Traditional wedding cake made of several white iced tiers
Cakes & Catering

Traditional Wedding Cakes: Everything You Need to Know

When it comes to choosing your wedding cake, the ideas are endless. However, a traditional wedding cake will forever be a timeless choice, and there is plenty of history behind the tradition.

Traditional wedding cake made of several white iced tiers

We’ve got everything you need to know about traditional wedding cakes here, including some examples of our absolute favourites and a recipe from a baking expert in case you fancy making your own wedding cake.

What is a traditional wedding cake?

A traditional wedding cake is typically a fruit cake, covered in marzipan and icing, and presented in tiers. Nowadays, couples can get more experimental with their wedding cakes and opt for an alternative wedding cake, but there is still very much a place for the traditional wedding cake in weddings today.

Close up of a traditional white wedding cake

Traditional wedding cakes usually have at least three tiers and feature a wedding cake topper on the top of the cake. The cake is cut by the newlyweds and guests are usually welcome to enjoy a slice with a cup of tea or coffee during the wedding day, or they can take a slice home in a wedding cake box.

What flavour is a wedding cake traditionally?

A truly traditional wedding cake is made from fruit cake as this is known for its longevity. However, more and more couples are opting for sponge as it’s easier to have it made in a variety of wedding cake flavours.

If you don’t love fruit cake, but you do love tradition, why not consider a fig wedding cake?

Some brides and grooms like to have their smaller top tier still made from fruit cake because they can keep it.

White tiered wedding cake displayed on a table

Why do wedding cakes traditionally have three tiers?

Everyone associates traditional wedding cakes with that famous three-tiered shape, but there is a real reason behind it! It is thought that they are made that way as the large bottom tier is to be shared out at the wedding, the smaller middle tier is to share with those who couldn’t make it after the event and the top tier is saved for the couple.

Why is the top tier of a wedding cake saved?

It used to be that the top tier of the wedding cake was saved for the christening of the couple’s first child – hence it needing to be made from long-lasting fruit cake! Providing the wedding night went to plan, the top tier of the wedding cake would be brought out again within a year.

Colourful tiered wedding cake

Values have changed a fair bit with time though, and now couples can save their top tier for a variety of reasons! Some couples like to freeze it and enjoy it on their first wedding anniversary – it’s a lovely way to mark a wedding anniversary milestone.

Others prefer to just save it to enjoy for breakfast the next day or as a midnight snack on their wedding day!

The History of the Wedding Cake

The traditional wedding cake is steeped in history! It’s believed that the first ‘wedding cakes’ date back to Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, where a cake of barley or wheat was broken over the bride’s head, in the belief it would bring the couple good fortune in their married life. Thankfully that wedding tradition has been lost in time!

In the 16th and 17th centuries, a ‘bride’s pie’ was traditionally served at weddings – but don’t get too excited. According to a recipe by Robert May, which dates back to 1685, the bride’s pie was filled with oysters, lamb testicles, pine kernels and cocks’ combs. We’d rather have fruit cake, thanks.

Over time this evolved and the fruit cake, which was traditionally known as the ‘groom’s cake’ evolved to become the main event. The larger your cake, the better your social standing. White icing also became more popular – not only did it symbolise virginity and purity, much like the white wedding dress, it was also an indicator of money and social importance in the Victorian times.

White wedding cake with pink flowers

The white icing we know as royal icing gained its name after Queen Victoria’s wedding cake was iced in pure white icing.

If you don’t like icing, you could always try a naked wedding cake.

There are a few theories behind why the traditional wedding cake had so many tiers – in medieval times the cake would be stacked as high as possible, and if the couple managed to kiss over it, they were destined to have a successful union.

It’s also said that in the early 1700s a baker wanted to create a truly special wedding cake and was inspired by the distinctive shape of St Bride’s Church in London – leading to the tiered shape we know so well today.

St Bride's Church in Fleet Street

Image credit: Jim Linwood/Flickr.com

Our Favourite Traditional Style Wedding Cakes

This elegant six tiered wedding cake from Elizabeth’s Cake Emporium is the perfect choice for couples who want a classic, timeless option.

Trio of traditional style wedding cakes by Belsize cakes

What’s better than one wedding cake? Three! How are we supposed to pick just one from this beautiful selection from Belsize Cakes? They are traditional in style but still incorporate plenty of personality!

Tall tiered wedding cake

This gorgeously simple wedding cake (photographed by Imogen Xiana Photography) from the Vanilla Pod Bakery would look effortlessly chic at any wedding – whether it’s winter or summer! It’s very traditional with its tiers and white icing, but the tall shape and simple floral touch elevate it.

Six tiered wedding cake with flowers

If you are a fan of a bit of colour, you’ll fall in love with the beautiful and intricate sugar flowers that adorn this cake by Elizabeth’s Cake Emporium.

Blue wedding cake

Why not make your wedding cake your something blue? That’s a great – and delicious – way to add even more tradition to your wedding cake. We can’t stop staring at this blue beauty from Belsize Cakes.

Four tiered wedding cake

If you love the idea of going traditional, but still want a rustic style wedding cake, be inspired by this four tiered wonder from the Vanilla Pod Bakery – the buttercream finish keeps it from being plain. Photography by Oobaloos Photography.

Gold tiered wedding cake

A metallic wedding cake is a great way to add a slight twist to the traditional wedding cake – this stunner is by the talented Elizabeth Solaru of Elizabeth’s Cake Emporium.

Pink and grey tiered wedding cake

If you love the idea of a traditional wedding cake but you still want it to have a modern feel, be inspired by this beautiful pink and grey wedding cake by Belsize Cakes. The marble effect is super on trend, but the tiered shape is classic.

Fondant iced wedding cake

Fondant icing is a great way to give your wedding cake a traditional feel, as illustrated by this cake by the Vanilla Pod Bakery. The subtle shimmer on the icing is just irresistible! Photography by Marcus Rice Photography.

If you’re still looking for other options, have you considered having a cheese wedding cake?

Find Wedding Ideas, Inspiration, Venues and Services

mail icon

Subscribe to our Network

Stay connected with our network and get all the best Wedding Planning, Inspiration and Competitions directly into your inbox.