Elaborately decorated and often costing lots, the wedding cake is the showpiece of any modern wedding. In many cultures, events like weddings are the time at which the best (and most costly) dishes are served.
Oh! The Romans
The custom of specialized wedding cake is believed to date back to Roman times. However, the dish served at a Roman wedding, a loaf of barley bread - bore no resemblance to the sweet confection that we have come to cherish.
The ritual involving it was also different to the cake cutting ritual of the present. The groom would eat part of the barley bread loaf, and then break the rest of it over his new bride's head. This barbaric act symbolized his dominance over her. No wonder this particular bit of wedding tradition has long since been abandoned.
The Tale of Cakes So white
Though frosted cakes made their appearance in Europe around the 17th century, it was only in the 19th century that the modern wedding cake assumed its familiar form. To start with, wedding cakes were plum cakes or fruit cakes, often in the stacked tier form that is still prevalent. Traditionally white icing - the color representing purity - evolved to become the preferred decoration for wedding cakes. This was cemented in the wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1840.
White frosting on a wedding cake had yet another important significance in those times. Pure white frosting required a great deal of a rare and costly ingredient - finely refined white sugar. Brighter the icing on the cake, the wealthier the bride's family was.
The cakes of the times were also adorned with costly ornaments such as fresh flowers and even real ornaments. But now, it can be easily achieved by using colored frosting (and hiring an expensive baker to create an outrageously ornate confection).
The height of the wedding cake is another way to allude to the cost, and thus the affluence of the wedding. But again, celebrity bakers like Sylvia Weinstock strongly espouse the idea of wedding cakes as status symbols and urge customers to order only as much cake as they need.
A Tale of Continents
By late 19th century, the tiered white wedding cake became the standard in England and America. Some interesting variations, though still exist between the continents. In Europe, the traditional wedding cake filling continues to be rich, moist fruitcake. European cakes are customarily frosted with firm icings, such as marzipan or fondant.
Some Europeans still observe the original custom behind saving the top tier of the wedding cake. In earlier (more stringent) times, the first child was expected to be born within a year of the wedding, and the top layer of the cake was reserved for the baby's christening. However, nowadays we are faced with an ever-widening gap between the time of a wedding and the arrival of the first baby. And thus this custom has morphed over time into one that the top layer of the cake saved to eat on the first wedding anniversary.
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