The history of wedding cakes and the modern cake tradition
Wedding cakes have remained a tradition in Western weddings since their advent in early Roman times.
Originally made with wheat and barley, they resembled a thin loaf-like bread.
The groom's cake was called the wedding cake, and what we now know as the wedding cake was called the bride's cake. The bride's cake was decorated and feasted upon, but the groom's cake was not intended to be eaten. Rather, it was broken on the bride's head during the wedding ceremony.
The groom usually had the honor of breaking the loaf-like cake on his bride's head. That has evolved into the modern custom of throwing confetti and rice at the couple. Unmarried female guests were expected to scramble for cake crumbs to ensure their own betrothal.
In medieval England, the loaves underwent a transformation and were introduced as sweet buns. Guests brought the buns as gifts to the bride and groom.
After the ceremony, the buns were stacked one on top of the other. The couple would then attempt to kiss over the enormous heap. The belief was that if they could kiss without knocking it down, they would enjoy a lifetime of prosperity.
Legend has it that a French chef, on a visit to London during the reign of King Charles II in the 1660s, was appalled by the British tradition of haphazardly piling the cakes, which often fell apart.
Apart from their being tasteless, the chef was concerned about the whole practice being unsanitary. It was he who conceived the idea of modernizing the mountain of bland buns into an iced, multitiered cake. When he returned to France he introduced what looked like a pile of buns slathered with icing.
Before long the British bakers had everything on their menu that the French had to offer.
Over time, with such artistry and often incomprehensible traditions, was born the contemporary wedding cake.
Different cultures have given their individual touches to the wedding cake, with some societies having them in the shapes of grains and birds. But wedding cakes as we know them today first made an appearance in England 150 years ago.
The first modern cake that was surely served to the delight of guests was baked to commemorate the wedding of one of Queen Victoria's daughter in 1858.
That cake differed from what is served today. Only the lowest level of the pile was actually a cake, while the rest was pure sugar. The confection was assembled like a stack of hatboxes.
Further refinement came in 1882 at the wedding of England's King Leopold, when the entire confection was made out of cake.
Some 20 years down the road the tiers were introduced to allow the layers to stand apart. The columns between them were introduced in France. Popular belief has it that they signify prosperity.
Traditionally, Europeans preferred white icing. It was seen as a symbol of purity. However, today's cakes are iced in an array of colors.
One wedding cake tradition has withstood the test of time.
Many couples freeze the top layer of their wedding cake, to be thawed and eaten on their first wedding anniversary. Since a regular cake would lose its taste after being frozen, bakers on special order make cakes that will last year-round.