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Monday, September 12, 2011

Guest Leigh Michaels: Historical Wedding Cakes

Linda Banche here. Today I welcome Leigh Michaels and her latest fun-filled Regency historical, The Wedding Affair. Since The Wedding Affair takes place in the context of a wedding, Leigh talks about wedding cakes through the ages.

Leave a comment with your email address for a chance to win one of two SETS of Leigh's books which Sourcebooks has generously provided. Each set contains Mistress' House, Just One Season in London, and The Wedding Affair. That's three books to two lucky people! I've read all three books and I love them. Leigh will select the winners. Check the comments to see who won, and how to contact me to claim your book. If I cannot contact the winners within a week of selection, I will award the books to alternates. Note, Sourcebooks can mail to USA and Canada addresses only.

And the winners Leigh selected are KarenH and Kitchen Witch! Congratulations. I've sent you both emails. Thanks to all for coming.

Welcome Leigh!

Leigh Michaels:

Since The Wedding Affair is (surprise!) sort of about a wedding, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about the bride’s cake and its role in weddings for the last 300 years – since well before the Regency period where this book takes place.

Wedding pastries have been around pretty much forever, in one form or another. In the Roman Empire, a loaf of wheat or barley bread would be baked especially for the wedding, and the groom would eat part of it, then break the rest over the bride’s head to symbolize the dominance he was to have over her in their marriage. The guests would eat the crumbs as a wish for good luck.

Sweet cakes are a fairly recent development. In medieval times, cakes were bread-like with no sweetening, and in France, they were sometimes created from a pile of sweet rolls – rather like the new trend of stacking cupcakes into a tower. Sometimes a bride’s pie was featured – it might be made of fruit or meat, but it always including a hidden ring. The person who found the ring in their portion was thought to be the next to marry. (The tradition of sleeping with a piece of cake underneath one’s pillow, in the hope of dreaming about one’s future spouse, dates as far back as the 1600s.)

For many years the traditional wedding cake in England was a dark, rich fruitcake. That helps to explain the tradition of keeping a slice for the first anniversary, since fruitcake would last that long and still be edible.

But the truly fun story about weddings and cakes is that the many-tiered, tower-like cake that brides and grooms cut today isn’t actually a wedding cake at all. Its proper title is bride’s cake. And not because the groom often gets his own version in chocolate these days, either.

It’s been known as a bride’s cake since shortly after the Great London Fire of 1666, when much of the city burned and Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to rebuild St. Paul’s Cathedral and dozens of churches which had been lost to the fire. One of them was St. Bride’s, located on Fleet Street in the city of London and featuring a fanciful four-tiered spire, octagonal in shape and reaching more than 225 feet above street level. The shape of this tower is said to have inspired the modern, multi-tiered, grand spectacle of a wedding cake.

In the 1800s a white cake with white icing would have been a statement of wealth, since the highly-refined sugar needed to produce a white pastry was very expensive. And a tiered cake made before the invention of pillars to help support the weight was mostly created for looks -- the upper layers were made of lightweight spun sugar rather than actual cake (which would have been heavy enough to collapse into the bottom layers).

The sugary icings and fondants used to decorate modern cakes weren’t invented until late in the Victorian era, and pillars didn’t appear till after 1900. Wedding toppers – the small figures of bride and groom – became popular only in the 1950s.

Oh, and what I said at the beginning about the book being “sort of” about a wedding?… the three romances in The Wedding Affair are prompted by the wedding, but they aren’t directly connected. In fact, the wedding itself is mostly in the background. It’s what Alfred Hitchcock called “the McGuffin” – the thing which in his case caused the chase or the murder or the thrill ride, and in my case causes the romance. My three heroes and three heroines are much more interested in the affairs they’re having than they are in the wedding!

So what about you? Did you keep a piece of your wedding cake for a later anniversary? Do you still have a slice in your freezer? Tell us about it – maybe how long you kept it, how many times you moved it from house to house or state to state, and how you celebrated with it!

You’re invited to the wedding of the year!
The Duke of Somervale, whose sister’s wedding is the event of the ton, is fighting off debutantes and desperately needs help from beautiful, stubborn Olivia Reyne. But she is engrossed with problems engulfing her dearest friends and family. The last thing Olivia needs is to be embroiled with a duke whose dark gaze makes her forget herself entirely...

