Feb 222012

In a western style wedding, the couple is usually asked to cut the wedding cake. What’s the meaning behind the wedding cake?

A wedding cake is the traditional cake served to the guests at a wedding breakfast, after a wedding. It is usually a large cake, multi-layered or tiered, and heavily decorated with icing, occasionally over a layer of marzipan or fondant, topped with a small statue of a bride and groom. Other common motifs include doves, gold rings and horseshoes, the latter symbolising good luck. Achieving a dense, strong cake that can support the decorations while remaining edible can be considered the epitome of the baker’s art and skill.

Tradition generally requires that the first cut of the cake be performed by bride and groom together, often with a ceremonial knife, or even a sword. An older, archaic tradition had the bride serve all portions to the groom’s family, as a symbolic transfer of her household labor from her family to the groom’s family.

Tradition may also dictate that the bride and groom feed the first bites of this cake to each other. Again, this may symbolize the new family unit formed and the replacement of the old parent-child union. It is also fairly popular for the bride and groom to shove the cake in each other’s faces, rather than eating it.

Other guests may then partake of the cake, portions may be taken home or shipped to people who missed the festivities. (An old tradition held that if a bridesmaid slept with a piece of wedding cake beneath her pillow she might dream of her future husband.)

A portion may be stored, and eaten by the couple at their first wedding anniversary, or at the christening of their first child- The cake may be frozen for this purpose, formerly the top tier of the cake might consist of fruitcake which could be stored for a great length of time.

The origins of the tradition of the wedding cake date back to medieval times, when each guest at a wedding was supposed to bring a small cake, the cakes would be stacked on the table in levels and layers (If the bride and groom were able to kiss over the top of the stack it was considered good luck, if they fell in “Hey, dinner and a show!”) these cake stacks would eventually merge into one cake and evolve into the modern wedding cake. Sweets are traditional at many celebrations for most if not all cultures worldwide. Ancient Roman records detail sweets distributed at weddings. The book Folklore Myths and Legends of Britain details the ancient Roman practice of dropping a wedding cake on the head of the bride. Medieval and Renaissance resources also mention large cakes at weddings. Such cakes may have been fruitcake.

A large cake can take a long time to make, and without modern refrigeration, a heavy fat and sugar frosting may have prevented spoilage by limiting moisture exposure. Another possibility is the use of sugar and fat required satisfying the need for conspicuous consumption for the families involved in the wedding.

The tiered design of the wedding cake originates from the tiered spire of a well known medieval church in London, England, called St Bride’s.

Henry VIII of England enacted a law specifying the quantity of sugar a cake may have, possibly to control or tax this prevailing convention.

During World War II, sugar was rationed in Great Britain, so icing could not be made, and cakes were reduced in size. To overcome this cakes were often served inside a box, which had been decorated with plaster of Paris, to resemble a larger, traditional cake.

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What is the reason behind the wedding cake in a western wedding?

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