If you’ve had a wedding, you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about cake.
You’ve also probably paid quite a bit for the dessert. According to HuffPost, the average American wedding cake cost $466 in 2017, and in certain parts of the country, cakes can run upwards of $1,200.
Of course, that’s a small price to pay for tradition. Well…not really, as it’s still a lot of money, but a wedding wouldn’t be the same without a cake.
If you’ve ever wondered exactly why cakes are so important and why they’re so steeped in tradition, we’ve got a few answers.
1. Why do wedding cakes exist in the first place?
They’re an obvious addition to a party, as every good feast needs a dessert. However, the wedding cake likely became a matrimonial mainstay back in ancient Greece (and later in ancient Rome). The grains in the cake—barley and wheat—symbolize fertility and nature.
According to the website Explore Italian Culture, the Roman words for “cake” and “bread” were the same, and modern diners would probably consider early wedding cakes to be closer to bread. In Roman weddings, the bride and groom would also break a piece of bread to feed their guests (which might be where the term “break bread” comes from). The process of breaking the bread was quite symbolic, but it didn’t mean the same thing to every bride and groom. While some sources say that the act symbolized “a plentiful life and years of happiness,” it’s worth noting that marriage and divorce were relatively simple in ancient Rome, so modern interpretations of the symbol might be a bit skewed.
In any case, those early cakes had something in common: They were bland. Eventually, bakers began adding sweet elements to the bread, including raisins, pine nuts, pomegranate seeds, and sweet red wine. Some modern Italian wedding cakes stay somewhat true to the tradition, as they’re relatively simple and savory with a loaf-like shape.
2. Before you smash the cake in your lover’s face, consider this.
In ancient Rome, the groom would smash the cake over the bride’s head.
Why? Well, we found sources opining that this showed the groom’s total dominance of the bride, but the safer guess is that the cakes represented fertility. By smashing them on his new wife, the groom was insinuating…well, you can probably figure the rest out.
Eventually, the practice evolved. Someone probably decided that there’s no reason for the groom to have all of the fun, so both the bride and groom began hitting each other with baked goods.
3. Many couples decide to save a slice of the cake (or the entire top layer).
This is a relatively recent development, as freezers weren’t common until the 20th century. Originally, couples would eat the remaining cake at their first child’s christening.
The christening often occurred within the first year of marriage (they made quick work of procreation back then), and the symbolism is pretty obvious; the cake represents the couple’s new life together, so it makes sense to save a slice for a child. Some couples choose to eat the cake after a one-year anniversary, while others wait for another momentous occasion.
In any case, while this tradition might seem a little bit gross, there’s no reason that a well-packaged cake can’t survive for a year or more in a freezer. Ideally, you’ll use a few layers of freezer-safe plastic wrap and tuck the cake into a cake box. The cake should remain just as moist and delicious as it was on the day of your wedding, provided that you don’t accidentally thaw it and re-freeze it.
4. Ever wonder why the cake is so large?
The reason, according to some sources, is purely practical: You need a large cake in order to feed a lot of people.
However, the cake wasn’t always enormous, and tradition may have played a role in the change. According to Gastronomica, guests at medieval England weddings would stack small spiced buns as high as possible (think of it as an early precursor to Jenga).
When they were finished, the bride and groom would attempt to kiss over the tower of buns. If they were successful, they could look forward to a lifetime of prosperity.
At the time, wedding pies were more popular than wedding cakes, and they weren’t sweet; they often consisted of an “elaborately decorated pastry crust that concealed a filling of oysters, pine kernels, cockscombs, lamb stones, sweetbreads, and spices,” per Gastronomica. This “
Eventually, the wedding cake replaced both the traditional pie and the spiced buns. Naturally, bakers needed to make the cake extremely large so that the bride and groom could still kiss over it.
5. The groom and bride always cut the cake together for a practical reason.
The cake is simply too big for the bride to cut it alone.
Prior to the late 19th century, brides would often receive their cakes at their new homes—after the wedding. The lucky woman would eat a small bite, then throw the rest of the cake over her head (again, we’ve got Gastronomica to thank for this information).
Soon, a new tradition emerged: The family of the bride and groom ate the rest of the cake. Gradually, more and more people wanted a piece of the
6. The cake is probably white thanks to Queen Victoria.
When the British monarch married Prince Albert in 1840, she made the event into quite a spectacle. Victoria arrived in a procession of carriages wearing a “white dress of heavy silk satin, trimmed with Honiton lace,” along with diamond jewelry and a white veil.
At the time, this was an unusual decision. Royals often dressed in bright colors for their weddings, and Victoria’s strange attire drew plenty of attention.
“Victoria’s attire was considered far too restrained by royal standards, with no jewels, crown, or velvet robes trimmed with ermine,” The Washington Post writes.
While the country’s elite scoffed, the idea of “white weddings” quickly began to spread across England.
What does that have to do with cake? Well, if you’re going to wear a white wedding dress, everything else should match—especially the cake, since it’s such a symbolic part of the ceremony. White became a status symbol, and as sugar was popular and inexpensive, sweet white frosting became a popular cake topping.
Traditions help to make weddings special, and the wedding cake certainly has a storied history.
However, if you’re reading this article and fretting about your own upcoming nuptials, relax—as we’ve seen, wedding cakes have come in all shapes and sizes over the past several centuries, and there’s really no wrong way to celebrate a marriage. Our advice is to simply get the cake you want, and don’t worry too much about following traditions to the letter. You can get a fruit cake or a “
And if your wedding guests don’t like it? Well, let them eat cake.