rosca de reyes

rosca de reyes | gnom-gnom

rosca de reyes | gnom-gnom

rosca de reyes |

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 |

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


  1. Lily says:

    This recipe looks amazing! As “Dia de Los Reyes” is approaching and searching gluten-free recipe to make it at home I bumped into your website! thanks.

    I wanted to ask – there are three sets of ingredients you mentioned above but none of them include the gluten-free flour? If so – which one did you use? My husband has coeliac and has previously tried the normal one but since being diagnosed I don’t want him to feel left out. What is the best substitute for baking an amazing “Rosca de Reyes”



    • Paola says:

      Hi Lily! Unfortunately this recipe was developed around traditional wheat flours (before I was diagnosed with celiacs), and I haven’t been able to nail a true gluten free version (yet). xo! Paola

  2. Stephanie says:

    Thank you for such an interesting and informative post. Previously all I knew about Three Kings Day was from Dora the Explorer! I am interested in learning more about Mexican cuisine so I might buy a copy of The Art of Mexican Cooking. Are there any others that you would recommend?

    • Paola says:

      You are most welcome! Mexico does have an extremely interesting (and diverse!) cuisine. I do recommend the books by Diana Kennedy as basics, but there is also The Taste of Mexico (which is written by region and has beautiful photographs).

      One of my favourite books, however, is La Vainilla Mexicana. Unfortunately it is only in Spanish. It is a beautiful book, with recipes (sweet and savoury alike) that incorporate mexican vanilla.

  3. You put so much love in all that you do here, Paola, and what a wonderful example of that, this is!
    It looks delicious, and the memories of it you have are so special.
    Thank you for sharing.
    Have a wonderful weekend!

  4. Sophie33 says:

    Waw, What a georgous & special festive bread! I love it so much! 🙂 MMMMMM! I wish you a Happy 2013 filled with joy, lots of laughter, really good food & fun!

  5. Amanda says:

    Wow, thanks for clarifying the origins of this delicious bread. It definitely brings back childhood memories. I always love digging into traditions and finding out where the things we do come from and what they mean.
    One of my best friends is currently taking a pastry chef course, and since she stayed over with us for the holidays, we made Rosca de Reyes (with ingredients I brought from Mexico, notably the viznaga and the baby Jesus figurines).
    We used an infusion of milk with orange blossom (flor de azahar) for a subtle, yet strong orangey flavour, and you are right, milk makes the dough creamier and softer. We worked the dough completely by hand, as we were making 2 roscas ( ~ 2 kg of flour) and the dough was so hard to work with at the beginning that I was afraid the KitchenAid woudn’t take it.
    We took one of the Roscas (together with authentic mexican chocolate) to our neighbours (who have two kids, 5 and 3 years old) and we explained the tradition. They loved it and went crazy dismantling the Rosca as to find the little baby Jesus, that’s how excited they were.

    • Paola says:

      Biznaga (or acitron) is indeed one of the traditional fruits for the rosca! But did you know that this cactus is actually in danger of extinction? As of late they have been banning it and I saw some articles this year urging people not to buy roscas with it. And yes, I really want to try next year (or even with the pan de muerto or conchas) to do it with the agua de azahar (I just couldn’t seem to find it?!).

      But like you said, the dough is hard to work with at the beginning- that is why I began to add the butter little by little to make it more subtle (and easier on my arms!). No KitchenAid necessary!

      Roscas always seem to bring such joy to kids! I am glad that you are propagating our tradition over there 🙂

      • Amanda says:

        Oh wow I did not know that the biznaga cactus was endangered, bad for me being a biologist and all. My friend’s mom got the candied stuff for us. Good to know I will never get it again.

        I have dried orange blossom flowers (azahar) I think from the market, but I didn’t personally buy them, since I was just 1 short week in Mexico last time I went. I have a full bag, if you send me your postal address ( I will happily sen you some.

        And yes, the rosca was definitely a huge success with kids, and there is something special about working doughs manually, about making something fully with your hands.

  6. Cristy says:

    mira, yo que siempre crei que la rosca venia de espana! y bueno, ni se diga lo buena que se ve la tuya, mejor que de panaderia ni nada!!

    • Paola says:

      I found out that the rosca did not come from Spain a few years back in London, when a french girl heard me talking about ‘Dia de Reyes’ and told me that they had the gâteau des Rois and all. And it is so interesting how the history goes even further back than that to ancient Rome!

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