Often the centerpiece of every wedding, the wedding cake has been a longstanding tradition that has evolved over the years as styles change.
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While some wedding trends seem to come and go, a few essentials never change. And one of those is the tradition of the wedding cake.
Since ancient times, wedding celebrations have always included a special cake. In Ancient Rome, wedding ceremonies were concluded with the breaking of a wheat or barley cake over the bride’s head; the newly wedded couple would then proceed to eat a few crumbs in a ritual known as confarreatio, or eating together. It was said to be a symbol of good fortune. (I call it a waste of perfectly good cake.)
And while we’ve stopped crumbling baked goods over brides’ heads —opting for a much more civil face smash — the belief still remains that no celebration of a new union is complete without cutting into a beautifully decorated cake. However, what has changed over the years are cake styles.
No chic, contemporary bride would settle for an all-white, multitiered, vanilla wedding cake. Kathi Hall Vincent, the owner and baking brilliance behind Cotillion Southern Café in downtown Wildwood, says in the last year or so, she notices brides are moving away from over-the-top, fondant-spackled spectacles and are choosing more rustic, homemade cakes that remind them of what their grandma used to make.
“Brides come to me and are very specific with their requests,” she says. “They want cakes to look homemade and they want it to taste good.”
The latter is not an issue for “Miz Kathi.” Anyone who has had the good fortune to pay her a visit at Cotillion knows she is just as well known for her delicious desserts as she is known for her upscale Southern cooking. Every day, her antique sideboard is filled with desserts made fresh by Kathi herself.
Coming from a long line of bakers, Kathi naturally had it in her to bake.
“I remember my grandmother was always reading recipes,” she says. “Even when she couldn’t bake anymore, she would still clip out recipes. She did that until the day she died.”
Kathi started small, baking projects for friends and family as she honed her skills. It eventually grew into a full-blown catering business after she had a neighbor ask her to cater an event at Austin Horse Park in Weirsdale. “They needed food brought in. I did a hummingbird cake and made banana pudding from scratch,” she says. “I also brought food for the staff and it was after that I became a caterer for them.”
As she delved into her newfound business, Kathi never neglected her other interests — collecting antiques and genealogy.
“I’m a ninth generation Floridian, I love making my family’s old recipes, and I love gathering and hoarding antique lace, silver, and china. So when my last child was in high school, I decided my life would be for me now, but I couldn’t figure out what to do. I eventually settled on opening Cotillion because it blended my family history, my china, and my love for baking and cooking all together.”
The Cotillion recently celebrated its sixth birthday, but Kathi just began making custom-ordered wedding cakes. “I started getting requests, and whenever I do one for a wedding, I get at least a few orders from people who say, ‘I want the same kind,’” she says.
Lately, Kathi says she has noticed the vintage, country-inspired look is in full swing.
“I just recently catered my son’s wedding and it was definitely more nostalgic. It had that real after-church-for-supper feel,” she says. “People are really moving away from anything formal. They want casual with a touch of Southern elegance. Some of the key features of the cakes I’ve been making have been swirl marks I make with the frosting, sticks, vintage brooches, and jewelry.”
On the day I visited Cotillion, Kathi had whipped up four amazing cakes to show me (rather than tell me) what local brides are requesting to have at their nuptials.
Kathi’s most requested cake is the Southern salted caramel fudge cake. Garlanded with thin twigs, twine, and faux blue-hued birds, the rustic-looking cake has a thin layer of frosting that allows the splendidly dark cake to peak through, reminding me of an old, painted wooden fence fading under the harsh Florida sun.
Though simplistic with its all-white decorative rosette design, her pink velvet cake will become a fast favorite, too. My two favorites, however, were the white chocolate raspberry cake, which had a filling of fresh raspberry jam and was decorated with beautiful pink blush and Florida cracker roses and a blue satin ribbon, and the coconut cake, which had a cooked coconut filling and was embellished with antique roses.
Ultimately, Kathi said cake choices always boil down to what couples are looking for to fit their theme. For example, red velvet cakes are hot sellers for Christmas and Valentine’s Day and for those looking for something more homespun, nontraditional cakes like carrot cake and hummingbird cake are requested.
“Some couples come in with an idea and some just entrust me to make something delicious and fabulous,” she says.
Also growing in popularity are pie bars and dessert bars, which can accommodate enough variety to satisfy any wedding guest’s palette.
“I’ve also done a lot of cake buffets, cupcake orders, and groom’s cakes,” she says. “A traditional Southern groom’s cake is chocolate, but then I’ll add other elements like fresh strawberries, chocolate mousse, salted caramel, orange filling, whipped ganache, or peanut butter filling.”
With the success of her budding custom wedding cake venture, Kathi will be opening a bakery separate (but not far) from the Cotillion in the former Hollywood Café building. It will be called Miz Kathi’s Southern Sweetery. “People will be able to come in for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake. I’ll have some traditional baked goods and some unconventional treats like hand-painted cookies and a new pink champagne cake,” she says. “I’m hoping to be officially open by Easter.”
In the meantime, Kathi continues to bring her passion for delightful desserts to the masses, whether it’s in the comforts of her Wildwood eatery or by request of soon-to-be-wed couples looking to top off their special day with something truly made from the heart.
“I used to make flower arrangements for a while for a friend and the one thing that always bothered me about it was when the flowers would get delivered, I never got to see the person’s reaction. However, when I bake something and deliver it or put it on one of my cake stands in the café, I get to see that person’s reaction, and I love that part about my job.”
A slice of history:
Interesting wedding cake facts
• In medieval England, small spiced buns were stacked as high as possible. If the bride and groom were able to kiss over the tall stack, it foretold a lifetime of prosperity.
• In the county of Yorkshire in England, bride pie was the most important dish at weddings because it was considered vital to the couple’s lasting happiness. It contained a plump hen full of eggs, surrounded by minced meats, fruits, and nuts and embellished with ornate pastry emblems. Traditionally, a ring was placed in the pie, and the lady who found it would be the next to marry.
• Bride pie eventually developed into bride cake in the 17th century. Fruited cakes, which symbolized fertility and prosperity, gradually became the centerpieces for weddings.
• Bride cake covered with white icing also first appeared sometime in the 17th century. A pure white color was much sought after because it symbolized the bride’s virginal attributes. However, because the sugar to make the white icing was so expensive, a pure white cake became a status symbol.
• It is believed that Queen Victoria’s wedding to Prince Albert in 1840 started the tradition of multitiered wedding cakes we have today. White icing was used to decorate her cake and has been known as “royal icing” ever since. The royal cake measured more than nine feet in circumference.