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I'm trying to find a good recipe for a wedding cake. I'm going to keep it fairly simple, one or two tiers, plain icing with some small decorations.

Many recipes seem to be variations on classic fruit cake or Christmas cake. Is that the case? Am I safe scaling up a recipe like Delia's Christmas Cake (a favourite of mine) or is there something specific about the flavour of a wedding cake I need to be sure to include or omit?

  • As there's the tradition of keeping the top tier until the 1st anniversary, the one time that I made a wedding cake, I used a fruitcake as the top level (being one of the few cakes that'll take to storage for a year). – Joe Jul 22 '15 at 14:51
  • I thought the tradition was to keep it until the christening of the first-born. Keep feeding the cake alcohol (and the bride and groom raspberry leaf tea!) – dumbledad Jul 22 '15 at 15:00
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    You're correct, though there was an assumption that children would happen shortly after a marriage and generally not before one, that doesn't apply as much these days. – Jon Hanna Jul 22 '15 at 15:26
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    @dumbledad: if they're 79 and 80 I doubt there'll be a first-born :p – Max Jul 22 '15 at 17:47
  • Where does the question ask about wedding cake-saving traditions, be they on an anniversary or christening? – Catija Jul 22 '15 at 20:58
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Traditions for wedding cakes have varied so much over time and throughout the Pretanic Isles as to make "the tradition" impossible to settle on.

Having different cakes for different tiers is both long-standing and popular today, as well as being of practical benefit (having a relatively solid cake like chocolate-biscuit at the bottom for example).

Fruit cakes go back to the when Bride's Pie stopped being savoury, and have secondary traditions associated with them (its sometimes done to store the smallest cake layer in brandy and use it as a Christening cake for the first child born to the couple) which may make it a particularly desired choice. It's common to have it in the mix for that reason. A cake like Delia Smith's Christmas cake would certainly be in line with that.

Of course, one of the oldest wedding traditions is that everything about the celebration is "bride's choice", of which the modern version is that it's all up to the couple. That overrides everything else.

  • If I ask I'm sure she'll just say "we don't want a fuss" (she's 80, he's 79) so I think I need to surprise them a bit. I'll give that some thought though - if they have a hankering for chocolate gateaux fruit cake could be a disappointment. Unless I do a chocolate gateaux separately. – dumbledad Jul 22 '15 at 15:05
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    Well, that's the advantage of different layers. If in doubt do fruit for the smallest (most traditional, but perhaps the one with the most people not liking it) chocolate biscuit for the base (solid, easy to do, and very popular these days) and maybe a Victoria sponge (everyone at least tolerates it and everyone has a recipe, though be careful about putting something on top) or something that's a favourite of the couple, in between. – Jon Hanna Jul 22 '15 at 15:24
  • (Incidentally, sponge was very popular for a while simply because having a very pale coloured sponge required spending a lot of money on the flour, and people wanted to show off). – Jon Hanna Jul 22 '15 at 15:25
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    @dumbledad My gut feeling: Fruitcake would be what a bride and groom from that generation would think of first when thinking about wedding cake. But that doesn't mean they will like it, so any "insider" available who knows their favourites? – Stephie Jul 22 '15 at 17:18
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These days, wedding cakes can be pretty much any kind of cake. A traditional wedding cake is certainly more or less a Christmas cake - a dense, dark, 'matured' fruit cake with marzipan and royal icing.

However, nowadays you will find that anything goes - flavoured sponges are extremely popular. The main criteria is that the cake should be sufficiently dense to hold the weight of a tier or two. This means your standard light-as-air Victoria Sponge won't cut it - it will just collapse. You need to be looking at denser, moister cakes.

Basically, a wedding cake is whatever the happy couple want it to be!

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    Well, light-as-air works if you don't rely on the sponge holding the cake up. Pros make a quite complicated hidden system of dowels and cardboard that carries the weight. – Stephie Jul 22 '15 at 14:40
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    Nothing tastier then cardboard in your cake. – marsh Jul 22 '15 at 14:53
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    @marsh: I've made one of these (actually chocolate mousse cake -- no way that could support its own weight). You just have a disc of cardboard between the layers, which you remove after cutting (or saving) the layer above. No need to eat any. – Max Jul 22 '15 at 17:46
  • @Max, ah that makes a lot more sense. – marsh Jul 22 '15 at 17:53
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    @marsh - oh, I had taken this as a joke... A picture of the "inner skeleton" can be found here, for example. If you search for "cake stacking" you'll find tons of pictures and videos online. – Stephie Jul 23 '15 at 8:23
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My Partner used to be a pro wedding cake maker and I've helped her do a few over the years for friends and family.

The tiers can be any cake these days, but only a fruit cake is dense enough to support tiers above it without dowels, use of a cake stand neatly gets around this.

It used to be a tradition that the top (smallest) tier would be a fruit cake that would be kept until the christening or birth of the first child. For the cake to keep it would need to be a fruit cake and carefully iced so that it is sealed to the cake board to keep air out.

If tradition is important then also consider royal icing, hard work and most people would be surprised to hear that the cake had been sanded down between layers!

I know the Delia recipe that you are talking of and have made it numerous times because it tastes great :-) use light muscavado sugar to keep the taste of treacle from being too strong. It scales up with no problem at all but fruit cake mixture is hard work to stir be careful not to overload even a strong mixer or your arm.

Another thing that wedding guests often don't realise is that there is far more cake than they saw being cut; It is really common for slabs of cake to be supplied, they will be iced to match the displayed cake but without decoration. This way the tiered cake could be all fruit but there can be many other types / flavours of cake for the guests who because of the icing never knew what was in the tiers.

  • Extending the idea of slabs, display cakes in shop windows are usually made of polystyrene! – simonnj Jul 22 '15 at 19:55
  • Wow - I love the idea of sanding down royal icing. But is there a danger it'll char (or catch fire!). Why not just work it with a knife or palette knife and boiling water? – dumbledad Jul 23 '15 at 7:32
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    @dumbledad, I don't think simonnj is talking about an electric sander at full speed but light buffing by hand. – Stephie Jul 23 '15 at 8:38

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