Discover a new side of a beloved author as Leigh Michaels draws you into the glittering, glitzy world of Regency England and an affair you’ll never forget.

About the Author
Leigh Michaels is the author of nearly 100 books, including 80 contemporary novels, more than a dozen non-fiction books and three Regency romances from Sourcebooks Casablanca: The Mistress’ House, Just One Season in London and The Wedding Affair. More than 35 million copies of her romance novels have been published by Harlequin. A 6 time RITA finalist, she has also received two Reviewer's Choice awards from RT Book Reviews, and was the 2003 recipient of the Johnson Brigham Award. Leigh also teaches romance writing on the Internet at Gotham Writers’ Workshop. She lives in Ottumwa, Iowa. For more information, please visit


Karen H in NC said...

Hi Leigh,

Very interesting blog today. I'm still laughing about some of the traditions, especially that one in the Roman Empire. It's no wonder the empire didn't last. LOL

I kept the small top cake from my wedding cake for our first anniversary. Unfortunately, we discovered that while it looked good, it didn't taste as good as the original. Some things just don't freeze that well for that long.

I've never read your work so maybe I'll get lucky and win a set of your books here. If not, I'll be putting you on my BTB list.

Alice Faye said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alice Faye said...

Sorry for the previous delete forgot the email address

I read the first book and loved it so I am waiting on the second.

I am also a cake decorator and you have the history spot on. The most outlandish cake I made was a full sheet cake iced hot pink with skulls on it for a goth wedding.

Leigh Michaels said...

Karen, sorry the top layer of your wedding cake didn’t carry over well to the first anniversary! I guess it’s the thought that counts, though. And Alice, I do hope you took a picture of the hot pink cake with skulls on it! – that’s quite the memory...

Margaret said...

Incredible giveaway! Thank you! I would love to read thses!


Dee said...

Never been married, so no comments about saving the cake. Interesting that the Romans broke the bread over the bride's head and now it seems customary to mash the cake on the spouse's face... Can't say I approve of either.

I'll be adding your books to my TBR list as I had not heard of them previously. This sounds fun.

And, my word of the day: McGuffin. McGuffin. Now to use it in a conversation. ;)

KJ said...

Leigh, I'm in your Gotham class. Unfortunately I've never read any of your books but I am starting now. What would you suggest as a first read, "The Wedding Affair?"

Is there any particular order I should read your books in.

BTW, thoroughly enjoying your comments and insight.


Leigh Michaels said...

I'm with you, Dee -- all that trouble a bride takes in getting dressed up and made up to be beautiful for her new husband, and then he smashes cake in her face. Or vice versa, for that matter. Nope, I don't like that at all.

Karen, you can read the books in any order. Thanks for stopping by, and for joining in the romance classes I teach at Gotham Writers Workshop!

Georgie Lee said...

Great post. Interesting fact about Bride's cake. I didn't know it came from a church.

catslady said...

All new and interesting facts about wedding cakes. It always amazes me how we keep up traditions without having a clue as to why. I also like that it seems to evolve over time.

Mine did a bit of traveling lol. My mom, sister and grandmother all had it in their freezers at one time or another and we did eat it a year later (and have been married 41 yrs.). My daughter and her husband I believe just went ahead an ate it and unfortunately their marriage did not make it so I am going to blame it on not saving the cake!!

I have enjoyed your books in the past and this new series sounds like something I would enjoy very much!


Linda Banche said...

I've heard stories of how much people hate fruitcake. Maybe it was because the person who baked them didn't know how to make them well. I had a friend who made fruitcakes every Christmas and handed them out as gifts. I took one taste and tossed the rest out. I guess I'm not a fruitcake person. LOL!

Cathy P said...

Hi, Leigh, and welcome! I love your books!

Thanks so much for the very interesting blog on wedding pastries/cakes throughout the centuries. I learned a lot from it. Interesting that a lot of times it was unsweetened bread with or without a filling.

I also don't like the symbolism of the Roman weddings or the idea of smashing a piece of cake in a spouse's face.

My DH and I have been married for almost 39 years now. We saved part of our cake for our first anniversary, tried to eat it, and ended up throwing it out since it tasted so bad.

