Last year, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel told the story of a family heirloom wedding cake topper that — so far — has spanned 78 years and 8 weddings. It was first used on Oct 12, 1940 at the historic Pfister Hotel. When not in use, it’s stored in white sealed bucket which includes the names and dates of each wedding on the cover.
Refined Sugar Becomes Affordable
Wedding cakes didn’t always have toppers, they haven’t always been white, and they weren’t always made with sugar. In ancient Rome, the wedding cake was made of wheat or barley and broken across the head of the bride to wish her luck. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century, when the largest sugar refinery in the world opened on Long Island, that the average American could afford refined sugar. Before this pivotal time, the use of refined sugar was a sign of affluence and social position. After that, sugar became a source of cheap, convenient calories for factory workers. And so our country’s appetite for sweets became ingrained in the culture.
It was only natural then that every bride began to hope for a large, white, exquisitely decorated wedding cake. In 1840, Queen Victoria set the standard for wedding cakes with her multi-level creation featuring the figure of Britannia and numerous edible sugar sculptures. It was described as “consisting of the most exquisite compounds of all the rich things with which the most expensive cakes can be composed, mingled and mixed together into delightful harmony by the most elaborate science of the confectioner.”
A Baking Haven
With Milwaukee’s history of northern and eastern European settlement, it was inevitable that the town would become a baking haven. In 1856, Franz Holzlhuber brought Austria’s recipe for the Linzer Torte to Milwaukee. As the story is told, he came here to work as a musician. However, when he arrived, the job was no longer available, so he went to work as a baker. His Linzer Torte caught on and became very popular across the entire United States. Then, fifty years later, in “The Art of German Cooking and Baking”, published in 1909 in Milwaukee, Mrs. Lina Meier shared her recipe for Bund-Kuchen, which is essentially a bundt cake made with yeast. About 30 years after that, in 1937, our own Irene Grebe began baking and selling her famous butterhorns to the local PTA.
Milwaukee Wedding Cakes
As all this baking talent settled into the Milwaukee area from Europe, bringing their wedding celebration traditions with them, it’s no surprise to find that wedding cakes are a source of pride here even today. Modern cake designs reflect the personalities of the couple. While we often still see the traditional white, tiered cake, when Brewer’s GM David Stearns was married in 2017, his wedding cake was a replica of Miller Park with the roof open. In 1974, a recipe for a “natural” wedding cake, which appeared in the Milwaukee Journal, called for 2 cups of toasted wheat germ and 1/2 a cup of toasted sesame seeds. Today you can just as easily find vegan gluten-free, low-carb keto, and grain-free paleo wedding cakes as you can the traditional white buttercream variety. Or, if you want to go our favorite direction, you can have a wedding “cake” made entirely of donuts!
What does it all mean for Milwaukee couples who want to delight their guests and make a personal statement on their big day? At Grebe’s, this is our “sweet spot”. Our cake specialists have years of experience helping couples design beautiful, uniquely designed cakes, cupcakes, and desserts. Are there special themes in your life together that you want to highlight? Are there certain flavors that you know will delight your guests? Do you want to say something about your future together? Whatever it is, when that moment comes for you to step up to the table to cut your own wedding cake, we want you to experience it with joy and pride. Bakery in general, and wedding cakes in particular, have a long history in Milwaukee. Grebe’s is a part of that and can bake you the wedding cake of your dreams.