In addition to rings, the wedding dress, the speech and the bridal bouquet, a “real” wedding naturally includes a wedding cake. Opulently multi-storey, with fresh flowers or quite simply – and the cutting is always celebrated … but why? We worked with the cake historian (yes, this job really exists) Dr. Spoke to Alysa Levene and interviewed her on this sweet subject.
Why do we love cake?
Cake represents a comforting treat. It’s small and cheap enough that it’s still affordable during financially unstable times, but because it’s eaten seated – usually on a plate – it also provides a pause to think about the treat, rather than simply eating it in one bite. Because cake is also often eaten at celebrations, such as a wedding, it also symbolizes a great time spent together. By eating cake we latch on to celebrating someone’s happiness, which combined with the endorphin kick from sugar – makes it a very happy affair.
At a wedding this is amplified when the cake is very large and on display – almost like an extra guest – and we watch as the couple cut it as the first symbolic act. It is part of the ritual and anyone can participate.
Since when has the wedding cake as we know it existed?
The first recipes that have many similar ingredients as later a wedding cake are already in cookbooks from the 16th and 17th centuries. They’re often huge, made with dozens of eggs, heaps of butter and dried fruit, and often with fortified wine too. The size suggests that it must have been very expensive and was therefore only for the rich. It also takes a long time to make – an hour just to beat the eggs and sugar – so it took many workers to do the work and very large ovens to bake the cake.
Why does cake play such a big part in important life events like weddings or birthdays?
It’s a central object and it’s very familiar. A cake can be bought or made very easily, but conveys so much more than its price tag – it represents love and affection. Blowing out candles or taking photos with the newlywed couple next to the wedding cake focuses attention on a ritual that is known and understood. If you think about it, there are so many things that are filled with meaning, especially at weddings – the rings, the favors, the flowers…
Many have long histories and are all ways to involve family and friends in the special occasion.
What is your favorite cake myth?
The war cakes from Britain, a touching myth that is also true. Wartime cakes were very small and modest due to food rationing. A pretty cardboard mockup was put over the cakes to make them look better in the photos. At the Imperial War Museum you can hear an audio recording of a witness recalling how disappointed she was as a child at her cousin’s wedding when the cake facade was removed to reveal only a sad fruitcake.
What cake trends do you predict for the future?
I think there will be a step back; elegant but minimalist cakes instead of ostentatious and attention-grabbing. But no matter what shape, the cake will retain its place as a beautiful guest of honor at weddings for a long time to come.
If you want to read more about cakes, we recommend the book by Dr. Alysa Levene “Cake: A Slice of History”