Singing, today I married my white girl
beautiful in a barley field.
Green on thy finger a grass blade curled,
so with this ring I thee wed, I thee wed,
and send our love to the loveless world
of all the living and all the dead.
From ‘Epithalmion’ by Dannie Abse (b 1923)
It might be an appropriate time today to talk about that major feast in many people’s lives - the Wedding Breakfast – or more commonly now the Wedding lunch or supper.
It’s a natural thing to want to celebrate two people starting out on their lives together whether it’s in a posh church or by leaping over a gypsy campfire. There are numerous wedding traditions both old and new, but let’s stick to talking cake.
Wedding cakes have been around since mediaeval times. Originally small cakes were brought by the guests to the feast and piled up in a big mound. The guests would then throw these cakes at the bride and groom having first ensured that the happy pair could just reach over the cake mound in order to kiss each other.
I wondered if there was a connection between this jolly custom and the expression ‘bun fight’ – then lo and behold!
The groom might also have broken a cake over the head of his bride – supposedly to indicate his governance over her as his wife. In Yorkshire a piece of cake was thrown out of an upstairs window – it was good luck if it broke into many pieces, which doesn’t say much for Yorkshire bakers. Alternatively a plate holding wedding cake was thrown out of the window. If the plate broke, the bride would enjoy a happy future with her husband, but if the plate remained intact the marriage would be unhappy. I rather think that if my new husband tried to break a cake over my head I might break a plate over his.
I dug out this old family wedding photo to show to you (my Grandfather on the right was giving one of his numerous sisters away) I love the expression on my Aunt Ethel's face - she's the little bridesmaid in the middle and my Great Aunt Lily as the Maid 0f Honour was so beautiful.
After the wedding breakfast, bridesmaids would take a piece of wedding cake to put under their pillow that they might dream of their future bridegroom. Traditional tiered wedding cakes derive from the mediaeval cake mountain and were first devised in the early seventeenth century supposedly by Charles II’s French chef. Initially the tiers might not all have been of cake but when Prince Leopold, the eight child of Queen Victoria, was married in 1882, the first multi-tiered wholly edible white iced cake was made, and this became the tradition. So Royal Weddings set trends in cakes, dresses and music – and t’was ever thus. Poor old Prince Leopold died of haemophilia only a couple of years later – Queen Victoria’s fatal legacy.
Here's a Mrs Beeton Wedding Cake - isn't it fabulous?
I’ve made a few wedding cakes in my time, my Mum made the cake the first time I was married, I made my own cake the second time, and I’ve made cakes for other people. I made one for a friend a few years ago and decorated it with Liquorice Allsorts – very wacky. And in case you’re wondering, the tradition of sending bits of cake to absent friends dates back only to the 1930s.
I’ve been wondering what to make for today. A croquembouche?– lovely but too French, a fruit cake ? – dépassé, so I’ve made a white chocolate orange flower sponge and covered it with white chocolate icing and the first local strawberries.
For the cake
100g white chocolate, 225g unsalted butter, 200g caster sugar, 4 medium eggs beaten, 180g SR flour,100g ground almonds, grated rind of one orange, teaspoon orange flower water
For the decoration
100g white chocolate, 50g unsalted butter, 2 tablespoons icing sugar, 1 tablespoon orange juice (or orange liqueur) 1/2 tsp orange flower water, white chocolate sticks ( I used little biscuits called Mikado which I cut to size - it took 3 packets) large punnet strawberries. white chocolate stars.
Oven 180c, 8" prepared spring form cake tin.
Melt the white chocolate and leave to cool. Cream the butter and sugar until white and add the eggs little by little, fold in the flour, ground almonds grated orange rind and the cooled chocolate and the orange flower water. Pour into the tin and make a depression in the middle to attempt to get a flattish top to the cake. Bake for 1 hour and check with a skewer that it is cooked through.
Meanwhile melt the rest of the chocolate for the icing and cool. Beat the butter and icing sugar together and add the flavourings and the cold chocolate.
When the cake is cold, cover with the icing and stick your chocolate sticks around the outside. Put the strawberries - bottoms down - over the top. You may want to glaze them with a little warmed sieved jam. Sprinkle with stars.
Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.
From ‘An Arundel Tomb’ by Philip Larkin (1922-1985)