rosca de reyes. It is a fact that certain foods remind us all of magical moments in our childhoods, and rosca de reyes does just that for me. Traditionally eaten on the 6th of January to commemorate the Three Kings, the rosca came along with a large meal, presents, and a good deal of laughter in finding the baby Jesus figurine.
The rosca de reyes (known as roscón over in Spain), is a tradition which dates back to the Roman times. And while nowadays it is associated associated with Epiphany (Dia de Reyes or King’s Day), back then it is thought to have been to celebrate the God of Saturn. A dry bean was hidden inside a round cake and whoever had the fortune of stumbling upon such bean was named “king of the feast”. The tradition was then carried on into France (where it is known as gâteau des Rois), and subsequently adopted in Spain.
The faba (or dry) bean was replaced for a figurine of baby Jesus as the tradition was absorbed into Christianity, to symbolise that the boy had to be hidden in order to be kept from harm during such period.
In Spain nowadays, however, there are two trinkets hidden in each roscón- a figurine (baby Jesus or some other toy) and a dry faba bean. And whoever finds the figurine gets crowned king or queen of the banquet, while whoever finds the faba bean must buy next year’s roscón.
Meanwhile, in Mexico you will find only figurines of baby Jesus inside the roscas (traditionally just one… but nowadays even four in the larger ones), and whoever gets one will need to buy the tamales on February 2nd for the Día de la Candelaria. Count on us mexicans to prolong the fiesta.
There are numerous (close to countless) of ways to make a rosca de reyes, depending on country, region, and of course taste. You can find them plain, filled with pastry cream or nata, even a few chocolate ones here and there… but my favourite is with candied fruits and raisins. And unlike the panettone (to which it is generally compared to), the rosca is more moist and need not rise as much.
This recipe is an amalgamation of the rosca found in Diane Kennedy’s The Art of Mexican Cooking and a few tips from talking with some panaderos (Mexican bakers). The general urge of the latter was that milk (rather than water) ought to be used, as it results in a creamier and denser crumb. And of course, a good rind of orange and Mexican lemon (green lime) is a must.
Variations also come with how to give form to the rosca. Diane advocates for either rolling into a coil and uniting the edges or simply making a hole in the middle of the dough and stretching out unto a circle (and the figurines are subsequently pushed from the bottom). Tradition in Mexico, however, dictates that the dough ought to be flattened with a pin into a long rectangle, the figurines scattered and the dough then rolled width-wise (trapping the figurines) to make a long coil- which is subsequently shaped as a loose rectangle (rather than a perfect circle). We also place some costrón (a sugary coating used also for the Mexican conchas), on the four corners of the rosca (thought to originally symbolise the four cardinal points to guide the Three Kings in their journey). Either way, the costrón is generally the most ‘fought’ for part of the rosca.
The results of this recipe really are excellent both when doing it old school by hand or with your Kitchen Aid. Do use the best quality ingredients for this recipe as you will really taste them (going organic for the butter and eggs in particular will make a total difference). Also, use only the best quality candied fruits (I make mine at home)- as most of the candied orange and stuff you buy in supermarkets is anything but fruit anymore. The result will be a deliciously moist rosca, with a fragrant orange scent.
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