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A wedding cake is usually an elaborately decorated and tiered cake made for the celebration of a wedding, and has been that way largely since the Victorian era. However, today, with a break from tradition, "a wedding cake" can be any type of baking recipe, dessert or edible arrangement served in a decorative display, such as cupcakes, cookies, chocolate and fruit, and even cheese arranged in tiers to look like a cake.
The history of the nuptial pastry, though, is even stranger. In ancient Rome, marriages were sealed when the groom smashed a barley cake over the bride's head. In medieval England, newlyweds kissed over a pile of buns, supposedly ensuring a prosperous future. Unmarried guests sometimes took home a little piece of cake to tuck under their pillow.
One early British recipe for "Bride's Pye" mixed cockscombs, lamb testicles, sweetbreads, oysters and (mercifully) plenty of spices. Another version called for boiled calf's feet.
By the mid sixteenth century, though, sugar was becoming plentiful in England. The more refined the sugar, the whiter it was. Pure white icing soon became a wedding cake staple. Not only did the color allude to the bride's virginity, as Carol Wilson points out in her Gastronomica article "Wedding Cake: A Slice of History," but the whiteness was "a status symbol, a display of the family's wealth." Later, tiered cakes, with their cement-like supports of decorative dried icing, also advertised affluence. Formal wedding cakes became bigger and more elaborate through the Victorian age. In 1947, when Queen Elizabeth II (then Princess Elizabeth) wed Prince Philip, the cake weighed 500 pounds.
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