Everything You Need to Know About the Secret Meaning of Wedding Cakes

Wedding Cake with Dark Tones and Roses

Photo by Kelly Anne Berry

The wedding cake is a celebratory creation decorated with flowers. It's pretty and absolutely delicious, but is it just cake? Or does it signify something more? From a simple cutting cake to a breathtaking five-tiered one, the design of your sugary confection may not be as arbitrary as you think. 

The History and Meaning of Wedding Cakes

The first wedding cakes were actually the result of traditions to encourage the bride’s fertility. According to Emily Lael Aumiller, the owner of Lael Cakes, “In Roman times, grains of wheat represented fertility and were thrown at the newly married to ensure fruitfulness.” Similar traditions involving loaves of grain were used in Ancient Greece to promote prosperity and fertility. As weddings evolved, “the wheat was eventually baked into cakes.”  

Meet the Expert

  • Emily Lael Aumiller is the founder and owner of Brooklyn-based Lael Cakes. She is also the author of Pure Artistry: Extraordinary Vegan and Gluten-Free Cakes.
  • Loria Stern is a Santa Barbara–based professional chef and caterer, specializing in flower-pressed cakes and cookies. Her work has been featured in Harper's BazaarVogue, and the New York Times.

Those Roman and Greek wheat cakes morphed into the more traditional cakes we see today. “Over the years, as a sign of prosperity, families began to stack the cakes,” Aumiller says. Of course, some couples forgo the wedding cake, pairing a cutting cake with alternative desserts like “mini caramel apples, chocolate tarts, coconut macarons, and shortbread cookies,” to name a few.

However, a wedding cake remains a staple at most modern-day weddings. In fact, it's not uncommon for newlyweds to preserve the top tier of their wedding cake for their one-year anniversary. This tradition also goes along with the notion of spreading good-luck and prosperity.

Wedding Cake FAQs

Where did the first wedding cakes originate from?

Wedding cakes evolved from bread to sweet buns as Europe gained access to more spices and fruits.

Why is cake served at a wedding?

Around Shakespeare’s time, the bride’s friends would each bring a sweet bun to the wedding, with the bride's popularity reflected in the number of buns received. The invention of icing may have come about when early bridesmaids sought to ensure the pile would not be toppled by adhering the buns with honey and applesauce.

Why are wedding cakes so tall?

One invention changed the very essence of what we know to be cake today: baking soda. Because of baking soda, cakes were empowered to grow to heights never before seen.

Why are wedding cakes white?

During the Victorian era, white icing became prevalent on wedding cakes as white represented purity and virginity.

Are wedding cakes more personal than we realize?

Pause and recall your very own wedding cake or the one you so desire. Is the cake fussy and trying a bit too hard, is it basic and straight-forward, or is it from Costco? Odds are, your wedding cake vision reveals a great deal about yourself.

Loria Stern, a professional chef and caterer, echoes this sentiment. "They represent a huge part of wedding tradition and the bride and groom can really make the flavors and design personal, reflecting themselves as individuals becoming a couple."

When shopping for the "perfect" wedding cake, consider picking a flavor and style that reflects your personality. Ask yourself: "What does this cake say about me?"

How to Choose a Wedding Cake

A quick scroll through social media for wedding cake stories yielded a wide array of responses, ranging from a groom’s cake shaped like an iPad with the screensaver depicting an Olan Mills portrait of the groom holding his cat while wearing a sweater and glasses to an enormous homemade wedding cake baked by the bride because she didn’t have time to cook the entire dinner for 100 guests. Have we vastly underestimated cakes, which are mirrors to our souls?

Before planning out your dream wedding cake, be sure to do your research. "My advice is to compile as many photos as possible of your favorite cake designs and make sure the cake baker/designer you choose has those sorts of designs in their portfolios," Stern says.

Moriah Michelle of Wildflower Cakes in Denver concurs, "Go into your cake tasting with an idea of what you’re looking for, but be open to ideas that your baker may have. Be prepared to talk about the venue, guest count, and even the dinner menu." Additionally, she suggests brides should start looking for a cake baker once they've secured their wedding venue and caterer. "These are the two biggest factors because the venue can influence the cake design and catering can influence the cake flavors. Bakers will recommend choosing a cake flavor that compliments the food menu so that the flavors flow nicely together with the other foods that are being served," Michelle says.

Cakes know us better than we know ourselves. By seeming so innocent, so inconsequential, they’ve gotten inside our heads. The next time you attend a wedding, do not forget to get a glimpse of the cake, and do not just chew it mindlessly as you sip your coffee, because, in the end, a cake is worth a thousand wedding vows.

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