A Yankees groom's cake. (Photo: aalphotos/CC BY 2.0)
When Jonathan Walker got married to his wife Megan in a historic dancing pavilion in New Orleans, they didn't skimp on the cake. In fact, they ordered two. Like other couples around the southern United States and in parts of the U.K., they picked out a separate, smaller cake to accompany the large traditional wedding cake: the groom's cake.
Walker's groom's cake was shaped like a Monopoly board. "Megan and I, when we were getting together would play Monopoly all the time, like daily. We'd play two movers each," says Walker. Because grooms generally don't get as much attention as brides in heterosexual weddings, the groom's cake has developed over the last two centuries as a fun way for a groom to express his personality.
For the groom that likes Nintendo. (Photo: Adam / Keri Henry/CC BY 2.0)Groom's cakes were brought to the United States via Victorian England and Ireland in the 19th century, and in some places are still seen as just as essential to the festivities as throwing the bouquet or wearing something blue. Until the 1940s, the two-cake tradition was seen at weddings throughout the United States, but now the Knot Book of Wedding Lists deems it a ritual of the southern states, which is where you're most likely to find a groom's cake today.
The only consistent "rule" of the groom's cake is that must be smaller than the wedding cake; hitched.co.uk suggests that if you spent all your budget on the wedding cake, "you can go with a single tier groom's cake and decorate with a themed topper."
An Apple cake for a groom. (Photo: jljohnstone/CC BY 2.0)
But in contrast to the elegant, often flowery, multi-tiered wedding cake, groom's cakes can get as fanciful as one likes; they sometimes take the shape of large, three-dimensional robots or the groom's favorite game.
When Joshua Plethora, also a resident of New Orleans, got married, he chose a a re-creation of the board position in the Ear-reddening game, a historic match-up in the strategy game Go, for his groom's cake. "I am an avid Go player, and I wanted to have something Go-related in the wedding, and this seemed like a small thing I could do that would incorporate that into the event," Plethora says.
A wedding cake c. 1910. (Photo: Internet Archive/Public Domain)
Although it's hard to believe today, in an era of $600 wedding cakes and the reality shows dedicated to them, but wedding cakes actually began as a humble accessory. The first ones were more like small buns covered in an almond paste coating; these evolved to more modern un-iced cakes by the 1600s. According to The Home Guide to Cake Decorating by Jane Price, European wedding traditions at the time included crumbling a piece of the wedding cake over the bride's head for marital luck.
By the late 17th century putting fanciful decorations on wedding cakes became more of a staple, and rather than scoop into the flowers and frosting, wedding couples added a separate cake for ceremonial hair-sprinkling; often a variation on a thinly iced, dense fruitcake.
A buck groom's cake. (Photo: Laura Sheik/CC BY-ND 2.0)By the Victorian era, this dark fruitcake was served as the groom's cake; often given as a special gift to the groom's men or cut into cubes, wrapped, and sent home with guests as wedding favors. According to wedding lore, single guests might dream of the person they're destined to marry if they sleep with a piece of the groom's cake beneath their pillow.
But it'd be hard to keep a slice of groom's cake beneath your pillow today—modern tastes have pushed the groom's cake to be as delicious as the wedding cake, and sometimes much more inventive. "We recently did a roasted pig [groom's] cake, and the client actually had a barbecue set up to put the cake in—that was one of my favorite recent ones," says Jenny Pacaccio, the baker at Sweet Life Bakery in New Orleans, which she owns with her sister, Jessica.
A helmut-shaped groom's cake. (Photo: Derek Key – A Cake Divided/CC BY 2.0)
Sometimes the bride surprises the groom with his groom cake—but often, the groom plays a big part in choosing the design and what he wants to have on his special day. Pacaccio has designed groom's cakes to resemble armadillos, dogs, all manners of hunting and fishing scenarios, as well as sports team-themed cakes. Her three-dimensional cakes might start off as an oval or circle cake, and the layers get stacked with frosting and then cut down to the right shape and size.
Amid the formalities of color-coordinated decor and elaborate centerpieces, groom's cakes modeled after beer pong tables or The Incredible Hulk can break the ice before the dancing starts, and help people chill out on a day with a packed program. "it's a nice tradition for a guy to have his own cake," says Pacaccio. Also: "It's fun to see a regular square cake turn into a frog or R2D2."