Wedding cakes have been around for thousands of years. The first wedding cake comes from ancient Rome, where a wheat cake broken over the bride’s head symbolized good fortune. Cakes for weddings continued in England during the Middle Ages. This cake came in the form of sweet buns piled as high as possible. The bride and groom would then try to kiss over the top. If they succeeded, they would have a good life.
The wedding cake evolved into a “bride cake.” Fruit cakes were very popular. When sugar became more accessible in the 16th century, the sugared wedding cake took off. Getting the most refined (and therefore whitest) sugar was a sign that your family was well-off. When Queen Victoria got married in 1940, her cake had royal icing, so everyone just had to have that.
Wedding cakes in North America pretty much stuck to what England was doing, but not every country is the same. Mexico traditionally had lots of cakes and cookies at weddings, and when the Spanish colonized in the 16th century, the Mexican wedding cookie became common. While the white, iced wedding cake has become popular, other alternatives like rum cake or tres leches can be found.
Wedding cakes today can be very expensive and they are usually priced by the slice. A couple can cut costs on a cake by forgoing unique shapes, fondant icing, and handmade details that add up quickly. It is also common to get a small wedding cake just for the wedding party, and sheet cake for the guests. A current trend is to choose a “naked” cake, which is a cake without icing or fondant that’s decorated with fresh fruit, flowers, or even succulents. This gives the cake a rustic appearance that is very different from the towering, white cakes of yesteryear.