Like much else, the South has a way with wedding traditions that is different from the rest of the United States. We’ve talked second lines and cake pulls, but today we’re talking something a little more male-centric… it’s groom’s cakes! Because in New Orleans we have to ask, why limit ourselves to just one cake when we can have two?
Groom’s cakes are pretty self-explanatory. Separate from the wedding cake and always different in flavor, a groom’s cake is a cake smaller in size that is intended to celebrate the groom. These cakes are usually chocolate and paired with either fruit fillings or liquored flavorings, like brandy, rum, or even Guinness. Groom’s cakes are often decorated not to match the wedding cake, but to honor the groom’s hobbies, tastes, and favorite pastimes. Common groom’s cake themes revolve around sports, but can branch out to favorite books, movies, inside jokes, the list is endless. Groom’s cakes appear almost solely in the South, as it is a tradition that never quite took in the rest of the United States.
The groom’s cake is presented as a gift to the groom from the bride and is meant to reflect her knowledge of him and her support of his passions. They often are presented with humor and affection and come in the most odd of forms (think the bleeding armadillo cake from Steel Magnolias).
Cake for All and All for Cake
Like many other New Orleans wedding traditions, groom’s cakes have antecedents in England. Specifically, this tradition dates back to mid 17th century Yorkshire. In the 1600’s both the bride and the groom were baked individual pies for the wedding, a bride’s pie and a groom’s pie. What they did with them, however, was a little stranger than just eating them. The bride would eat only a single slice of her pie and then throw the rest over her head, to symbolize all that she was willing to give up for her husband. The groom was expected to eat his entire pie and then throw the empty plate over his head; the more pieces the plate broke into, the more years of happiness and fortune the new couple would have.
The groom’s cake grew into a more widespread tradition during the Victorian Era, during which it became commonplace for each wedding to have three cakes: a wedding cake, a bridal cake, and a groom’s cake. The wedding cake would be served to the guests at large, the bridal cake would be served to the bridal party, and the groom’s cake to the groomsmen. At this time the groom’s cake was always a fruitcake, while the bridal cake was usually a sponge or a short crust. The bride’s cake was meant to be light and the groom’s dark. It’s likely for this reason that groom’s cakes are often chocolate nowadays, to keep with this tradition.
The groom was actually responsible for baking and decorating his own groom’s cake on the day of the wedding, an aspect of the tradition that would intimidate most men today. Even being baked so soon beforehand, the groom’s cake was served prior to the wedding and the leftovers were sliced up and boxed to be handed out to the unmarried women at the wedding. It was said that if a single woman slept with a slice of the groom’s cake beneath her pillow (hopefully still in the box), she would dream of her future husband.
In contemporary times, this tradition has evolved a little differently. We no longer single out the single women (hopefully) with groom’s cake, but instead use it as a way to celebrate with some extra dessert. When the bride reveals the groom’s cake varies between weddings. Some couples decide to unveil it at the reception and cut it together after the wedding cake, others use the rehearsal dinner to give the groom’s cake its own spotlight (or to keep what can sometimes be garish decorations away from the perfectly planned wedding color scheme).
Within the last couple of years it has even become a way to introduce non-traditional desserts to the wedding. For grooms whose tastes differ from almond cakes and chocolate bundts, the “groom’s cake” is an opportunity to provide a treat that he actually enjoys. Contemporary groom’s cakes can vary from pies, to towers of doughnuts, to ice cream sundae bars, to cakes constructed entirely from Oreos. Regardless, it’s a tradition that’s hard to argue with, after all who doesn’t want one more crafted confection?