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Wedding Cake


Now usually a series of decorated fruit cakes formed in tiers served to the guests at a wedding breakfast. Usually covered in white icing with motifs including doves, gold rings and horseshoes often surmounted by a tiny model of the couple.

Wedding cake of Queen Victoria's eldest daughter, Victoria ‘Vicky’ and Crown Prince Frederick William ‘Fritz’ of Prussia, 1858

Wedding cake is one of very few survivors of the highly-decorated cakes and pastries commonplace at grand tables from the 12th to the 19th Centuries. Tradition requires that bride and groom together cut the first portion, and that segments are sent to distant friends and relatives or may be retained as keepsakes. The bridesmaid who sleeps with a piece beneath her pillow is said to dream of her future husband.

The modern wedding cake appears to be a development of rich 'bride pies', known from the 17th Century onwards, and which have a certain continuing tradition in the North as Matrimony Cake. This is a quite extraordinary example from Robert May...

Original Receipt in 'The Accomplisht Cook ' by Robert May, 1660 (Robert May 1660)

To make an extraordinary Pie, or a Bride Pye of several Compounds, being several distinct Pies on one bottom.
Provide cock-stones and combs, or lamb-stones, and sweet-breads of veal, a little set in hot water and cut to pieces; also two or three ox-pallats blanch't and slic't, a pint of oysters, slic't dates, a handful of pine kernels, a little quantity of broom buds, pickled, some fine interlarded bacon slic't; nine or ten chesnuts rosted and blancht season them with salt, nutmeg, and some large mace, and close it up with some butter. For the caudle, beat up some butter, with three yolks of eggs, some white or claret wine, the juyce of a lemon or two; cut up the lid, and pour on the lear, shaking it well together; then lay on the meat, slic't lemon, and pickled barberries, and cover it again, let these ingredients be put in the moddle or scollops of the Pye.

Several other Pies belong to the first form, but you must be sure to make the three fashions proportionably answering one the other; you may set them on one bottom of paste, which will be more convenient; or if you set them several you may bake the middle one full of flour, it being bak't and cold, take out the flour in the bottom, & put in live birds, or a snake, which will seem strange to the beholders, which cut up the pie at the Table. This is only for a Wedding to pass away the time.

Now for the other pies you may fill them with several ingredients, as in one you may put oysters, being parboild and bearded, season them with large mace, pepper, some beaten ginger, and salt, season them lightly and fill the Pie, then lay on marrow & some good butter, close it up and bake it. Then make a lear for it with white wine, the oyster liquor, three or four oysters bruised in pieces to make it stronger, but take out the pieces, and an onion, or rub the bottom of the dish with a clove of garlick; it being boil'd, put in a piece of butter, with a lemon, sweet herbs will be good boil'd in it, bound up fast together, cut up the lid, or make a hole to let the lear in, &c.
Another you may make of prawns and cockles, being seasoned as the first, but no marrow: a few pickled mushrooms, (if you have them) it being baked, beat up a piece of butter, a little vinegar, a slic't nutmeg, and the juyce of two or three oranges thick, and pour it into the Pye.

A third you may make a Bird pie; take young Birds, as larks pull'd and drawn, and a forced meat to put in the bellies made of grated bread, sweet herbs minced very small, beef-suet, or marrow minced, almonds beat with a little cream to keep them from oyling, a little parmisan (or none) or old cheese; season this meat with nutmeg, ginger, and salt, then mix them together, with cream and eggs like a pudding, stuff the larks with it, then season the larks with nutmeg, pepper, and salt, and lay them in the pie, put in some butter, and scatter between them pine-kernels, yolks of eggs and sweet herbs, the herbs and eggs being minced very small; being baked make a lear with the juyce of oranges and butter beat up thick, and shaken well together.

For another of the Pies, you may boil artichocks, and take only the bottoms for the Pie, cut them into quarters or less, and season them with nutmeg. Thus with several ingredients you may fill your other Pies.

