We have something of a bridal theme going on here at the Ballroom Blog at the moment, with two real sets of nuptials and a whole host of fictional ones coming up. (Is it just me, or do you imagine that Lady B has a whole cabinet full of truly alarming hats to wear to said weddings?)
In preparation for my upcoming nuptials, the mother of a good friend of mine has been sending me daily pictures of wedding cakes. These range from the glorious…
… to the truly insane:
My friend’s mother titled that last one: “When the Groom Has Input”.
Be grateful: I spared you the Satanic Hell-Mouth Halloween cake. (I kid you not.)
Naturally, all of this got me wondering about Wedding Cakes Past.
My friend’s mother informed me that the tradition of the wedding cake dates back to Ancient Rome, when thin wheat cakes were crumpled over the bride’s head to ensure fertility. (I have already told my fiancé that there is zero way he is mashing cake onto my head, fertility or no fertility. Buttercream is sticky.) According to various, probably unreliable internet sources, this cake ritual came along with the Roman legions to England, where the tradition developed of baking numerous small cakes for a wedding party, possibly piling them up and making the bride and groom attempt to kiss over them.
Is it just me, or has anyone noticed how many wedding traditions seem to tend towards making the bride and groom kiss in public? Rather like our modern tradition of clinking glasses to make the bride and groom smooch. You can just see ye olde groomsman elbowing his buddies and saying, “Hey! I’ve got an idea. Let’s make this pile of cake and then dare Aethelbert to kiss Hedwiga without knocking them all over! Betcha he can’t do it!” “Ha! If you think that, you don’t know olde Aethelbert. Betcha three goats that he can!” “I’ll take your goats and raise you a sheep.” “You’re on!” They were probably also drinking a little bit of ye olde malt brew at the time.
But I digress.
Wouldn’t you know it was (reputedly) those decadent French who first thought of icing those little cakes? While the French were playing with icing, back in England, the seventeenth and eighteenth century saw the bridal pie. Because, really, what doesn’t say romance like pie? A ring would be baked into the pie and she who found the ring would be, supposedly, the next to marry. Either that, or just lose a tooth from biting a ring baked into a pie.
That brings us to our era. (And by our, I mean the Ballroom.) Were there wedding cakes in the Regency? Absolutely. We have no less an authority than Austen on it. The following passage comes from the beginning of Emma:
The compliments of [Mr. Woodhouse’s] neighbours were over; he was no longer teased by being wished joy of so sorrowful an event; and the wedding-cake, which had been a great distress to him, was all eat up. His own stomach could bear nothing rich, and he could never believe other people to be different from himself. What was unwholesome to him, he regarded as unfit for any body; and he had, therefore, earnestly tried to dissuade them from having any wedding-cake at all, and when that proved vain, as earnestly tried to prevent any body’s eating it. He had been at the pains of consulting Mr. Perry, the apothecary, on the subject. Mr. Perry was an intelligent, gentlemanlike man, whose frequent visits were one of the comforts of Mr. Woodhouse’s life; and, upon being applied to, he could not but acknowledge, (though it seemed rather against the bias of inclination,) that wedding-cake might certainly disagree with many — perhaps with most people, unless taken moderately. With such an opinion, in confirmation of his own, Mr. Woodhouse hoped to influence every visitor of the new-married pair; but still the cake was eaten; and there was no rest for his benevolent nerves till it was all gone.
What was this cake that so distressed Mr. Woodhouse? William Henderson’s 1806 The Household Instructor provides the following recipe for bride cake:
Take four pounds of fine flour well dried, four pounds of fresh butter, and two pounds of loaf sugar. Pound and sift fine a quarter of an ounce of mace, the same of nutmeg, and to every pound of flour put eight eggs well beat up. Wash four pounds of currents, pick them well, and dry them before the fire. Blanch a pound of sweet almonds and cut them length-ways very thin; take a pound of citron, a pound of candied orange, the same of candied lemon, and half a pint of brandy. First work the butter to a cream with your hand, then beat in your sugar a quarter of an hour, and work up the whites of your eggs to a very strong froth. Mix them with your sugar and butter, beat your yolks half an hour at least, and mix them with the other ingredients. Then put in your flour, mace and nutmeg, and keep beating it well until the oven is ready. Put in your brandy and beat lightly in your currants and almonds. Tie three sheets of paper round the bottom of your hoop, to keep it from running out, and rub it well with butter. Then put in your cake, and place your sweet-meats in three layers, with some cake between every layer. As soon as it is risen and colored, cover it with paper and send it to a moderate oven. Three hours will bake it.
Fundamentally, we’re talking fruit cake, with lots of alcohol to help it keep. The cake would then be iced, in a way not all that dissimilar to ours, although their white icing would often have been egg-white based and flavored with rose-water or orange-water, two popular Regency flavor choices.
It’s nice to know that some things don’t really change. Here’s last year’s royal wedding cake, which was, yes, a traditional fruit cake under all that white icing:
Lovely, no? I could go on posting pictures of cakes (the good, the bad, the exceedingly ugly), but at my back I can already hear Lady B’s slippers hurrying near, telling me I’ve overshot my allowed post length.
So instead, I’ll just ask: what are the best– and worst!– wedding cakes you’ve seen? And what would your dream wedding cake look like? Also, what are your suggestions for ideal wedding cake filling combos?