Cathy P said...

PS: my email addresss is

Leigh Michaels said...

I've heard it said that there really are only about six fruitcakes in the world, they've all been in existence for decades, and they just get passed around from house to house every Christmas! :-)

I have to admit I like fruitcake -- at least some of them! One winter we had an orphaned baby raccoon who hung out in our woodpile and would scratch at the back door every evening -- my husband started handing him a slice of fruitcake every day, and he loved it and came back for more...

Hywela Lyn said...

What a fascinating post! As a UK writer, I was quite surprised when I first learned that most american Wedding cakes (or 'Bride's cakes' L:)) were sponge cakes, since every wedding cake I've ever eaten was rich fruit with almond paste and royal icing. I made my own three tier wedding cake and designed the decorations, but had it professionally iced . I love cake decorating but didn't feel I was good enough to decorate a wedding cake!

By the way, I think the secret of a good fruit cake is to soak the fruit in plenty of sherry and brandy! I make Christmas cakes for me and the family every year, and they're almost as rich and 'boozy' as a wedding cake - we laughingly tell people not to drive after eating it!

Pity I'm not eligible for the prize, but I fo love the sound of your boos, Leigh.

Alice Faye said...

Actually I did but it was on my cell and I lost the pictures when they failed to move all my photos to my new phone. Also did a cake in lime green and bright yellow and hot pink on an off while iceing. The couple were from Africa.

Jenny Haddon said...

Hi Leigh

great post. I never knew that about St Bride's and I used to go past the church every day.

Really looking forward to reading the book.

Linda McDonald said...

Hi Leigh,
I'm sure glad we've moved past the days of the wheat or barley bread! :) We had a chocolate/chocolate mousse cake for our wedding. As my husband and I are both chocoholics, there was no way that the topper to our cake was going to last until our 1st anniversary. I know we ate it very soon after the wedding. Probably was the very next day. :)


Chelsea B. said...

Interesting post!! I have never been married, so no saving-of-the-cake for me :-)


JackieW said...

Would like to win and read your book. The last few weddings I've been to the bride and groom didn't save any of the cake...but then most weren't cake eaters to begin with.

Barbara Monajem said...

My wedding cake wasn't a cake at all, but a big pastry. My parents had an old-fashioned fruitcake - my favorite.

Ciara said...

I didn't know that bride's cake came from church. I love learning historical facts.

DJ said...

Hi Leigh,

I just wanted to support your blog. As you know, I love history but did not know about the ring in the pie/cake. I'm sure that had some influence on the King Cakes of New Orleans where the person who finds the plastic baby in the cake has to buy the next cake.


Leigh Michaels said...

I love hearing all about customs – and the different paths taken by cake toppers. I don’t think a chocolate / chocolate mousse cake would have lasted long at my house, either. In fact, Linda, you made me hungry just by mentioning it...

Jenny, how lovely to see you here! Next time you pass St. Brides, say hello for me...

Dusti, I didn’t know about the king cakes – that’s not much of a prize, when the “winner” has to buy the next cake!

Thank you, everyone, for stopping by and all the great comments. I love hanging out with the historical hussies gang.

Kitchen Witch of the West said...

I used to do wedding cakes as my gift to the couple. Now that I'm allergic to gluten, corn, and dairy, so no longer bake with those items no couple wants me to bake their cake. Definitely their loss as my baking skills have exponentially improved with the dietary challenges. Yet, I certainly am less tired and more able to enjoy the ceremony!

Kitchen Witch of the West said...

Drat! Forgot my email address:

Added these books to my goodreads to-read list, just in case I don't get lucky.

phastings said...

I love this post! I never knew where the inspiration for the tiered weddding cake orginated from. I'm surprised that cake toppers are such a recent trend. This was so interesting and informative. Thank you Leigh.

We froze the top tier of our "brides cake." We did not eat it because it not looked edible.


Karen H in NC said...

Just wondering...when will winners be drawn? Can you tell this is a book I can't wait to read? LOL

Karen H in NC said...

Thank you so much. Looking forward to reading Leigh's work. Congratulations to the other winner.

Kitchen Witch of the West said...

Wohoo! Thank you! Will be pouncing on the mail box every day until they arrive.