In ancient Rome, traditional wedding cakes were made of wheat or barley, and wedding cake tradition dictated that the cake was to be broken on the bride's head as a symbol of her fertility. Later, a wedding cake tradition evolved where the bride and groom had to kiss over a high tower of cake.
If the couple wanted a lifetime of prosperity, they had to be careful not to knock over the teetering tower. Thank goodness, today's traditional wedding cakes are much more enjoyable. But what exactly is a traditional wedding cake and how does wedding cake tradition dictate what we want for our wedding cake design?
Before the 19th century in America, traditional wedding cakes were heavy fruitcakes. Now, in the strictest definition, wedding cake traditional consists of three white, round tiers with white buttercream frosting. The tiers are stacked or separated by pillars. The bottom tier is the largest, then each tier upwards is smaller than the one below it.
Each tier on traditional wedding cakes may consist of one or more layers of cake. Fillings such as lemon-vanilla custard and chocolate mousse are sometimes used, although buttercream is the most traditional. While the strictest standards call for a white (vanilla-flavored) cake, looser, more modern definitions say you can use other flavors such as chocolate, lemon, rum, and so on. If you stray from basic white, have at least one tier in a neutral flavor.
The pillars separating the tiers may be clear or white, although clear is more often used today. Some look like glass, giving the cake an airy look while adding height. The stacked-tier wedding cake uses supporting pieces, but these are concealed within the cake. There is also a center-pole variety that uses a single column rather than pillars between the tiers to support them. For a delicate appearance, have single layers.
The center-pole tier cake may also feature "satellite cakes" around the base. In this case the number of tiers would be reduced. Often these satellites are adorned with live flowers. Just be sure any flowers touching the cake are non-toxic. For an even more elaborate look, have your cake decorator use pillars of varying heights, or decorative bridges to connect the satellites.
While white-on-white buttercream is the truly traditional wedding-cake icing, this can be decorated with pastel iced flowers or real flowers and still be considered traditional. Cake toppers are often used. Be sure to select a pretty one for traditional wedding cakes. Some are tacky looking while others are elegant. Bride and groom figures at the top of the cake are quite traditional. These figures don't have to be just standing there. Search online to find a bride and groom dancing, or the groom carrying the bride over the threshold (under an arch).
In modern American wedding cake tradition, the traditional wedding cake is displayed on its own table and is second only to the bride as a focus of the reception. The table itself is often decorated with flowers and greenery. Sometimes even more elaborate decoration will be used to showcase the traditional wedding cake. Fountains, fairy lights, figurines, and balloons are a few examples.