Rosca de Reyes

by Jeanne


The last two weeks has seen quite of a lot of requests for this post from the archive. So here’s a piece of Rosca de Reyes for everyone all around!

Today marks the end of the Christmas holiday in many parts of the world. Twelfth Night or The Epiphany is also often referred to as Three Kings Day in some parts of the world. At feasts marking the occasion, there is often a special bread or cake with a bean, coin, or figurine baked in it. The person getting the piece with the good luck token becomes the Twelfth Night King or Queen, leading revelers in merrymaking.

The day celebrates the Biblical story of the three gift-bearing kings who reached the Christ child on January 6 after following the star of Bethlehem. According to the story, the Three Wise Men– named (Gaspar, Melchor and Baltazar – presented the Baby Jesus with gifts of gold (spiritual wealth of Jesus), frankincense (the image of the earth and sky) and myrrh (for medicinal and spiritual use).

Traditionally in Mexico, Three Kings Day was the gift-giving time, rather than Christmas day. In some rural regions of Mexico it is customary for children to leave their shoes out on the night of January 5, often filling them with hay for the camels, in hopes that the Three Kings would be generous. Mexican children would awake on January 6 to find their shoes filled with toys and gifts. Today many will write a letter to the kings (or choose one king as their favorite) asking for their special gifts and will leave the letter on the eve of Three Kings Day in an old shoe, under a bed.

In many cultures the day is commemorated with a Three Kings Cake. In Germany it is known as Dreikönigskuchen and is made with pecans and fruit. The French take is Galette des Rois is a typically a puff pastry filled with frangipane (almond cream) and a simple syrup icing. Many of us are here in the States are more familiar with its colorful and close cousin from New Orleans. In Mexico and Spain the “cake,” Rosca de Reyes is a bit more brioche like and flavored with lemon and orange zests, brandy, orange flower water and almonds.

The Rosca de Reyes, "kings ring" is a crown-shaped sweet bread decorated with pieces of candied orange and lime resembling the jewels of a crown.  It is often filled with nuts, figs, and cherries. Into this bread is baked a small plastic doll symbolizing a secure place away from Herod´s army where the infant child could be born. As each piece is cut with a knife, symbolizing the danger in which the Baby Jesus was in, everyone carefully checks their slice, hopping they didn’t get the figurine as they will need to host, Candelaria or Candle mass day. This day, February 2, is exactly, 40 days after Christmas when the Virgin Mary was purified. The nativity scene is put away and the baby Jesus, in the form of a porcelain doll, is clothed in his christening gown and presented in church.

Like pan de muertos, many women still prepare the breads at home.  Today, however, more and more families go to local bakeries where small versions serving two-three people and huge breads for 20 can be bought.  Tamales and hot chocolate can also be found on the feast table at this time.

Patricia Rain’s Rosca de Reyes recipe