishes coming true
  • Highchair: children
  • Clover or Horseshoe: good luck
  • Rocking Chair: long life
  • Anchor: adventure
  • Flower: new love
  • Purse: good fortune
  • Wedding bells: marriage

Including one or more of these symbols in your decoration is a nice nod to the historic symbolism of the wedding day.

History of the Wedding Cake Part II: Decorating with Lard

With modern baking equipment, transport and refrigeration it’s much easier to make a wedding cake closer to the occasion and to keep it fresh after the big day. In the past however that wasn’t so simple, particularly as the cakes for major weddings were so intricate. In the 1600s the solution was to coat wedding cakes in a layer of lard to keep them moist. The lard was scraped off just before serving. As time went on sugar was added to the lard to make it sweeter and it was left on the cake as a decorative icing. [source: Maisie Fantasie]

Bride’s Pies & Savoury Wedding Cakes

Savoury wedding centrepieces have been a recent trend, with everything from pork pies to cheese wheels getting a look-in. In fact the savoury craze has gone so far that brides and grooms have even tucked in to towers of sushi and pizza. But savoury wedding cakes aren’t as modern as you might imagine. In the 17th century it was common to serve a Bride’s Pie at weddings. With variations including mutton, sweet breads and mince pies (not the Christmas variety!). The pie was a staple part of the wedding feast and sometimes complemented by a smaller sweet Groom’s cake, commonly a fruitcake.

Lots of Tiers!

Large multi-tiered cakes are still popular today – only last year we baked a six-tier wedding cake with fondant-iced roses. And in 2011, the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton was celebrated with an eight-tier wedding cake!

But the tradition for having lots of tiers also has its roots in history. In medieval times, individual cakes would be stacked as high as possible at a wedding. The newly married couple would then have to kiss over the towering layers. If they succeeded in sharing a kiss over the tower then the couple could expect a prosperous life together.

Sleeping with the Wedding Cake

Weddings are a cause for celebration, and overindulging in food and wine is pretty common. But if you’ve ever woken up the morning after still hugging a slice of cake that you were saving for later then you’re actually following in the footsteps of a 300 year old tradition!

An old wedding superstition says that if you go to sleep with a piece of wedding cake under your pillow, you’ll dream of your future partner.

Of course it’s worth remembering that in those days fruitcakes were much more common and probably a lot less messy than sleeping with a slice of sponge cake under your pillow! However the idea of taking home a piece of cake is closely linked to the modern tradition of wedding favours.

Back to 2018!

Hopefully you enjoyed reading about some of the more unusual origins of wedding cakes. It’s amazing how many of the traditions we associate with modern wedding cakes have their origins in history. But it’s also nice to think that the things we do today have such a long heritage, and that we’re following in the footsteps of the bakers that came before us.

If you’re looking for a wedding cake; be it traditional or contemporary, then take a look at our gallery to see examples of past bakes. All our cakes are custom-made and so please get in touch to discuss how we can help create the perfect cake for your big day.