These traditional wedding food recipes from around the world all put on the plates the usual nuptial symbolism: almonds for immortal love, honey for the sweetness of a new union, fish and eggs for fertility, butter for prosperity and of course extravagant ingredients that represent the wish for eternal abundance.
Greek wedding cookies: Kourabeides
Mexican wedding “cakes”and Italian wedding cookies are similar.
Makes 5 dozen
Preheat oven to 300º and butter two or three cookie sheets
In a food processor, blend until creamy and smooth
1 lb unsalted (sweet) butter
½ cup confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
Add 1 egg yolk
1 oz brandy or cognac
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
½ cup chopped slivered almonds
Process until the almonds are paste and the mixture is well blended.
Add 4 cups unbleached white flour gradually, with the least possible amount of processing (use the “pulse“ button), until soft dough forms. (Overprocessing will ruin the melt-in-your-mouth delicacy of the cookies by making them chewy.)
Using your thumb and first two fingers pinch off a piece of dough and carefully on a floured surface roll it into a ball about the size of a walnut. Place it on the cookie sheet and continue this process until all the dough has been used. Place balls 1 inch apart because they may spread while baking.
Bake at 300º for 15-20 minutes, or until the cookies are light golden brown. (Convection ovens work faster.) Cool on racks until they can be touched.
Put 3 cups confectioner’s sugar in a shallow bowl and roll each cookie in it. Store in airtight cans until ready to use.
These can be piled up on large serving trays and look lovely strewn with almonds and garnished with fresh strawberries or, in autumn, figs. (Strewing them with almonds signals that the cookies contain nuts, which some people are allergic to.)
Swedish Toast Skagen
This modern must-do appetizer at upscale Scandinavian weddings was spontaneously spun together by a famed Stockholm restaurateur during a stressful moment at sea near Skagen, Denmark and was immediately beloved back on land. It’s extravagance heralds an important “party.”
For 12 portions:
12 slices white bread, crusts cut off
3½ -4 lbs peeled shrimp (smaller is tastier and easier here)
½ cup mayonnaise
¾ cup sour cream
3 tbsp Dijon mustard150 g (5 oz) whitefish roe
½ cup fresh dill, chopped but save 12 small sprigs for garnish
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to your taste
¼ cup, 1 stick, unsalted butter
1 lb. whitefish roe or salmon roe or lumpfish caviar lemon
2 lg lemons, thinly sliced for garnish
-Cut shrimp into bite-sized pieces and combine in a large bowl with mayonnaise, sour cream, mustard, salt, pepper and chopped dill, remembering to reserve sprigs for garnish.
-In a large heavy gauge skillet, melt 2 tbsp butter over medium heat and sauté until golden brown as many bread slices as fit in a single layer in the pan. Flip them over, adding butter as needed, and cook until golden brown. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels while sautéing the rest of the bread.
-Cover each toast with shrimp mixture. Top with the fish roe. (Some recipes call for molding it into a tiny egg for each toast.) Stick a dill sprig into each toast like a feather in your cap and serve each toast with a slice of lemon beside it.
Mexican Almond Sponge Cake
The late culinary sleuth Diana Kennedy discovered this “cake of heaven” as it’s called in southern Mexico. It’s served at Yucatan weddings.
The night before you make this cake, soak ½ lb raw almonds in enough hot water to totally cover them. When you drain them, the skins should slip off; remove those that don’t.
-Line the bottom of a 9” spring-form pan with parchment paper. Generously butter the paper and the sides of the pan. Preheat oven to 325º.
-In a food processor or spice grinder, chop the almonds and grind until they’re crumbs but not quite powder. Set them aside.
5 eggs, separated
pinch of salt
½ lb sugar
¼ tsp baking powder
1 tbsp unbleached white flour
1 tbsp brandy
1/4 tsp almond extract
-Beat the egg whites until they are thick and fluffy. Add salt and continue beating until they’re very stiff. One by one, beating as you go, add the egg yolks until they’re all blended.
-In another bowl, stir together the ground almonds, sugar, baking powder and flour. While beating on low speed, add this mixture to the eggs. Add the brandy and almond extract, beating only enough to incorporate them. Pour batter into the pan.
-Bake in the middle of the oven about 75 minutes (convection ovens may cook faster) until cake springs back to light touch. Let cake totally cool in the pan before removing it. Like fruitcake, this can be stored for a long time in a cool, dry place that is NOT a refrigerator.
Italian Wedding Soup
This seems to be an Italian–American tradition based on a mistaken translation of its original name: minestra maritata, married soup: the union of meat and vegetables. It resembles German hochzeitsuppe, “wedding soup,” which is very traditional but heavier and harder to prepare because along with homemade meatballs and egg noodles, it needs white asparagus tips and bite-sized squares of fresh egg custard.
