The custom of celebrating special occasions with cake is very old and the first historical records date back to more than 7,000 years before Christ in Palestine.
According to the Bible, three angels have gone to the house of Sarah and Abraham to announce that they, even old, would have children. The host asked the woman, “Quickly, knead three measures of flour and make cakes” – the best way to celebrate, with the visitors, the gift granted by God. Just like Sarah and Abraham, humanity have been repeating this gesture of communion around cakes through the centuries. (BRAGA, 2008, p.2)
The wedding cake is the main delicacy on this festive date when two people are united in marriage. This delicious tradition has a history related to the customs of Ancient Rome. According to Barrozo (2015?, p.2), the first report about the making of wedding cakes dates back to ancient Rome. The Romans were at the time the holders of fermentation techniques and produced a mixture of cake and bread filled with dried fruits, honey, nuts and spices. That cake mostly resembled a loaf of bread and was torn over the heads of the bride and groom. The more bran that fell on them, the more prosperity and fertility they would have.
Currently, the desire for prosperity and happiness is represented by the rain of rice thrown at the bride and groom at the end of the religious celebration. Also, cakes with more than one tier can also mean such desires. One of the first tiered cakes was made for the wedding of Catherine de Medici, as she was very fond of and an innovator on good gastronomy, in the 16th century.
Barrozo (2015?, p.9) stated that the three-tier wedding cake had the following meaning: the first tier stood for the commitment, the second, the marriage, and the third, eternity. For European courts, the height of the cake demonstrated the power and wealth of the families that were uniting; therefore, the higher, the better.
According to Bass (2015, p.2), the custom of saving the top layer of the wedding cake to be served at the christening of the couple’s firstborn, usually a year after the wedding originates from the 19th century (when multi-tier cakes became common). This practice avoided the task of planning a cake for the christening, but over time this custom has been abolished since most couples do not plan to have a child in the first year of marriage anymore. Currently, saving the wedding cake and eating together in the first year of marriage anniversary, reminds the couple of that moment of happiness and renews the joy of being together celebrating their love and union.
Tradition says that the first slice of the cake should be cut by the bride and groom, both holding the knife to cut it, with the bride being the first to taste the delicacy, then the groom, and after that the guests. This very romantic moment of the couple cutting the cake together originated from the bride’s need to be helped because of the difficulty of cutting the several layers.
The bridal cake in Pernambuco is different from the wedding cakes in the rest of Brazil and has a history related to the presence of English people in the state. The sociologist Gilberto Freyre wrote a book about the rich Pernambucan cuisine in which he presents the most famous recipes and their stories. Freyre considers sugar as one of the main ingredients on the Pernambucan cuisine, because there are many typical sweets in the state, among them the cakes, so appreciated in the “snacks” and family parties. The bridal cake or fruit cake is also prominent in weddings, and several moments of the life of Pernambucans.
May is typically known as the month of brides. “May is called the month of brides, a European habit, as it is spring in the Northern hemisphere, exploding in flowers and colors” (BRAGA, 2008, p.2). It is when many weddings are celebrated in many states throughout Brazil, including Pernambuco. In this period, the traditional recipe for the bridal cake in the Northeast, which is inspired by the English fruit cake, stands out among other cakes.
According to Stradley (2004, p.1), the oldest reference about a fruit cake dates back to Roman times. The recipe included pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, and raisins that were mixed in barley mash. During the Middle Ages, honey, spices, and candied fruit were added. Such cakes were initially made for Crusaders and hunters to feed during long periods away from home. In the 15th century the British began their love affair with fruitcake, a time when dried fruits from the Mediterranean arrived.
The original recipe for Christmas Cake, or English cake, comes from an old tradition dating back to the French Revolution. It originated in the oatmeal used to ease hunger because of fasting on Christmas Eve. Over time other ingredients were added, such as nuts, honey, and spices. In the 16th century, oats were replaced by eggs, flour, and butter. The cake was made in advance, kept in a box and sprinkled weekly with brandy or whiskey until Christmas Eve.
By the 18th century, fruitcake was fully known throughout Continental Europe. According to Stradley (2004, p. 2), between 1837 and 1901, the cake became extremely popular and “teatime” would not be complete without the delicacy. Queen Victoria is said to have waited a year to eat a fruit cake she received on the occasion of her birthday.
The basic version of the English cake best known in Brazil consists of a white pastry filled with candied fruit and raisins.
