Marriage, like so many ancient institutions, has developed customs and traditions over the years the meanings of which are all but lost to the majority of those who observe them today. Though not fully understood they are practiced, offering a blind sense of comfort to those who keep them. Like the exchanging of rings that are to be worn on the fourth finger of the left hand, or the toss of a bouquet into the hopeful arms of those yet unmarried. As time goes on the tide of tradition ebbs and wanes as we add and subtract from the customs we choose to observe. One of these almost lost customs is that of the groom’s cake.
Not Cake but “Pye”
Dating back to the 16th century it was traditional to have pies instead of cakes. It was common practice in Yorkshire, England for both the bride and groom to be presented with the “Brides Pye” on their arrival at their new home. The bride was meant to eat but one piece of the pie, smashing the rest over her head. This was supposed to symbolize all she was willing to give up for her man. Apparently sacrificing your appearance for the remainder of the day was quite necessary in those days to prove your devotion. The groom would then throw the entire plate over his own head, the more pieces it broke into, the more years of happiness and fortune were assured the new couple.
Gender Defined Cakes
By the Victorian era, married couples had moved away from pie and onto more familiar ground with the incorporation of actual cake into the ceremonies. It was customary to make not one but three cakes: the wedding cake, the bride’s cake, and the groom’s cake. The groom’s cake was traditionally a dark heavy fruitcake, and the bride’s was a light sponge, purposefully made to contrast the feminine and the masculine. The wedding cake was served to the guests, while the bride and grooms cakes were served to the wedding party.
Grooms cakes were often reserved or at least a portion was held back to be sliced, boxed, and handed out to the single women in attendance. That night those who had been given a piece of the groom’s cake were meant to sleep with it under their pillows. The masculine confection would then send them dreams of their own future husbands.
The Last Bastion of Gentility
Though practically unheard of in England today the antiquated custom of the groom’s cake has somehow managed to survive in the American south. Today the traditional fruitcake is generally replaced by something chocolatey, dense, and decadent, and is decorated to represent the groom’s interests or hobbies. The custom of boxing up cake for the spinsters among us has also survived in the form of cake passed out as wedding favors. But fear not, instead of a pointed reminder of your loneliness, these favors are now passed out indiscriminately among the guests.
My contemporary interpretation of a groom’s cake has both chocolate, booze, and black coffee, but try as I might I still haven’t found a way to incorporate the cigars.
Bourbon Toffee Groom’s Cake
A delicious amalgam of bourbon-infused chocolate cake, spiked caramel, toffee bits and a caramel swiss meringue buttercream.
- 2 cups Cake Flour 260g
- 2 cups Sugar 414g
- 3/4 cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder 85g
- 2 tsps Baking Powder
- 3/4 tsp Salt, Kosher
- 2 Eggs, Large
- 1 cup Butter, melted and cooled 224g
- 1/2 cup Sour Cream 115g
- 1/2 cup Whole Milk 120ml
- 1/2 cup Bourbon 120ml
- 1/2 cup Strong Coffee, hot 120ml
- 1 1/2 tsps Vanilla Extract
- 1 cup Sugar 201g
- 1/4 cup Water 60ml
- 2 Tbsps Corn Syrup
- 1/8 tsp Salt, Kosher
- 1/2 cup Heavy Cream 120ml
- 2 Tbsps Bourbon
- 4 Tbsps Butter 2oz
- 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
Caramel Swiss Meringue
- 8 ounces Egg Whites, (app. 8 eggs)
- 3 cups Sugar 603g or 16oz
- 1/2 tsp Salt, Kosher
- 3 1/2 sticks Butter 14oz
- 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
- 1/2 cup Bourbon Caramel
- Toffee Bits
- Simple Syrup, optional
For the Bourbon Cake
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter and flour 3 6-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan or in the microwave, checking and stirring every 30 seconds until completely melted. Set aside to cool.
In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt.
In a separate bowl, combine the wet ingredients and whisk them until smoothly incorporated. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and stir until just combined.
Divide the batter evenly among the three tins, using an offset spatula to smooth and level the batter. Bake for 22-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out with a few crumbs.
Remove the cakes from the oven and run an offset spatula around the edge. Allow the cakes to cool for at least ten minutes before trying to remove them from the pans. Then let them finish cooling completely before wrapping and refrigerating or freezing them, depending on how far in advance you are preparing your cake.
For the Bourbon Caramel
In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan combine sugar, water, corn syrup, and salt. Set over med-high heat and bring to a boil. Though tempting, do not stir your caramel, this causes crystallization and will ruin your batch if you deem it necessary swirl the pan from time to time, but even this can be risky. Continue to cook the caramel until it reaches a nice deep amber, this should take about 10-15 minutes. Watch it closely as perfection in caramel sits very near totally burnt.
Remove the caramel from the heat and stir in the heavy cream. Do this slowly as the caramel will react violently to the introduction of the cold cream, hissing and bubbling furiously. Just continue to stir briskly. The caramel may seize up slightly, but just keep stirring, it will melt and smooth out. Add the bourbon, butter, and vanilla and stir until everything is fully incorporated and melted.
Transfer the hot caramel to a jar or bottle and allow to completely cool covered in the refrigerator. Once thoroughly chilled the caramel will become quite thick.
For the Bourbon Buttercream
Combine the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer. Set over the same pot of simmering water you used for the chocolate. Using a wire whisk beat the egg whites over the water until they reach 120℉, or until a small amount of the mixture rubbed between your fingers feels smooth and not gritty.
Once this texture is achieved transfer your bowl to the standing mixer and beat on high until the meringue is completely cool, this takes several minutes, be patient.
When the meringue has cooled to room temperature begin adding the softened butter, little by little. Only adding more after the previous one has been incorporated. Add the caramel and stir to combine, adding more if necessary.
For the Assembly
Split the thoroughly cooled cakes. Place the bottom layer on top of a cardboard cake round, brush with simple syrup, drizzle with bourbon caramel, top with buttercream, sprinkle with toffee bits, then add the next layer of cake. Repeat with all the layers, crumb coat with remaining buttercream refrigerate until chilled. Ice with more buttercream. The decoration is, of course, Groom's choice.
*I highly recommend you wrap the cakes well in plastic wrap and allow them to completely cool in the refrigerator. This helps the cake firm up making the subsequent splitting, filling, and stacking much easier.