Valued in excess of $20 million, the world’s most expensive wedding cake was exhibited at a bridal show in Beverly Hills in 2006. The diamond-laced masterpiece was not eaten, however. (And, presumably, the diamonds were relegated to other purposes.)
That’s a far cry from ancient Roman times, in which weddings were finalized by breaking a cake of wheat or barley on the bride’s head. (Talk about Excedrin moments!) The happy couple would then complete their union by eating crumbs of the cake together. In later years the custom morphed into simply breaking cakes over the bride’s head, rather than bashing her in the noggin. Nevertheless, a tradition of completing a wedding ceremony with a cake of some sort had been established, and it continues (in various forms) to this day.
In medieval England, Bride’s Pye was a popular feature at many weddings. But how anyone other than inmates at the county jail would eat a slice is beyond belief: inside a decorated crust the Pye contained a mixture of oysters, lamb testicles, sweetbreads and pine kernels. (Not your typical vegan fare.) By some accounts, the Bride’s Pye filling included a wedding ring that would be found by the next woman to be married. (Pity the poor soul who swallowed it accidentally.)
By the nineteenth century, Bride’s Pye had been replaced by wedding cakes made of fruit to symbolize fertility. And some of the superstitions we maintain today about wedding cakes were also born: to symbolize the strength of their union the couple had to cut the first slice together, and each guest was expected to eat a piece to help guarantee they had children.
As with many matters matrimonial, the British royal family has exerted tremendous influence on the evolution of wedding cakes through the years. For her marriage to Prince Albert in 1840, Queen Victoria arranged a cake with a circumference in excess of 9 feet. And for her wedding, Victoria’s great-great-granddaughter, Elizabeth II, had a 9-foot high cake that weighed 500 pounds. (Unlike the world’s most expensive wedding cake in Beverly Hills, both of these cakes were actually consumed as part of the festivities.)
It’s curious that the hottest new fad in wedding cakes involves a trend toward smaller in a country not known for favoring things petite: the especially American phenomenon of wedding cupcakes. Cupcakes have made a resurgence in recent years, with the rise of cupcake-only bakeries, cupcake blogs and cookbooks, and gourmet cupcakes as a dessert item in the fanciest restaurants. So it’s only natural that cupcake wedding cakes would be next. Maybe it’s a sign of our troubled economic times, or maybe it’s just because couples increasingly feel free to create wedding ceremonies unbound by tradition.
Whatever the reason, cupcakes have some advantages over more traditional wedding cakes. They’re cheaper. Easier to transport and manage. And they’re simply cute.
But there are also disadvantages. The newly betrothed can’t cut a cupcake together—at least not in quite the same way. There’s really no need to sing ‘The Bride Cuts the Cake’. And you better have an accurate head count to make sure that you have one cupcake per person—cutting thinner slices is not an option.
So where do we go from here? The advent of cupcake wedding cakes opens up several interesting possibilities for returning wedding cakes to their roots. Among them:
- Going back to Roman-style weddings, where the bride and groom can mash a cup cake onto each other’s heads as a sign of their commitment. This is much easier—and less dangerous—than using a full-size wedding cake.
- Revival of Bride’s Pye, but in single-serving sizes. With? You guessed it…one in each cupcake. (But be sure to bake a few without for the vegetarians.)
- Over-sized cupcakes, in true British royal family tradition. 9-feet around and weighing several hundred pounds. Delivered by Royal Air Force helicopter, of course.
The possibilities are endless. Feel free to create your own traditions. It’s your day, and your cake. (And, yes. You can eat it too.)