A Look Back: Let Them Eat Cake

Angie Spitalieri Ianiro, Publisher Angie Spitalieri Ianiro, Publisher

While this spring's wedding season certainly looks different to couples all across the world, we look back to this article written by Gina Gannon in May 2014. For all of our La Gazzetta Italiana readers who are looking forward to reciting their vows this year or who have had to postpone their wedding due to the current pandemic, our thoughts are with you all. We wish you much love. 

When two sets of families and friends come together for the first time, the food served at an Italian wedding celebration may be equally as important as the band and the venue. From the moment guests enter the reception during cocktails and hors d’oeuvres through the following day with favors of confetti (candy-coated almonds), the menu typically showcases the new couple’s favorite dishes. Perhaps their love of bacon (pancetta) plays out in the appetizers or an obsession with Nutella is evident in the dessert options. In subtle ways, the items selected reveal who the bride and groom are in terms of their taste preferences. Additionally, the menu allows the new couple to pay tribute to their ethnicities and family traditions.

However, of all of the decadent dishes offered throughout the evening, the wedding cake takes center stage with significance beyond its taste and appearance. This tradition, like many great traditions, has Italian roots - Ancient Roman roots, actually. 

Cakes at ancient Roman weddings were more like what we would think of as bread, for they were made out of wheat or barley. Traditionally, guests would bring these bread-like cakes to the wedding ceremony. After the ceremony, a cake was broken over the bride’s head for good luck and fertility. The bride and groom then ate a few crumbs together, breaking bread together for the first time. The remainder of the crumbs represented good luck to anyone who ate them, so wedding guests gathered up the crumbs as tokens of good fortune.

This tradition has evolved into the modern-day cutting of the cake at wedding receptions. During this special moment, most guests pay close attention, gathering around the bride and groom. Guests witness something bigger than a nice photo opportunity. An ancient Roman tradition takes place in the hopes of good fortune and the blessing of children. Today, the couple nicely cuts the cake together—breaking bread—and feed a forkful to each other; or as some choose, smash cake in each other’s faces. The remainder of the cake–except for the top tier–is given to guests who no longer get crumbs, but receive a slice of the cake to enjoy as a token of good luck.

Today, the design of the cake has become big business with television shows allowing us to see what goes into making cakes. The possibilities are endless. It can be adorned with the bride’s favorite flowers and colors. It can showcase favorite flavors and tastes. Whether fondant or buttercream, tiered or single-layered, cupcakes or profiteroles, strawberry cassata or red velvet, there is something bigger than how it looks and how it tastes. The wedding cake has a sweet history. So, the next time you are at a wedding, take a bite of cake for good luck.