Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Advent Calendar - Three Kings Bread

Three Kings Bread
“Roscon de Reyes”

The foods your family eats at Christmas, or any other holiday, are passed along from family traditions. My husband is from Spain, and I learned about Three Kings Bread on my first married Christmas in Madrid. It’s served on Three Kings Day, which is January 6th (Twelfth Night), the day the children in Spain receive their gifts from the Magi. Traditionally there was no Santa Claus in Spain, and the department stores usually have three thrones for the three kings instead of St. Nick. In Madrid, there is a huge parade the day the Kings arrive, and the children put out a box of hay for the camels, instead of a carrot for Rudolf.

I loved the tradition of the Three Kings Day, so we started celebrating this with my New England Yankee family every January 6th. They all loved it, too, and we always make the Three Kings Bread and have our big family holiday party. It works out well because not only did I marry a Spaniard, my cousin married a wonderful woman from Mexico. If you live in a town with many Mexican immigrants, you might be able to buy a “Roscon de Reyes”, but here in New Hampshire there are no such bakeries! We have had to make our own roscones for parties on January 6th.

This is a photo taken at the 2002 Three Kings Party. We used to celebrate my Dad’s birthday and his brother, Robert’s, birthday at the party because Uncle Robert was a New Year’s baby and Dad’s birthday was January 3rd. I cherish this photo because Dad died later that same year, and Uncle Robert died in 2005. We used the Roscon de Reyes as their birthday cake several times over the years. A Spanish tradition meets up with Yankee ingenuity (or frugality?) We just stuck birthday candles in the roscon and celebrated all the special days in one.

A small prize, usually a porcelain figure of the baby Jesus, is hidden inside the bread. In Madrid, the breads bought in bakeries can have a prize of any porcelain figure- animals, storybook figures, or cartoon characters. In some places, the prize is simply a dried bean! All the kids (and young at heart) want to eat multiple pieces of cake until finally someone finds the prize!

According to differing traditions from different regions, the person who finds the prize in the cake receives an honor such as:

1. King for the Day (make a paper crown and celebrate)
2. Prize finder holds the next party on Candlemas (usually February 2nd)
3. Prize finder pays for the cake!

The Following recipe is modified because my recipe is all in Spanish and metric measurements! You can Google many other variations on the recipe, too. While checking out the Google results I learned that the “roscones” originally were circular cakes with surprises inside offered to the God Janus in Roman times (Janus is the origin of our name for the month of January.) Wow, the things you can learn from Google!


Three Kings Bread Recipe
Prep Time: 3 hours, including time for the bread to rise
Cook Time: 30 minutes

• 4 cups unbleached flour
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 2 pkgs yeast
• 2/3 cup mixed lukewarm milk and water (of equal parts)
• 6 Tbsp butter
• 6 Tbsp sugar
• grated rind of 1 lemon
• grated rind of 1 orange
• raisins and chopped walnuts
• 2 eggs
• 1 Tbsp brandy
• 1 Tbsp water
• 1 egg white, lightly beaten
• candied fruit pieces, cherries, oranges, etc. and nuts
• Preparation:
• Sift flour and salt together. Make a hole in the center of the flour.
• Stir and dissolve the dry yeast in the lukewarm milk-water mixture.
• Once dissolved, pour the dissolved yeast into the center of the flour.
• Stir in just enough flour from around the bowl to make a thick batter.
• Cover bowl and leave in a warm place, away from any draft.
• In bowl, use a hand mixer or whisk to beat together the butter and sugar.
• Put grated orange and lemon rinds, eggs, brandy and water in flour mixture.
• Beat flour mixture until it is elastic and smooth.
• Beat in butter-sugar mixture and mix until the dough is smooth.
• Add some raisins and walnuts.
• Cover bowl with a kitchen towel and allow to rise until doubled in size.
• This will take approximately 1.5 hours.
• Grease a large baking sheet with shortening.
• Once dough has doubled, punch dough down.
• Knead for 2-3 minutes.
• With a rolling pin, roll dough into a long rectangle, 2 feet long
Roll the dough on the long side into a sausage shape.
• Place the dough onto baking sheet and connect the ends together in a ring.
• Hide a dry bean or a tiny ceramic figurine in the cake under the dough.
• Cover and leave in a warm place and allow to double in size.
• This will take about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
• Heat oven to 350F degrees.
• Beat the egg white in a bowl and brush the top of the cake.
• Decorate the ring with the candied fruit pieces and nuts.
• Bake for 30 minutes. Allow to cool on a rack before serving.

My daughter in Madrid, about 14 years ago, visiting with one of the Three Kings before January 6th. Is it Gazpar, Balthazar or Melchior?

Copyright 2009, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. I love to hear about different holiday traditions. You did a superb job of drawing me into the party. Thanks

  2. Via an email from cousins in Spain:
    -"Respecto al Roscón de Reyes, la tradición es que hay 2 sorpresas: 1 es el regalo que generalmente como bien dices suele ser una figurita de porcelana y la 2 es el frijol y a quien le toca este frijol es quien debe pagar el roscón. Pero esa es la tradición como te digo pues el frijol en realidad nunca se pone, yo de hecho no recuerdo haberlo visto nunca.
    -La foto en la que aparece Catalina con uno de los Reyes Magos es Melchor. Melchor es el de la barba blanca, Gaspar es el de la barba rubia y Baltasar es el rey negro."
    "The tradition is two have two surprises, 1 is generally a gift like you said the little porcelain figure y 2 is a bean and whoever finds the bean pays for the roscon. But this is a tradition that I've never seen.
    The photo with Catalina is with the King Melchior. Melchior has a white beard, Garspar has a blond beard, and Balthazar is a black king." from Teresa, Javier y Chemari

  3. What a fascinating idea! I imagine the end results are delicious and a wonderful way of celebrating Christmas that little bit differently.