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.
Rosca de Reyes
(loosely adapted from The Art of Mexican Cooking by Diana Kennedy)(and a few chats with some panaderos- Mexican bakers)
for the starter
(about 2 1/2 hours)
450 g unbleached flour
60 g evaporated cane juice (or cane sugar)
10 g instant yeast
3 whole eggs (150 g) at room temperature*
75 mL water at at 30°C
75 mL (5TBS) whole milk at 30°C
10 g salt
for the final dough
(mix final dough: 20 minutes; first fermentation: 1 1/2 hours; pre-shape, rest and shape: 30 minutes; final proof: 3-3 1/2 hours; baking time: 30 minutes)
all of the starter
450 g unbleached flour
75 mL (5 TBS) whole milk at 30°C
8 large egg yolks (160g) at room temperature*
grated zest of two oranges
grated zest of one Mexican lemon (green lime)
225 g evaporated cane juice (or cane sugar)
200 g unsalted butter, softened
70 g golden raisins, soaked in hot water
50 g each of candied orange and lemon, soaked in hot water and chopped
for the costrón
100 g butter
90 g powdered sugar**
90 g unbleached flour
for the topping
Candied fruits (orange, lemon, cherries are traditional… but figs, kiwis, etc work perfectly as well)
1 egg, lightly beaten for egg wash
In the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook, add all of the starter ingredients and mix until the dough forms a smooth elastic mass around the dough hook (about 10 minutes). If working by hand, mix all ingredients in a bowl first, transfer into a well-floured surface and knead for 10-15 minutes until smooth. Transfer to a well-buttered bowl, cover with cling film and leave in a warm place until doubled in size (about 2 hours).
To the fermented starter add the remaining flour, egg yolks, milk, orange and lemon zest, and sugar. Mix with the dough hook on low speed until combined (about 4 minutes) or with a wooden spoon. It will be stiff, but refrain from adding any extra liquid.
Turn the mixer to medium speed and continue mixing until the dough reaches almost full gluten development. If working by hand, you will want to add the butter now little by little to make it easier to work. The dough will be quite sticky.
When working with a mixer, add the butter and mix in low speed for a minute or two, then in medium speed until the butter is fully incorporated into the dough. If working by hand, you will be kneading for about 20 minutes (stretching the dough away from you, folding it back and rotating 90-degrees), until smooth and elastic.
Turn the mixer back to low speed and add the fruit, mixing until just incorporated. By hand, pat the dough unto a rectangular shape, sprinkle the fruit, fold and knead a few times.Transfer the dough to a lightly buttered large bowl, cover with cling film and ferment for 1.5 hours at room temperature.
Turn the dough into a lightly floured surface and divide into two pieces. Shape each piece into a ball and let rest, covered with a clean cloth, for 20 minutes.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. For each rosca, lengthen into a coil and with a rolling pin flatten (focusing on stretching it lengthwise). Distribute the figurines, and begin to roll it away from you (width wise)- trapping the figurines and leaving you with a long coil of dough. Form into a round (or slightly rectangular shape), opening one of the ends and placing the other inside of it to seal. (As shown in this video). Transfer to the prepared baking sheets and proof, covered in cling film and a towel, for about 3 hours or until almost doubled in size.
For the costrón, mix together the butter, powdered sugar and flour until a soft paste forms. Let rest for 30 minutes before using.
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Before baking brush the dough with the egg wash, decorate with the candied fruit and place the costrones on the four corners (take a piece of the mixture and shape it into a flat rectangular form). Bake for 25-30 minutes (covering with aluminium foil after 15 minutes if getting too brown).
Allow to cool completely on a rack before cutting.
Roscas are very much like panettone in that they keep well when kept in sealed plastic bags, refreshing in the oven just before eating (they are always better slightly warm!).
* When using organic eggs (which I highly suggest), they might run a bit (or a lot!) smaller than your average egg- so do try to weigh them as there can be a substantial difference (e.g. one time I used 9 egg yolks instead of 8).
** I make my own powdered sugar by running evaporated cane juice (or organic cane sugar) through the blender until powdered.
makes 2 x 1 kg roscas
IMPORTANT NOTE: while I provide measurements in both grams and cups throughout my recipes, I tend to favour weighing the ingredients for greater precision. Measuring by cups depends on too many variables (starting with how you pour the flour) and can be imprecise. I therefore highly suggest following the metric measurements for best results.