Saturday, September 17, 2011

Wedding Cake

The bride and groom may look forward to practically every event on the wedding day, but guests plan ahead for one particular classic wedding custom – the cake - that tall, tiered, tasty cake. The wedding cake is an essential part of the joining of two lives in marriage, and who doesn’t love celebrating with slices of sweet bread covered in sugar? The cake is an integral part of a wedding, but brides and grooms can play with the idea, and their guests’ taste buds, by substituting other sweet treats for dessert.

The wedding cake dates back farther than most wedding traditions: to the Roman Empire, when a groom would taste a freshly baked loaf of bread and then break the bread over his bride’s head[1]. This was meant to indicate dominance over his new wife, and although bread is no longer broken over anyone’s head, brides and grooms still smear icing on their spouses’ faces (connection?). Bread evolved into cake, and a small cutting cake turned into a multi-layered piece of art.

A modern wedding cake is typically vanilla with white frosting and decoration and has tiers stacked on top of one another.  Why white? Like the dress and all other wedding-related décor, white is synonymous with weddings due to the purity of the color and how it represents a blank canvas for the bride and groom to paint a new life together (I just came up with that - corny, I know, but I write about weddings, so sue me). For chocolate lovers, the groom’s cake was introduced – a chocolate on chocolate creation frequently surrounded by chocolate-covered strawberries (the groom? Really? Bride can haz?). But the cake is not just for eating; it also is a significant part of a new union.

When it comes time to cut the cake, the bride and groom are meant to cut the first slice together. This symbolizes the first chore that the new husband and wife share. Subsequent slices of cake can be enjoyed at the reception, or single ladies can take slices of cake home and put them under their pillows as they sleep so that they will dream of their future husbands. The top tier of the wedding cake is saved to be eaten by the bride and groom on their one-year anniversary - the “why” is the creepy part. As wedding cakes gained popularity in the 19th century, so did Christening cakes. Since it was common for newlyweds at that time to start a family right after their wedding, Christening ceremonies were frequently held around the time of a couple’s one year wedding anniversary. Saving the top tier of their wedding cake would save money on buying a Christening cake, and that just makes economic sense.

As the wedding cake has changed over the centuries, trends continue to come and go. Brides and grooms should not feel constrained by the white wedding cake, and should feel free to play around with the cake or other dessert of choice. Wedding cakes can be vanilla, chocolate, red velvet, or even fruit cake (if you really hate your guests). Different layers can have new flavors, or you can have multiple one-layer cakes with many options for guests to choose from (as pictured).
Image courtesy of Hannah Pertalion and Darcy Sherwood

Cupcakes are a great alternate to cakes since they can be made of different bases, have different icings, and are easy to distribute. Since many caterers or reception locations will charge a cake cutting fee to slice the remaining pieces of cake and distribute them to guests (much like a corkage fee), this charge will be waived if the cake is already fashioned into adorable little mini cakes. Since it would be difficult for a bride and groom to cut in to a cupcake, many bakers will create a matching cutting cake for the ritual. To the left is a picture from my own wedding, in which we had vanilla cupcakes with two different kinds of icing, dyed to match our color scheme, complete with an equivalent cutting cake. 
Cupcakes provided by Cupcake Royale, Capitol Hill - and yes, they were as incredible as they looked.

For those thinking outside the cake box, there are other options that do not involve icing. To quote our current President, “I like pie”. Pies can be stacked to create the same imagery of a tiered cake, and there are so many more options for filling. An extra benefit to this dessert choice is that most pies will last longer in the freezer when saving the top tier for the one year anniversary. Quick tip for single guests: Don’t sleep with pie under your pillow.
Image courtesy of The Knot

Bottom Line: The wedding cake is as rich in tradition as it is in calories. It may be surrounded by history, customs, and anticipation, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t play with it! The classic white wedding cake, deconstructed cakes, cupcakes, pies, and many more dessert choices and are all great options for wedding 'cakes'. Whatever treat you end up choosing, remember that wedding cakes are just like newlywed couples: sweet, pretty, and made with love (okay, I need help).



[1] http://www.hudsonvalleyweddings.com/guide/cakehistory.htm

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