Every June millions of people around the world celebrate their union in marriages of all kinds. From grand ceremonies and fetes to civil union ceremonies before a judge or Justice of the Peace. Of all the months in the year, June is the favored one for its mild climate, sunny days and warm temperatures; and perhaps because June is also the month when the best roses bloom.
Today, with the very definition of marriage changing before our eyes, we should remember that marriage has not been what it is often perceived to be, and has like other social mores, evolved and adapted. In fact, many of the “traditions” we consider to be so important were rooted in things that today we would consider barbaric and uncivilized. Many of our modern traditions are rooted in ancient Roman weddings, when the veil signified a lifelong commitment never to file for divorce or annulment, which was a very easy process in those days. The wedding dress itself was taken from the Vestal Virgins and supposed to signify that the bride was a virgin up to the day of her marriage.
At Roman weddings, a parade (now the exit down the aisle from the altar), was accompanied by a procession of people following the couple, throwing sweets to onlookers. At the wedding feast, a cake was served, often prepared with live birds in the center, so that when the couple cut the cake, white doves would fly from it. These cakes, usually sweetened with honey, were often made with wine, fruit, nuts and berries, and form the tradition of a fruit or wine based cake for today’s weddings.
Since Victorian times, the wedding cake as increased in stature and importance in modern nuptuals. Pastry cooks learned in the Victorian era to create magnificent multi-tiered cakes; the foundation of our modern-day cakes. French pastry chefs introduced the Victorians to buttercream and stiffened whipped cream frostings, while Italians introduced the use of the pastry tube to create elaborate decorations piped onto the cakes. French confectioners added the Fondant icing, now used frequently in place of buttercream and whipped cream.
The modern wedding cake is often so complex and elaborate that the average bakery can’t make what brides and their mother’s dream about. Specialist wedding cake patissiers have developed as a subset of the baking industry. These experts create some of the most beautiful gastronomic art known, and provide not only a vision of art, but often of the couple, expressed in marzipan, fondant and fruit cake.
A contemporary, shocking trend is for the wedding cake chef to make cupcakes, and many weddings are turning to a tiered display of magnificent, artistic cupcakes, often topped with a very small wedding cake, so the bride and groom have something to cut as part of the celebrations.
Long gone are the days when one would find a tuxedoed plastic groom, next to a plastic virginal white bride atop the cake made at the local bakery. Today’s cakes are decorated with flowers, large and small, or decorative patterns, bows and ribbons and other beautiful devices. Some of them take many days to decorate, with the most elaborate and precise work needed to apply art to the fundamental fruit or champagne cake.
The modern wedding cake can be a terribly expensive thing. Some cakes priced into the thousands of dollars, and as works of art, well worth every penny. But not every couple has the luxury of spending more for their cake than the groom spent on the engagement diamond ring. So many have turned to the homemade cake, often glazed simply, and humble in style.
It doesn’t really matter if you spent $20 or $20,000 on your cake, what truly counts is the love between the couple, and that of their families and friends. So our advice to brides, grooms and domestic partners is don’t fret about the cake or be afraid to make a less expensive one. Just make it tasty, and let it exemplify the sweet success of finding that special someone you can spend your live with. That’s the true sweetness of marriage.