1½ lbs ground pork (sausage meat is best) and/or beef (you can blend)
1 cup dry bread crumbs
6 large eggs
1 cup grated Romano or Pecorino cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
2 onions, peeled and diced (yellow preferred)
9 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, peeled and minced
3 celery stalks, finely diced
4 qts (1 gal) chicken stock
1½ cups small pasta (orzo, tubetini, ditalini, stars)
1 lb escarole torn into bite-sized pieces
-Combine ground meat, breadcrumbs, 2 eggs, half the two cheeses, oregano, salt and pepper in a bowl. Mix thoroughly and make 1” meatballs.
-In large skillet, heat ¼ cup olive oil over medium heat. Add a single layer of meatballs (you may have to do this in batches) and brown them all over, turning as they cook 3 to 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels.
-In a large soup pot, heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, carrot and celery. Sauté 5 minutes until soft. Do not brown or burn. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil.
-Add escarole, cover pot, reduce heat to low and simmer 5 minutes. Add the pasta and meatballs and continue to cook 10 minutes.
- Combine remaining 4 eggs and cheeses in small bowl, blending with a fork. Don’t whisk. Slowly pour this mixture into the hot soup, stirring constantly so it forms wisps, not lumps. Cover pot again and simmer only until the egg wisps are set, about 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and black pepper and serve immediately in a shallow bowl.
This fruitcake recipe comes from a 1940s American cookbook where it’s accompanied by a shorter, simpler recipe for Bride’s Cake.
Makes 5 lbs of cake, which serves at least 40 people.
1 cup shortening (today we’d use butter but you can use Crisco)
1 cup granulated white sugar
5 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose unbleached white flour
1 tsp salt
1½ tsp baking powder
1/4 cup unsweetened pineapple juice
¼ lb candied citron pieces, non-candied is okay too (citron is the mother of lemon)
½ cup each minced orange peel, lemon peel, and candied cherries
½ cup each chopped dried pitted dates, apricots and figs
½ lb white raisins
½ lb sweetened shredded coconut
2 cups blanched, slivered almonds
1 cup candied pineapple, if you can find it these days. No worries if you can’t.
The Groom’s Cake can be made either in 3½”x 7½” loaf pans or graduated sizes (6,8,10”) of layer cake pans, which is how the Bride’s Cake is made. Whichever you choose, line the pans with parchment paper and lightly grease it.
Preheat oven to 275º.
Cream shortening and sugar. One by one add the eggs beating as you go.
In a small bowl, mix 1½ cups flour with salt and baking powder. Add this to the batter, alternating it with the pineapple juice, beating so everything blends.
-Coat the dried and candied fruits in the remaining ½ cup flour by shaking everything together in a plastic bag. Add fruits, coconut and almonds to the batter and stir with a wooden spoon to blend them in.
-Divide the batter evenly between the pans and bake 2½ hours at 275º.
To serve, strew the assembled cake with roasted almonds, candied citron and cherries.
-A simple icing, not included with the recipe, would be one for a German fruit cake: Beat 1¾ cups confectioner’s sugar with 1½ tbsp rum or Kirsch (cherry brandy) and 2 to 3 tbsp lukewarm water into a paste. Smear this over the cake like a thick glaze and garnish with candied cherries and citron.
Macedonian Wedding Bread
In northern Greece, the Peloponnesus, parts of the Ukraine and Croatia, this bread, round like a wedding ring for unending love, becomes the center of a circle dance after which the bride and groom tear it apart and whoever gets the bigger piece is revealed as the new family’s “breadwinner.” This seems the easiest of the recipes, although one Macedonian said nobody she knows would use ouzo.
Makes 2 9” round loaves
8 to 10 cups all-purpose flour, as needed
3 cups sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
8 large fresh eggs
1⁄2 cup plus 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup warm water
Zest of a large lemon, grated
1 cup white raisins
½ cup blanched, slivered almonds
1⁄3 cup ouzo
1/2 cup sesame seeds
Combine 8 cups of flour, sugar, baking powder and soda in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and break eggs into it. Add 1⁄2 cup olive oil, water, lemon zest, raisins, almonds and ouzo. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Knead the dough, adding more flour if necessary, into a smooth, firm ball. Continue to knead until it’s silky, maybe 10 minutes, and reform into ball. Leave it in the bowl, covered, for 30 minutes.
-Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly oil two 9”x 3” round cake pans with the remaining olive oil. Half the dough, and on a lightly floured work surface, roll each half into a 9” circle no more than 1” thick. Fit them into the pan. Use you fingers to pinch the surface for decoration, then sprinkle sesame seeds on top.
-Bake 45 to 50 minutes, until top is a light golden brown and bread springs back from touch. Cool before unmolding.
-An alternative way to bake this is to roll the dough into balls and fit these into the two cake pans, side by side. Remember they will rise and spread and join together, like buns.
Sandra Garson is the author of Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking and How to Fix a Leek and Other Food From Your Farmers’ Market. As a longtime student of Tibetan Buddhism and well-known cook for Dharma centers from Maine to Mongolia, she became the first food historian to explore the Buddha’s influence on how the world now eats. This led to exploration of more religious beliefs about food.