Friday, April 8, 2011

Moonlighting for Murder 2011: The History of Wedding Cakes

As part of Jen's Book Thoughts Moonlighting for Murder 2011, I reviewed TO HAVE AND TO KILL: A WEDDING CAKE MYSTERY by Mary Jane Clark. TO HAVE AND TO KILL is a Wedding Cake Mystery book featuring Piper Donovan, a cake decorator and amateur sleuth. I thought this book was a lot of fun, and I love that I've "discovered" a new mystery series.

Jen asked each of the participating blogs to do an "extra" post on something related to our amateur sleuth's career. Since I know next-to-nothing about cake decorating (besides what I've learned from Buddy on Cake Boss!), I decided that it might be interesting to learn a little bit about the history of wedding cakes. I hope you'll agree.

If you've ever planned a wedding, then you know how much time and money can be spent in an attempt to make the day extra-special. Of course, one of the major components of a wedding reception is the wedding cake. A wedding cake is usually a large cake, multi-layered or tiered, and heavily decorated with icing, marzipan or fondant.

The wedding cake is a tradition that began back in the Roman Empire (one of my favorite historical time periods!) There is some thought that the "original" wedding cake was a loaf of bread that the groom broke over the bride's head as a symbol of his dominance in the marriage and over her. (Can you believe that?) As wedding cakes evolved into the larger, more modern version, it became physically impractical to break the cake over the bride's head (Thank goodness!).

Modern wedding cake designs can range from the subtle, such as icing swirls that look like the embroidery on the bride’s dress, to a more, shall I say, unique approach. Check out some of the very special cakes resembling log cabins, iPods, Hawaiian volcanoes (that actually spew smoke), or even a full-size edible replica of the bride.

Here are some more quick "facts" about wedding cakes:

* Wedding cakes are traditionally white to symbolize purity.

* In Medieval England, cakes were described as breads which were flour-based foods without sweetening.

* The gesture of feeding cake to one another is a symbol of the commitment the bride and groom are making.

* One of the earliest forms of the wedding cake is the French Croquembouche. The legend of this cake says that a pastry chef, visiting medieval England, witnessed their tradition of piling sweet rolls between the bride and groom which they would attempt to kiss over without knocking them all down. Their success was a sign that there would be many children in their future.

* Most couples freeze the top layer of cake with the intention of sharing it on their first wedding anniversary. The tradition has its roots in the late 19th century because grand cakes were baked for christenings, and it was assumed that the christening would occur soon after the wedding ceremony.

* The notion of sleeping with a piece of cake underneath one's pillow dates back as far as the 17th century and quite probably forms the basis for today's tradition of giving cake as a "gift."

* To cut costs, elaborate cakes are sometimes crafted out of Styrofoam, with a single real slice built in for the sake of the cutting ceremony. Guests are served a simple sheet cake carved discreetly in the kitchen.

I had a great time participating in the Moonlighting for Murder 2011! A big thanks to Jen Forbus for coordinating this special event.


Jen Forbus said...

This is fascinating information on wedding cakes, Julie. I never knew any of it. I wonder what it symbolizes when a couple shoves the cake in each other's mouths...since the feeding of it is supposed to be about the commitment to each other. Hmmm....

I'm also not sure how I would feel about eating a cake that smoke erupted from! Ha!!

Jen Forbus said...

And thank YOU for all your effort and enthusiasm. You've made this such a fun week for me! :-)

bermudaonion said...

This was fun! Wow, I'm glad I didn't live in Roman times. We got married in the Dark Ages when everyone just had traditional wedding cakes. We did save the top layer to eat on our first anniversary.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Love this post! And I love the part about bonking your new spouse on the head with a loaf of bread! (although it should be done by the bride, not the groom!)

Raejean said...

Thanks for sharing wedding cake trivia! It's fun to learn about things I hadn't even thought about learning. I shared your link on my Friday Favorites.

Carol N Wong said...

Great post. I didn't know about the cake being smashed into the bride's face until my first wedding! Shocked surprise for me.

Carol Wong

Beth F said...

Can you imagine having wedding cake broken over your head? LOL. No thank you.

I didn't know about the deceptive sheet cake ... very tricky.