In the state of Pernambuco, adaptations of the English cake recipe were made by adding some ingredients such as prunes and wine, which added to the raisins and candied fruit gave the pastry a very marked flavor, resulting in a cake with a moist and sweet consistency. To further enhance the recipe, it was also included the glaze made with sugar, egg whites, and lemon juice, giving the cake the beauty and personal touch of each confectioner. More recently, American paste has been also added to cover the cakes providing them with beautiful decorations.
The bridal cake is so famous in the state that there are family recipes kept under lock and key, passed on from one generation to the other, distinguishing among themselves basically for the amount of ingredients used, but the tradition of the fruit cake is maintained regardless of the dispute for the title of best recipe.
Recipe for the wedding cake prepared by the Pernambuco baker Ana Paiva:
Yield/servings: 30 slices
Average preparation time: 2 and a half hours
½ kg of refined sugar
½ kg of salted butter
½ level teaspoon (dessert) salt
½ kg of wheat flour
500 ml of milk
400 g of chocolate
Plum Jam (see recipe below)
½ kg of candied fruit
½ kg of pitted raisins (soaked in
750 ml of muscat wine for at least 48 hours)
Tip: Sift the dry ingredients
Beat the butter, with the sugar and salt until it becomes whitish.
Add the yolks one by one and continue beating.
Add half the
wheat flour and half the milk
Then the other half of both
Add the chocolate
Add the plum jam, the candied fruit, the raisins and ½ cup of the wine in which the raisins were soaked.
Beat everything very well
Manually add the whipped egg whites
Grease a mold with margarine and sprinkle it with wheat flour
Place in preheated oven
Test with a toothpick: pierce the dough and if it comes out clean, it's ready.
2 egg whites
½ kg of powdered
1 lemon juice
Place the ingredients in the mixer and beat until the syrup acquires a thick marshmallow consistency.
When ready, cover the cake
Blend ½ kg of pitted plums in a blender with 250 ml of water
Add ½ cup of sugar and bring to a boil.
Let it cool to garnish
CURIOSITY: In England, it was customary for single wedding guests to place a slice of the cake under their pillow at night to dream about the person they would marry.
Recife, May 25, 2015.
BARROZO, Ruy. Bolo de casamento: história e significados. [2015?]. Disponível em: <https://www.hagah.com.br/roteiros/bolo-de-casamento-historia-e-significados-3353950>. Acesso em: 18 maio 2015.
BASS, Janece. Por que comer o bolo de casamento um ano depois?. Tradução de Camille Sampaio. Disponível em: >. Acesso em: 18 maio 2015.
BOLO DE CASAMENTO [imagem neste texto]. Disponível em: <http://www.muitochique.com/variedades/bolos-de-casamento-dicas-estilos-precos.html> Acesso em: 16 jun. 2015.
BRAGA, Ana. História do bolo de noiva pernambucano. 2008. Disponível em:<http://aninha-braga.blogspot.com.br/2008/08/histria-do-bolo-de-noiva-pernambucano.html>. Acesso em: 20 maio 2015.
CASAMENTO & Cia. Bolo de casamento e sua tradição. Disponível em: <http://www.casamentoecia.com.br/?option=com_cerimonias_home&content=outras&id=520>. Acesso em: 20 maio 2015.
FREYRE, Gilberto. Açúcar: em torno da etnografia, da historia e da sociologia do doce no Nordeste canavieiro do Brasil. 3.ed. rev. aum. Recife: Fundaj, Massangana, 1987.
NO MÊS das noivas, aprenda a fazer o bolo de casamento típico do Nordeste. Disponível em: <https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/comida/1087371-no-mes-das-noivas-aprenda-a-fazer-o-bolo-de-casamento-tipico-do-nordeste.shtml>. Acesso em: 28 nov. 2018.
STRADLEY, Linda. History of Fruitcake. 2004. Disponível em: <http://whatscookingamerica.net/History/Cakes/Fruitcake.htm>. Acesso em: 20 maio 2015.
UOL comidas e bebidas. Inspirado em receita inglesa, Bolo de Noiva é tradição no Nordeste: entrevista com a doceira Ana Paula Paiva. São Paulo, 2013. Disponível em: <goo.gl/QVp9wA>. Acesso em: 20 maio 2015.
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VERARDI, Cláudia Albuquerque. Wedding cake or bridal cake. In: PESQUISA Escolar. Recife: Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, 2015. Available from: https://pesquisaescolar.fundaj.gov.br/pt-br/artigo/o-bolo-de-casamento-ou-bolo-de-noiva/. Access on: Month. day, year. (Ex.: Aug. 6, 2020.)