Sweet treats had been a part of nuptial feasts for centuries, but Queen Victoria's tiered white cake took the tradition to new heights.



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Layers of cake, each one ornately decorated with piped icing and stacked atop each other, is a staple of many modern weddings. The moment when the newlyweds cut their first slice of wedding cake is a popular photo op, a tradition that goes back to British royalty. By the 19th century cake at wedding celebrations was nothing new; it had been a part of the marriage ceremony since ancient times. The Romans crumbled a cereal cake over the bride’s head, and in medi England the bride and groom would kiss over a confection made of small, stacked buns.

多层蛋糕是许多现代婚礼的重要食物,每一层都用滚边糖衣装饰着,层层堆叠,尽显华丽。新婚夫妇共同切下第一块婚礼蛋糕的瞬间是一个广受欢迎的留影时刻,这一传统可以追溯到英国皇室。到了19世纪,婚礼蛋糕已经不是什么新鲜事了; 因为自古以来,婚礼蛋糕就是婚礼仪式的一部分。罗马人会在新娘的头上撒上麦片蛋糕,在中世纪的英国,新娘和新郎会在由堆叠起来的小面包做成的甜点上接吻。

The 1840 wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha took this old tradition and turned it into something new. Their cake was big: three tiers of English plum cake that stood 14 inches tall, measured nearly 10 feet across, and weighed 300 pounds.


A drawing of a bride cutting a wedding cake
A bride cuts the cake in a British colorplate illustration from 1900.


Standing tall


The height of Queen Victoria’s cake was a novelty: Most traditional English cakes were one layer at that time. Food historians believe that the queen wanted her cake to reflect a French influence, which had become popular in England. The origins of the high-rise cake go back to prerevolutionary France, when chefs began cooking ever more ornamentally and vertically. After the revolution, fancy confectioners and pâtissiers left France for England, where they and their craft were embraced by the British upper classes.


Some have speculated that these taller cakes were made in the early 18th century by a London baker, inspired to re-create the steeple of St. Bride’s Church designed by the architect Christopher Wren. In his book Wedding Cakes and Cultural History, Simon R. Charsley casts doubt on that idea: “It Anglicizes the history of the vertical cake, placing its origin . . . before the influx of continental confectioners at the end of the 18th century.”

有人猜测,这些更高的蛋糕是在18世纪早期由伦敦的一位面包师制作的,他的灵感来自于对建筑师克里斯托弗·雷恩(Christopher Wren)设计的圣布赖德教堂(St. Bride’s Church)的尖塔的改造。不过在《婚礼蛋糕和文化历史》一书中,作者西蒙·查斯利(Simon R. Charsley)对这个观点提出了质疑:“它使多层蛋糕的历史英国化了,至于其起源……在18世纪末大陆糖果商涌入英国之前英国就已经出现了多层蛋糕。”

Adding to the spectacle (and height) was one of the world’s first cake toppers. Victoria and Albert’s cake featured several miniature statues, including Britannia, a female personification of Great Britain, on top, blessing the royal couple clad in Roman costume. It soon became popular for small figurines of a bride and groom to appear on top of commoners’ cakes.


Perhaps the most enduring legacy of Victoria’s wedding cake was the use of pure white royal icing to cover the entire confection. Refined white sugar, which is used to create the iconic look, was very expensive in the 1840s, making the wedding cake a true statement piece. The cake caused a sensation. A detailed print of it reportedly hung in windows around London before the ceremony. Newspapers published images of Victoria’s cake—and every royal wedding cake thereafter—giving everyone a glimpse into the feast.


By the late 19th century, however, thanks to the drop in sugar prices, tiered cakes with royal icing caught on among a middle class eager to emulate royal splendor on a humbler scale.

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Queen Victoria’s wedding cake set trends, but it also stuck to tradition. Rather than a delicate sponge cake, it was a fruitcake, loaded with sugar, spirits, and dried fruit. Because of all the sugar and alcohol, fruitcake preserves well, and Queen Victoria’s cake is still around to prove it. The bride gave guests boxed slices as a memento, which were tucked away and saved.

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Today those royal cake slices are now collector’s items. Two pieces are in the collection of the Royal Trust, while others may sell at auction for thousands of dollars. One preserved slice, still with its elegant box from 1840 (below), sold in 2016 for £1,500 (about $2,000).

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Growing Big


If commoners were marrying with tiered cakes, royal wedding cakes had to get taller if they were still to convey authority and prestige. Pastry chefs set new royal standards when Queen Victoria’s eldest child, Princess Victoria, married Prince Frederick William of Prussia in 1858.


They created a triple-layer columned cake that stood more than six feet tall. When Prince George (later King George V) married in 1893, his wedding cake also featured columns, but supported three tiers and reached a height of seven feet. Not to be outdone, Lady Elizabeth (bride of the future King George VI) had a 10-foot-tall, nine-tiered cake.


Cakes have continued to be a popular part of a royal wedding’s spectacle, but the trend spread to the masses, making it more than a central prop in a dramatic celebration of the monarchy and state power.


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