First off – you don’t!
Tradition is not law! You can have cupcakes or tarts or a stack of different cheeses if you’d like!
The wedding cake tradition varies from country to country- usually served as dessert. In parts of England it is served at a breakfast the day after the wedding, and in some places a cake with lots of tiers actually only has one edible tier – made for the bride & groom to keep and share.
The many-tiered cake stems from a medieval tradition where the cakes were stacked as high as possible and if the bride & groom could kiss each other over the top it guaranteed their prosperity (this is where the croquembouche concept came from)!
Traditionally a wedding cake is a fruitcake because they symbolise fertility and prosperity, and the sharing of the cake is supposed to bring the guests good luck.
In the 17th and 18th century, refined white sugar was exceptionally expensive and hard to come by, so a cake covered in white icing was a sign of a family’s wealth and social standing, and when Queen Victoria used white icing on her wedding cake it became known as royal icing.
White also a sign of the bride’s virginity and purity, and cutting or breaking the cake symbolised the groom’s breaking of the bride’s virginal state and her subservience to him.
At first it was the bride’s “duty” to cut and distribute the cake, ensuring her fertility, but as wedding cakes grew in size and decoration it became a joint venture with the groom assisting in this task, and then first sharing a piece by feeding it to each other was a demonstration of their promise to forever provide for each other.
There are also lots of superstitions when it comes to wedding cakes.
If a bridesmaid put a piece of wedding cake under her pillow she would dream of the man she would marry, and the tradition of keeping the top tier of the wedding cake to eat on the first wedding anniversary also stems from a superstition where this would prevent marital problems in the future.
In modern times, the wedding cake is often the centrepiece of the wedding reception and is cut and served as a part of the dessert after the dinner. It is also often served during “cocktail hour” for the guests to enjoy whilst the couple head off to have their pictures taken.
You can make your wedding cake (or cupcakes or cookies or tarts) as simple or as detailed as you would like it to be – a reflection of you and the groom and your hobbies and interests, have it share the wedding’s colour scheme and theme, with or without a cake topper (symbolising togetherness).
You can serve it with coffee after dessert, with or as your dessert, serve it before the reception even starts, or even package it specially and send it home with your guests as bonbonnieres (more on those next week)!
Have a look at some gorgeous ideas for wedding cakes and cupcakes on my Pinterest board here…