It may seem like a break from tradition to serve more than one cake at a wedding, but it's actually quite an old custom. At medieval Anglo-Saxon weddings, many small cakes would be served in a mountainous pile, and eventually pocketed for the journey home. Sometimes the bride and groom attempted to kiss over this pile of "cakes." In those days, of course, cakes were nothing more than dry, hard, unleavened biscuits.
With the advent of baking powder, cakes became lighter -- and grew much larger. It was really a desire for convenience that led to the innovation of stacking several cakes and fusing them together with some kind of sugar to feed a large crowd. This also made it easier to transport a cake to a feast. The tiered shape so familiar today may have just been a concession to balance and physics. Although times have changed, most of these traditions still exist in one form or another. The similarities are easy to see: We still pack up slices of "groom's cake" for guests to take home with them.
Croquembouche, the traditional wedding cake of France, is a mass of tiny cakes, profiteroles to be exact, stuck together with caramelized sugar. The bride and groom still lovingly feed each other cake, often followed by a sweet kiss. With five different cakes, the bride and groom can choose their favorite flavors for their exchange.
Along with croquembouche and a scaled-down, three-tier version of the traditional American wedding cake, we've included three other delicious ones, so the guests can have a choice, too. Each displays a banner bearing a reminder of another enduring tradition without which no union would be complete: vows. The rituals surrounding the cake, whatever it may be, are an important and symbolic part of the wedding day. Its exact shape and nature are less important than remembering that the main purpose of the cake is to allow everybody to join the bride and groom in sharing their joy.
Inspired by the classic fruit cake, a Heart-Shaped Diablo Cake that's all about chocolate has whisky-soaked raisins studding its interior; it sits on candied-orange slices. Brown-sugar buttercream covers a Three-Tiered Pound Cake.
From left: Toasted-coconut frosting coats featherlight Angel's Food Cake. An Almond-Paved Dacquoise Cake has rich crunchy almond meringue, chocolate ganache, and thin layers of cake inside. A traditional French Croquembouche is built from profiteroles filled with passion-fruit custard; it has a halo of spun sugar.