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The Weird (and Unromantic) History of Wedding Cakes

Wedding cake on decorated table

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Wedding cakes have become an integral part of any wedding and the cutting of the cake is a much-awaited moment. The couple stand gracefully together, elegantly slice the cake and then gently feed each other to cheers and applause. How romantic!

But have you ever wondered where this custom originated and what it might represent?

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Here’s a look at the weird history of wedding cakes and what it symbolizes.

If you want to know more about types and flavors of wedding cakes, then check out this article. If not, keep reading.

Couple cutting their wedding cake close up

The origin of wedding cakes can be traced all the way back to ancient Roman nuptials, when the couple would seal their marriage with the grooming smashing a barley cake over the bride’s head. This was to symbolize fertility and hopes for a family. The cake was believed to be lucky and guests would fight for a few crumbs to take with them.

When this concept came to medieval England, it morphed into an even weirder custom. A large number of spiced buns would be stacked high into a tall pile and the couple were expected to carefully kiss over the unstable heap. If they didn’t knock the pile over, it suggested a prosperous and fruitful future together. Unmarried guests would sometimes take a piece of this cake to keep under their pillow in hopes that they would find their Mr. or Mrs. Right.

Another interesting point to note is that these medieval cakes were nothing like what we know today.

Today’s wedding cakes are made of sugar and spice and everything nice, but the cakes of medieval England, often called Bride’s Pye, included ingredients such as lamb testicles, oysters and even calf’s feet.

They were not so much cakes than pies. Sometimes, a ring would be hidden within the pie and the lucky person to find that ring was believed to be the next to marry.

Naked cake style

Over time, wedding cakes became the norm and wedding pies fell out of favor. This was partly due to the fact that sugar became more readily available and eventually became a primary ingredient in wedding cakes. It could be used in icing and to create white cakes, which were highly coveted. Just like the white wedding dress, the white wedding cake hinted at the bride’s virginity and was considered a symbol of the family’s status and wealth.

Most wedding cake trends have been set by royal cakes. One of the most iconic wedding cakes in history is Queen Victoria’s which had a circumference of 9 feet, was multi-tiered, weighed around 300 pounds and was covered in coveted white icing. So influential was this cake, that it set the standard of what a real royal wedding cake should look like. This is also where we get the term Royal Icing from.

Fig wedding cake

Some wedding superstitions that prevailed (and still do) include:

  • The bride and groom must save the top tier of their wedding cake and eat this on their anniversary.
  • The bride shouldn’t bake her own cake or it will bring her bad luck
  • All the guests should eat a piece of the cake to ensure that the couple will be lucky enough to have children
  • Sharing the wedding cake with all guests will result in prosperity and wealth
  • Today’s wedding cakes range in flavors, styles and designs. While extravagant and massive still tends to be the norm, there’s a shift towards more minimalist styles. The naked wedding cake is trending right now.
Tiered wedding cakes

Today’s wedding cakes range in flavors, styles and designs. While extravagant and massive cakes still tend to be the norm, there’s a shift towards more minimalist styles, like the naked wedding cake which is trending right now.

To learn more about wedding cake types and flavors, check out our complete guide.