A more practical form of Bride Pie is given by Elizabeth Raffald in 1769, together with what seems like the beginning of a modern form of wedding cake, with a layer of almond icing overlain with white icing...

Original Receipt in 'The Experienced English Housekeeper' by Elizabeth Raffald (Raffald 1769)

Brides Pye

Boil two Calf's-Feet, pick the Meat from the Bones and chop it very fine, shread small one Pound of Beef Suet and a Pound of Apples, wash and pick one Pound of Currants very small, dry them before the Fire, stone and chop a quarter of a Pound of Jar Raisins, a quarter of an Ounce of Cinnamon, the fame of Mace and Nutmeg, two Ounces of candied Citron, two Ounces of candied Lemon cut thin, a Glass of Brandy, and one of Champaign, put them in a China Dish with a rich puff Paste over it, roll another Lid and cut it in Leaves, Flowers, Figures, and put a Glass Ring in it.

Original Receipt in 'The Experienced English Housekeeper' by Elizabeth Raffald (Raffald 1769)

To make a Bride Cake

Take four Pounds of fine Flour well dried, four Pounds of fresh Butter, two Pounds of Loaf Sugar, pound and sift a quarter of an Ounce of Mace, the same of Nutmegs, to every Pound of Flour put eight Eggs, wash four Pounds of Currents, pick them well and dry them before the Fire, blanch a Pound of Sweet Almonds (and cut them length-way very thin) a Pound of Citron, one Pound of candied Orange, the fame of candied Lemon, half a Pint of Brandy; first work the Butter with your Hand to a Cream, then beat in your Sugar a quartet of an Hour, beat the Whites of your eggs to a very strong Froth, mix them with your Sugar and Butter, beat your Yolks half an Hour at least, and mix them with your Cake, then put in your Flour, Mace, and Nut-meg, keep beating it well 'till your Oven is ready, put in your Brandy, and beat your Currants and Almonds lightly in, tie three Sheets of Paper round the Bottom of your Hoop to keep it from running out, rub it well with Butter, put in your Cake, and lay your Sweet-meats in three Lays, with Cake betwixt every Lay, after it is risen and coloured, cover it with Paper before your Oven is stopped up; it will take three Hours baking.

To make Allmond Icing for the Bride Cake
Beat the Whites of three Eggs to a strong Froth, beat a Pound of Jordan Almonds very fine with Rose Water, mix your Almonds with the Eggs lightly together, a Pound of common Loaf Sugar beat fine, and put in by Degrees, when your Cake is enough, take it out and lay your Iceing on, and put it in to Brown.

To make Sugar Iceing for the Bride Cake
Beat two Pounds of double refined Sugar with two Ounces of fine Starch, sift it through a Gawze Sieve, then beat the Whites of five Eggs with a Knife upon a Pewter Dish half an Hour, beat in your Sugar a little at a Time, or it will make the Eggs fall, and will not be of good a Colour, when you have put in all your Sugar, beat it half an Hour longer, then put it on your Almond Iceing, and spread it even with a Knife; if it be put on as soon as the Cake comes out of the Oven, it will be hard by that Time the Cake is cold.

The Wedding Cake of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, 1840
Image: www.royalcollection.org.uk

The Royal Collections tell us that Queen Victoria's wedding cake was made by Mr John Mauditt, Queen Victoria’s confectioner at Buckingham Palace; "It was on a vast scale measuring around 3 metres in circumference and weighing more than 140 kg. The allegorical figure of Britannia stands at the top blessing the symbolic figures of the bride and groom. On top of the cake were bouquets of white flowers tied with true-lovers-knots of white satin ribbon intended as presents for the guests at the wedding breakfast."

Original, untouched,1890s Wedding Cake, browned due to age, on display at Basingstoke's Willis Museum.
See: http://www3.hants.gov.uk/willis-museum/wedding-cake.htm

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