Rosca de Reyes

The tradition of a New Year’s Cake is one that spans countless cultures and is meant to symbolize wealth, prosperity, health and good luck for the coming year. The cake or bread usually contains symbolic items baked inside which is believed to give good luck to the receiver.

Most of the cakes are consumed at midnight on new year’s eve … though some cultures cut their cake on Christmas or the Epiphany on January 6th.

In January of 2019, Brion and I spent some vacation time in Merida, Mexico. We stayed at a wonderful boutique hotel called Hotel Del Peregrino. On the morning of January 6th we were served some Rosca de Reyes (cake/bread) at breakfast. This was the first time either of us had tasted this traditional bread. It was absolutely delicious and yes, you might have known, I would not only have to make some, but learn the history behind it.

January the 6th is a special day in Mexico, known as ‘Three Kings Day’, which represents the height of the Christmas season. This date marks the culmination of the 12 days of Christmas and commemorates the three wise men who traveled from afar, bearing gifts for the infant baby Jesus. The day when the wise men found the baby Jesus is known as Epiphany which is the event represented by the Rosca de Reyes.

The circular form of the rosca represents God’s eternal love which has no beginning or end. The dried candied fruits that adorn the bread symbolize the King’s crown, while the traditional figurines placed inside the bread represent the baby Jesus. Whoever finds this token is obligated to host an upcoming party on the occasion of ‘Candlemas Day’, a Christian holiday which occurs each year on February 2nd. The traditional menu for this event would be tamales and hot chocolate.

In researching the internet for a traditional recipe for the cake/bread it seems orange and vanilla were usually in the actual dough but as for the decorations, there were a lot of fruit and nut choices. Apart from the circular shape it looked like personal preference dictated your decoration design. Here’s my best interpretation of Rosca de Reyes!

Print Recipe
Rosca de Reyes
Bread Dough
  1. In a small bowl, combine lukewarm water, yeast & a pinch of sugar; stir with a fork until dissolved. Allow to stand for 5-10 minutes in a warm place until frothy.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk flour, sugar, salt, anise seed & cinnamon. Make a well in the center of the flour & add eggs, yolk, cooled butter, orange zest & vanilla. Whisk to form a slurry, pulling in a little flour from the sides of the bowl. Pour the yeast mixture over the egg slurry; using a wooden spoon, mix until a shaggy dough that is difficult to mix forms.
  3. Place on a lightly floured work surface & start kneading until you have a smooth dough. It will take about 10 minutes to get good results. Be careful not to add to much flour to your work area, the texture should be soft, smooth & holds a ball shape.
  4. Place in an buttered bowl, cover with plastic wrap. Allow dough to proof in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 -2 hours.
Bread Decoration
  1. In a bowl, cream butter with sugar; add egg yolk & mix until combined. Add flour & continue to mix until a soft dough forms. Refrigerate if your not quite ready to use it yet.
  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. When dough has doubled in size, turn onto a lightly floured surface & knead a few times. Shape the dough into a large ring & place it on the prepared baking sheet. Seal the ends to close the ring. Loosely cover with buttered plastic wrap & allow to rise in a warm place for 45 minutes or more until almost doubled in volume.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F. In a small dish, whisk together egg wash. Divide the 'decoration dough' into 4-6 equal sections. Roll each with your hands until you get a strip long enough to decorate the ring. Brush dough with egg wash.
  3. Place the 'decoration dough' strips around the ring, try to place them facing one another, then decorate the ring with candied or dry fruit such as mango, pineapple, cherries, figs, citron, orange or lemon peel or quince paste strips or any personal choice you wish. Once the ring is decorated, sprinkle it with sugar & sliced almonds.
  4. Bake the bread for 20 minutes or until the bread is a nice golden brown color. Ovens vary so it may take a bit longer. Transfer bread to a wire rack to cool. After bread has cooled insert the plastic baby dolls from the bottom of bread. Some times the plastic dolls are inserted into the bread before baking, personally I think inserting them afterwards works just fine.

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