The New Zealand style of wedding cake has its origins in the British tradition, which in turn evolved over centuries as far back as when the Romans invaded Britain.
At the end of an ancient Roman wedding ceremony a wheat or barley cake was broken over the bride's head as a symbol of good fortune. The newlyweds ate a few crumbs together and the guests gathered up crumbs as tokens of good luck. This custom gradually changed from breaking the cake over the bride's head to crumbling it over her head and then to showering her with sweetmeats - the origin of 'confetti'.
Meanwhile the cake in medieval English ceremonies became a stacked tower of small spiced buns. By the 17th century, guests would be offered 'bride pie' - an elaborate pastry pie with a sweet and savoury filling, such as oysters, minced meats, spices, fruits and nuts. Later in the 17th century the bride cake started to be iced with an icing made from egg white and sugar. A pure white colour was sought after as the most highly refined sugar was the whitest and most expensive, so the white cake was a display of wealth and a status symbol.
It was not until Victorian England that the white wedding cake came to symbolize purity and virginity. After Queen Victoria's marriage to Prince Albert the white icing used on her cake came to be known as 'royal' icing. The Victorians loved embellishment and elaborate decoration and the tiered cake became fashionable. At first only the bottom tier was cake; the others were made of icing and purely decorative. The cake itself had now become a heavily fruited cake and gradually all the tiers were made of cake covered in white icing. These elaborate tiered cakes, especially if the tiers were separated by pillars, symbolised prosperity and status.
During this time, it became traditional for the top tier of the cake to be kept and served at the christening of the couple's first child.
A highly decorated tiered cake, iced in royal icing, remained the usual cake until around the 1980's, when softer icing started to be used. Intricate designs became less popular and were replaced by smooth unadorned icing with soft icing drapes, ribbon and sugar or fresh flowers. Often the tiers are stacked on top of each other with no pillars separating them.
Whilst this style of cake with it's elegant lines is still popular, there are many other designs for a contemporary wedding cake. Your special cake can be any shape, any colour, any flavour, any size with any style of decoration! Small individual cakes are becoming popular too, usually displayed on a tiered stand.
The cake itself is often not a rich fruit cake nowadays. It is just as likely to be chocolate, banana, carrot, lemon, orange or even more than one flavour.
The sharing of the cake with the wedding guests is a tradition which goes back as far as those cakes which were broken over the bride's head. It symbolizes good luck, prosperity and fertility for the married couple. In the 20th century it was common for a piece of cake to be sent to guests who were unable to attend the ceremony. However, as the rich fruit cakes have been replaced with cakes which do not keep this tradition has largely died out.