• White wedding cake. (Unsplash / Marcie Douglass)Source: Unsplash / Marcie Douglass
Forget dresses, venues, vows and music — when it comes to weddings, it’s really all about the cake.
Sarah Ward

12 Jan 2018 - 12:24 PM  UPDATED 13 Dec 2019 - 2:47 PM

The new series Marry Me Marry My Family reminds us that weddings are all about decisions. The first decision is whether you want to marry your partner. But following that are making choices about how to bring together your respective family and friends at the wedding. 

And then there are the logistical questions around the event itself: Local or destination wedding? DJ, band or wedding karaoke? A photo booth, photographer or photo-taking drones? Should your pets be involved? Do you need to invite that relative you haven’t seen since you were five? Or would it be easier to stop worrying about it all, pick your dream destination, run off on holidays and elope?

They’re all important things to consider. When it comes down to it, however, they’re not as crucial as cake.

Sweet, delicious cake.

You can have the perfect dress and venue, plus speeches that bring everyone to tears, but if that towering sweet treat at the end of it all proves dry, bland or even just average, that’s something your guests will always remember.

OK, maybe they won’t, but wedding cake really is the piece de resistance of the dessert hierarchy. Ever wondered why, what’s popular and what the alternative is?


It all started with getting cake in your hair

A number of different theories exist about the origins of wedding cake, including an Ancient Roman tradition. At the time, as part of the ceremony, cakes made of wheat or barley were crushed over the bride’s head. Eating anything more than a few crumbs wasn’t the name of the game, but rather bringing good fortune.

The next possible step comes from medieval Britain, where devouring cake was preferred over crumbling it. Consuming a whole pile of cakes and baked goods was obviously even better. Just-married duos would kiss over a stack of buns — and if it didn’t fall over, good luck would follow. The croquembouche-like offering was certainly better than the next trend, which involved bride pie typically made with sweetbreads, and later fruit and nuts.

From these beginnings, it’s not difficult to see how wedding cake as we know it came into existence — combine towering pastries with sweets made with fruit, and you have a culinary wedding centrepiece. Icing became a fixture in the seventeenth century and white icing after Queen Victoria’s nuptials. Thankfully, no one decided to throw cake at the bride then.


I’ll have what they’re having

In the centuries since, fruit-based wedding cakes topped with white icing have cemented themselves as the classic option. They’re the picture that pops into everyone’s head when they think of wedding cake. Indeed, even as colourful and decorative icing styles gain prominence, and flavours including everything from vanilla to jaffa to salted caramel, the concept of tiered cakes remains.

That doesn’t mean they’re boring, though. Mixing and matching flavours between levels is common, as are eye-catching designs. Among the choices and trends: drip icing, marbled icing, watercolour icing, fabric-inspired icing, no icing, beading, cakes adorned with greenery, cakes covered in lollies, icing that matches the bride’s dress, rainbow layers and pop culture-themed cakes. And that’s without even touching upon the huge variety of novelty wedding cake toppers. A bride and groom wearing their favourite footy team’s colours, anyone?

Of course, at the end of the day, they’re still tiered cakes — just in more inventive and exciting packaging.


Ice cream, doughnuts and cheese

If you’re after something a little different, alternatives are easier to find today than even a few years ago. If the weather is right and your venue has a sizeable freezer to store it in, ice cream and gelato wedding cakes have been growing in popularity over the past decade. They usually look just like their baked counterparts — but doesn’t everything taste better with ice cream?

Hailing back to their stacked predecessors, cupcakes in lieu of giant wedding cakes have come and gone. Or, to be more accurate, they’ve evolved. Doughnut towers are the current next step, and they’re exactly what they sound like. Stack your own, order them from your local doughnut makers (Krispy Kreme have jumped on the trend) or forgo the pile in favour of doughnuts arranged on an entire wall.

The concept can be replicated with any easily stackable item, including what just might be the best idea yet: cheese. Instead of layers of cake, think layers of dairy ready to be sliced and enjoyed with crackers and fruit. Or, using tiered trays, savoury pies, burgers, sushi and pizza are all possible.


'Marry Me, Marry My Family' explores cross-cultural weddings in Australia. Watch or stream new episodes weekly Tuesdays 7, 14 and 21 of January, 8:30pm on SBS and SBS On Demand.

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