Rosca de Reyes, and extended Christmas (Mexican King Cake)
“Dia de Reyes” (Kings day), is a special Mexican holiday celebrated on January 6, and it represents the day the wise men visited baby Jesus, bringing gifts from the far East. In Spanish the wise men are the “reyes magos” (three king magi). Equivalent to Christmas, this day is one of the happiest of the year for Mexican kids, because they receive gifts in the morning, which are brought during the night by the three kings - not Santa Clause. Essentially, Christmas is extended until at least January 6. Under the Christmas tree is where the Reyes Magos leave the gifts for each child.
Traditionally, families and friends get together to eat “Rosca de Reyes” (king cake). Each person cuts their own slice and whoever gets a baby figurine, which is typically hidden inside of the bread, will buy/bring tamales for a celebration that will take place February 2.
This tradition has its origins in Europe, and was brought to Mexico after the Spanish conquest. The circular shape of the bread represents God’s eternal love, and according to Mexican Master Chef Yuri de Gortari, as well as many of my family members, the different colors of the decorations (crystalized fruits and, green and red cherries, etc.) represent the jewels embedded in the King’s crowns. The baby figurine found inside the break represents Jesus, hidden by his parents after Herod tried to kill him.
I have such fond memories with my cousins, uncles and aunties, at the big table at my grandparents’ home, all laughing and having a good time cutting their piece of rosca and doing crazy things to try to hide the figurines they had gotten! Once at work, one of my coworkers got a figurine and purposefully swallow it before anyone found out he’d gotten it!
A big part of the magic of the day, as a child, is the fact that that was the day we got gifts and got to play outside with our neighbors and cousins.
I remember vividly, while living in Venezuela as a child, my mother and a group of Mexican moms, decided to make Rosca de Reyes, following somebody’s grandma’s recipe. That recipe was written in a very particular way. All the instructions started with phrases like: “Mijita… (My child), honey… dear…” The person had transcribed every word her grandmother said when giving her the instructions! What a precious and fun reading.
That rosca was very peculiar because it didn’t have the baby Jesus figurines. So, my mom took some of my little brother’s small toys, washed them and inserted them in the bread! That added an extra layer of fun for everybody when cutting it!
My mom and my “Mexican aunties in Venezuela” did a lot of things like this to pass down the traditions to the next generation growing up so far away from Mexico. As a Mexican who has lived large portions of my life outside of Mexico, I have made baked a Rosca in different countries where I have lived; and I always love sharing it with my friends from those countries!
This tradition makes me think about the fact that I have often found myself making conscious efforts to celebrate and bring some of my festivities and traditions with me from my country, because, as I have said before: food is identity.
So I decided to share my recipe for Rosca de Reyes with all of you, because even when Dia de Reyes has passed this year, it’s never too late to make and eat Rosca!
My recipe is inspired by Mexican Master Chef Yuri de Gortari’s recipe, but has a special Joha twist in technique and ingredients. In memoriam of Chef Yuri de Gortari and his legacy to the next generations on traditional Mexican cuisine.
I hope you enjoy it with your dear ones with a good cup of your favorite hot drink.
Happy belated Día de Reyes!
Rosca de Reyes (Mexican King cake)
500 grams of unbleached flour (4 cups) *
110 grams of butter, room temperature (8 teaspoons)
6 large eggs
100 grams of sugar (1/2 cup)
5 grams of salt (1 teaspoon)
15 grams of dry yeast (3 teaspoon)
3/4 cup of whole milk
1 teaspoon of orange blossom water
Zest of 2 oranges
1 teaspoon of vanilla
* If you don’t have access to unbleached flour, substituted with all-purposed flour. In both cases, consider ½ cup more, in case the dough is too wet.
1/3 cup of shortening
1 cup of all-purpose flour
1 cup of powder sugar
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
3-4 figurines of baby Jesus
4 maraschino cherries, cut in half
4 green cherries, cut in half
About 50 grams of Quince cheese (Ate de membrillo) of different colors, cut in strips. **
1 egg white
A dash of white sugar
** When I haven’t found quince cheese, I have used candied dried fruit - figs, oranges, lemons, pineapple, mango, etc. Be as creative as you want. Top it with almonds, walnuts or even slices of peaches!
1. In a small bowl, add all the yeast, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 2 tablespoons of flour. Mix it carefully with a spoon. Then, warm half of your total milk. If using thermometer, allow the milk to reach 105-110°F. Add it to the dry ingredients and stir it carefully to integrate them. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel. Set in a warm place. It should double its size within about 15 minutes.
1. In a mixer bowl, add flour, butter, half of the sugar and mix on low-medium speed using the hook attachment until it starts integrating (about 5 minutes).
2. Add salt and add one egg at a time while the mixer keeps working. Once all that is integrated, add milk and the other half of the sugar. Add the yeast, (it should have doubled its size by now), and when all seems mixed well, add vanilla and orange blossom orange zest. Mix for about 20 minutes at low-medium speed.
By hand: On a clean surface, make a “volcano” with the flour. Mix sugar and butter until everything is very well mixed then in the center of the “volcano,” add one egg at a time, milk, vanilla, and orange blossom orange zest. Knead until the ingredients are integrated and the dough does not stick to your hands. It may take longer than using a mixer, but take breaks and don’t give up!
3. Stop kneading and let the dough rest for 30 minutes covering with a towel. Once the time has passed, punch the dough and mix again for another 20 minutes, or until the dough does not stick to the walls of the bowl.
The dough should be a little wet but dry enough that it doesn’t stick to your hands when grabbing it, nor to the walls of the bowl of the mixer. It should pass the “windowpane test,” stretching a piece of the dough thin enough to see the light through it.
If after so much time mixing, you still feel like the dough is too wet, add ¼ - ½ cup of flour more, (no more, otherwise your bread will be too dry) and as soon as the flour integrates and the dough releases from the bowl, take the dough out and place it on a clean surface.
4. Shape the dough into a long cylinder, join the ends together into a ring shape. Place it on a greased and floured baking sheet (or a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper).
I like letting it rest at this stage for about 15 minutes, covered with a towel in a warm place near the oven, while I prepare the decorations.
5. Set your oven at 350°F (180°C).
6. In a small bowl, mix (by hand) the shortening, powder sugar, flour and vanilla until it has the consistency of play-doh. If possible, use parchment paper as you flatten the paste and divide into 6-7 strips that will be placed atop the Rosca.
7. From the bottom, very carefully insert the baby Jesus figurines in random places of the dough ring.
8. Whisk egg white in a small bowl with a dash of sugar. Egg wash evenly over the dough.
9. Place the sugar paste strips, cherries and Quince cheese in different places on the Rosca and place in the oven. Let it bake for about 18-20 minutes.
If it starts browning after about 10 minutes, cover with a piece of aluminum foil (making sure it does not touch the quince cheese; otherwise, it will melt and stick to the aluminum foil).
10. Test with a toothpick to assure that it is ready. Let it cool in a place without no air circulation for about 20 minutes.
Enjoy eating the rosca with your dear ones and finding baby Jesus!
Enjoy this recipe with the traditional drink ponche de frutas.