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Cake Basics

All About Cutting the Cake

It's one of the most important parts of your wedding reception. Do you have a plan for how it will go? You should! Here's one you can trust.

Photo: Chung Li Photography

The wedding cake has always been replete with symbolism, and the tradition of breaking the cake over the bride’s head dates back to the Ancient Romans. Customs evolve with the times, and today the ceremonial cutting of the wedding cake has become one of the classic elements of the wedding reception. In addition to providing a great photo opportunity, it is symbolic as the first task the newlyweds execute together.

In truth, the practice of the bride and groom cutting the cake together was born of pure necessity. As cakes went from simple pastries to elaborate, multi-tiered extravaganzas, it became virtually impossible for the bride to cut the cake alone. She needed her new husband’s muscle to help cut through the stiff layers of frosting. While today’s wedding cakes have become much easier to maneuver, the bride and groom still cut the cake together simply for the love of tradition.

Cake Decorating
Because the cutting ceremony places so much focus on the wedding cake, many brides are opting for antique or classic bride and groom cake tops, as well as Victorian cake charms for luck and good fortune. The charms, in addition to the old custom of "ribbon pulling," have made a comeback in the most romantic modern weddings. Topping the cake with fresh flowers, Love Doves or a special religious symbol are all wonderful alternatives to those little bride and groom figures, however, there is no limit when it comes to cake decor. When it comes time to cut the cake, elegant silver plated cake knives and servers make the ritual even more enjoyable and stylish.

The Kindliest Cut
It probably hasn’t occurred to you that there would be any challenge in cutting a cake -- after all, it’s something you’ve done many times before, at birthday parties, or entertaining. Still, check with your cake baker or caterer to see if there are any special slicing instructions for the first cut. If your baker has used unusual assembly or decorative techniques in order to create your cake, there may be hidden peril. You don’t want to erroneously place your slice and cause the delicate tower to collapse or topple towards you.

Your baker will probably recommend you cut from the bottom tier. Remember to cut with the knife, not the server, for the quickest, cleanest cut. The slice can be quite modest -- you really only need two bites worth. Slide the slice onto the server, then place it on a plate. Use the knife to cut the slice into two small pieces. You can each take your pieces from the same plate for the ceremonial feeding.

To Smash Or Not To Smash
Once the cake has been cut, the bride and groom usually feed each other the first slice, symbolizing their commitment to provide for one another. Unfortunately, in some contemporary weddings, this symbolism has been completely lost, and replaced by a different tradition -- that of the bride and groom smashing cake into each other’s faces.

Let’s think about this little ritual for a moment. You’ve just had your hair and makeup professionally done, you’re wearing an exquisite L’ezu Antelier gown… do you really want buttercream plastered all over you? It’s true, the pressure can be strong to give the crowd what they want, but consider this. If you must do something dramatic to please them, do something dramatically romantic instead. After the first bites, sweep your beloved into your arms for a kiss that will make Granny blush. Playfully kiss away the tiny dollop of frosting in the corner of his mouth, or seductively lick the buttercream off her fingers. If that doesn’t satisfy them, smash the cake into the face of the guest most eager to see you dressed in frosting. That should shut them up. Besides, you’re married now -- you’ll have plenty of time for food fights later on.

Ask your baker or caterer to have napkins -- or even better a warm damp cloth -- tucked away somewhere convenient, so if you do get a bit of frosting on your hands, you can clean it up quickly and won’t spend the rest of the reception with sticky fingers.

It’s no secret that the cake cutting is one of the wedding photographer’s favorite images to capture. However, before he or she snaps the shutter, be sure to mention any specific photos you want. Do you want the traditional, posed shot of the two of you cutting the cake together, or do you prefer a more candid, documentary style? Is a close-up of your hands on the knife important, or are you only interested in the big picture?

Tiers and Slices
Couples used to freeze the top tier of their wedding cake for the baby christening that was expected to follow soon after. Today, many still opt to save a tier or even a few slices to be eaten on the first anniversary (waiting for a christening might be inviting serious freezer burn!).

Once the bride and groom have done their ceremonial cutting, the caterer’s staff will jump in to slice and serve the cake to guests. They’re the professionals, so step away and let them do their thing. Often, they will take the cake back into the kitchen to do the slicing. It is not uncommon today to have your baker make sheet cakes from the same recipe and serve slices to the guests -- especially if you are having a large wedding. This is a great way to keep your cake budget under control, and guests will never know if their slice came from a tier of the cake on display, or a sheet cake stowed in the kitchen.

In the past, it was de rigueur not only to send guests home with cake, but also to send pieces to those unable to attend the wedding. It is still a lovely custom to present boxed slices of cake to your guests, however, sadly this tradition seems to be fading away.

Like your gown, your wedding cake is special and symbolic to you, and the moment you cut into those fluffy, delectable layers together, you may become overwhelmed with emotion. After all, the wedding is over, the cake has been cut, and your sweet life as a married couple is about to begin.

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