In Spain, instead of celebrating and exchanging gifts on Christmas day like we do in America, Epiphany (Día de Reyes or Three Wise Men Day) is most celebrated. It’s the day for children to open their presents, for families to reunite, and spread holiday cheer. On this day, it’s typical to eat Rosca de Reyes (which is very similar to King Cake).
The tradition is that hidden inside this delicious sweet bread, there is a tiny toy or plastic figurine of baby Jesus (well, in the early days it used to be a clay figurine). The person who gets the slice with the figurine is augured to have a very fortunate year.
This wreath-shaped bread finds its origins in medieval France. It symbolizes the Christian story of how Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus found themselves fleeing from king Herod’s rage when they were found by the Three Wise Men. As the story goes, these three kings brought presents for the baby Jesus, so this is the day for many Europeans to give presents to children.
For people in Latin America, it’s also a day for giving presents and sweets to children, as well as the perfect excuse to enjoy a slice of Rosca de Reyes. The person who gets the baby Jesus figurine in their piece of cake gets a paper crown. Traditionally, he or she also has to host a party for Candlemas (Día de la Candelaria) on the 2nd of February.
When I make Rosca de Reyes, the whole house is invaded by such a Christmassy smell! It is usually aromatised with orange flower water, the same characteristic scent of panettone and pandoro. These Italian sweet breads are equivalent to Christmas in countries like Venezuela and Ecuador. Some might scent the bread with vanilla, lemon zest or almond extract, according to their preferences and family traditions. When prepared right, the Rosca de Reyes has a cloudy moist texture and a delicious scent. It can be sliced and filled with pastry cream or whipped cream for extra richness.
This Rosca de Reyes is based on a recipe by Mexican pastry chef Paulina Abascal.
- 450 g all purpose flour
- 125 g butter
- 10 g active dry yeast
- 75 g sugar
- 3 eggs
- 3 egg yolks
- ¼ tbsp salt
- A dash of orange blossom water (or vanilla extract)
Preparation of the Rosca de Reyes:
For the sponge:
- Mix all the active dry yeast with one tablespoon of sugar, one tablespoon of flour, and 3 tablespoons of lukewarm water.
- Let it rest for 15 to 30 minutes.
For the bread:
- Whisk together the eggs, remaining sugar and melted butter.
- Add the flour to the sponge mixture (the yeast preparation)
- If you don’t have a stand mixer that can be used for kneading, use your hands in a folding motion. Knead the dough for 5 minutes.
- Add the salt to the mixture. You must never add the salt at the beginning of the process because it affects the formation of the gluten networks, which is what makes the dough elastic, manageable and later contains the carbon dioxide (gas) that makes the bread puff.
- Let the dough rest for 1 hour. This kind of rich bread needs a long fermentation process (a lot of resting) because it contains eggs, sugar, and butter… So you must wait, no matter how eager you are to eat!
- Roll out the dough to form a ½ inch thick rectangle, and roll it in pressing the dough lightly so you get a cylinder shape.
- Join both ends together and you’ll get a wreath shape.
- Place on a floured baking sheet and let it rest one more time for 30 to 40 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Now it’s decorating time! Beat an egg in a small bowl with 1 tablespoon of water to make an egg wash, and brush the top of the bread. Use candied fruits, dried fruit, and your imagination to embellish your creation.
- Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until the cake is golden.
- Cool on a wire rack before slicing.
If you baked the baby Jesus figurine into the cake, let your guests know beforehand. You can make this tradition your own and invite your whole family to make a Rosca de Reyes. I’ll be fun and delicious!