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The History of Wedding Cakes

The following information has been compiled from various resources and shared by

friends with years of experience and expertise. If you have any information to add or share, please feel free to contact Kathleen at Confectionary Chalet.

The information below is from the book The Essential Guide to Cake Decoration, submitted by Christine Finn, Master Cake Design Artist, Author, and Instructor, United Kingdom.

Brief History Regarding Wedding Cakes

It is challenging to pinpoint an exact date for the beginnings of baking, cake making, and decorating, but it is thought that the Babylonians taught the Egyptians the art of baking. A painted panel from around 1175 BC depicts the court bakery of Ramesses III, illustrating the preparation of various cakes and bread. There are also indications that confectionery sweetened with sugar was sold in Egypt around 700 BC.

Today, we serve specially decorated cakes to celebrate many occasions, including weddings, christenings, engagements, anniversaries, birthdays, and Christmas. Christmas cakes have a long history and were baked by the rich in the eighteenth century as Twelfth Night cakes. A bean and a pea would be hidden and baked in the rich fruit mixture. Whoever found the bean was crowned ‘king of the feast,’ and the finder of the pea was ‘queen of the feast.’ However, it is wedding cakes that have the longest tradition, and the story of their changing development best illustrates the history of cake decorating as an art.

Crowning the Bride

The tradition of creating special cakes for weddings dates back to Roman times. A small, basic fruit cake made from food traditionally offered as appeasement to the gods – rich fruit, nuts, and tiny honey cakes – would be crumbled over the bride's head to bless her with abundance, a tradition known as ‘crowning the bride.’

This tradition was brought to Britain by Julius Caesar in 54 BC and became part of local customs. Initially, only wealthy families could afford this practice, while poorer families scattered grains of wheat or corn over the bride, hoping for fertility.

Crowning the bride continued until about 200 years ago. Now, the ritual has been split into two parts – rice or confetti is thrown over the bride to encourage fertility, and each guest is given a slice of cake to eat or take home (girls were supposed to sleep with a slice of cake under their pillows to induce dreams of future husbands).

The First Decorations

Although not yet served at weddings, decorated cakes first appeared in England during the reign of Elizabeth I. Most were adorned or molded with almond paste. The food of this era was becoming exotic and extravagant, with new culinary discoveries brought back from around the empire. Sweetmeats were served in dishes molded from a form of pastillage. Extraordinary banquet centerpieces were brought out to amaze and delight noble guests.

At this stage, wedding cakes were baked as tiny separate cakes, more like buns with a sticky coating of almond paste. Some would be crumbled over the bride, some squeezed through her wedding ring, some eaten by guests, and some thrown to the poor outside the feast. The remainder were built into a pile and set before the new husband and wife, who were expected to kiss over the pile of cakes to bless them with prosperity and many children. It would not be long before this unruly pile of sticky almond paste-covered buns would be converted into one large cake.

When Charles II returned from exile in France to reclaim the English throne in 1660, he brought with him a love of French cooking and some of his favorite French pastry chefs. These chefs, finding the piles of almond buns unappetizing and unattractive, suggested icing them with a crust of sugar and adorning them with trinkets.

The Groom's Cake

Even after it became common practice to ice wedding cakes with sugar in the late seventeenth century, the cake would still be crumbled over the bride’s head, with the icing making the ritual easier. The sugar would crumble and could be showered over the bride, while the rest of the cake was left to be eaten.

Eventually, the bride’s family began to prepare two cakes for the feast: one for the crowning and one highly decorated creation to appeal to those who had discovered a taste for sugar icing. These became known as the bride’s and the groom’s cakes.

The Last Century

Today’s cakes can be eight feet high and covered in flowers, champagne fountains, figures of the bride and groom, or whatever else the couple fancies.

Since the early twentieth century, cakes have been raised in layers on pillars. Initially, only royalty and high society could afford these tiered cakes, while the rest of the country had single cakes decorated with perhaps a vase to add height to the display. The three-tiered round cake became traditional, representing the three rings – the engagement, wedding, and eternity rings.

Soon, the request for a three-tiered cake became fashionable among the style-conscious middle classes, even if there was more cake than needed for the guests. Consequently, there was often a tier left over, which would be kept for the christening of the couple’s first child (which would normally be within 12 months of the marriage).


In the last thirty years, there have been many changes in the fashion for wedding cakes. Soft sugarpaste icing became popular, along with new techniques taken from needlework, such as smocking and ribbon insertion. Sugarpaste is often imagined to be a modern invention, but the first recipe for sugarpaste was published in 1609 in a book entitled Delights for Ladies. This paste was made from ‘fine white sugar, starch, and gum tragacanth,’ colored and flavored with pounded flowers.

The trends in decorating wedding cakes have set the fashions for styles of christening, birthday, and anniversary cakes. Today, with imagination and practice, almost anything is achievable.


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