In Santander, Spain, the celebration of Epiphany, or Three Kings Day, is a highly anticipated and joyous occasion. The streets are filled with lively music, colorful parades, and the sweet aroma of freshly baked Roscón de Reyes, the traditional cake of the holiday.
On January 5th, families and friends gather together in the city center to watch the grand parade, which features elaborately decorated floats and the three kings, who are dressed in regal attire and shower the crowds with candy and small gifts. Children line the streets with bags and baskets, eagerly awaiting their share of the treats. Each child has their favorite king and cheers them on with cries of “Melchor! Gaspar! Baltasar!”
After the parade, families return home to continue the celebrations with a feast that typically includes the Roscón de Reyes. This circular cake is made of a sweet, yeasted dough and filled with whipped cream or a rich pastry cream, and often contains small surprises, such as a small figurine or a dried bean. Finding the figurine is considered good luck, while the person who finds the bean is expected to buy the Roscón the following year.
But the celebrations don’t end there. Later that evening, children leave out their shoes for the kings to fill with gifts, while adults often exchange presents as well. The holiday is a time for togetherness and joy, and the Roscón de Reyes is a delicious and important part of the festivities.
So if you find yourself in Spain during the holiday season, be sure to join in the fun and enjoy a slice of this beloved cake. And if you can’t make it to Spain, why not try making a Roscón de Reyes at home and starting your own traditions?
My brother-in-law is a true connoisseur of Roscón de Reyes and always ensures that there are plenty of these delectable cakes to go around during our holiday celebrations. Typically, he brings two large cakes for us all to enjoy, each with its own unique filling and flavors.
The first cake is a classic favorite, filled with sweetened whipped cream, or “nata” as it’s known in Spain. The rich and creamy filling pairs perfectly with the sweet and tender dough of the Roscón, making for a truly indulgent treat.
The second cake, known as a “borracho” or “drunk” cake, is equally delicious but with a completely different flavor profile. It features a streusel filling and is soaked in a sweet fortified wine, which lends a lovely depth and complexity to the cake. The result is a wonderfully rich and decadent dessert that’s perfect for savoring with loved ones.
Of course, no Roscón de Reyes would be complete without the added excitement of finding a prize hidden inside. In Spain, the prizes vary from bakery to bakery and city to city, with some featuring a lime bean and others a small toy or figurine. And while different families and regions have their own rules for the winner of the prize, in my family, the person who finds it is simply considered lucky!
So whether you’re savoring a classic Roscón filled with whipped cream or indulging in the unique flavors of a borracho cake, the joy and excitement of the holiday season is sure to be enhanced by this beloved Spanish tradition.
My brother-in-law brought my husband and I to a legendary bakery in Santander that’s known for it’s roscónes (or roscos as they are sometimes called in Cantabria). Check out this video showing some images from our visit to La Gondola bakery:
There are thousands of authentic recipes for roscón de reyes online. I didn’t come across a recipe that I liked on any American blogs or sites. I based my recipe on a post on one of my favorite baking blogs in Spain, La Receta de la Felicidad. I have two of Sandra Mangas’ cookbooks and have followed her work for years. I’ve even been luck enough to trade emails with her on a few occasions over the years.
Here are two of the beautiful roscónes on Sandra’s site:
One of the main things that makes the rosco different from other sweet breads is the orange blossom water(agua de azahar). It was a bit difficult for me to find this ingredient in the US, neither Whole Foods nor Wegmans had it, but I finally found it at my favorite specialty store in Brooklyn, Whisk.
Here are some links to order it on Amazon if you’re not able to find it locally:
Typically the roscos are decorated with orange blossom water flavored sugar, or pearl sugar, and almonds or candied fruit. There are tons of options for prizes online. Sometimes it could be a little baby Jesus or a little ceramic figurine or toy. I didn’t bake my prize into my cake, I added it in the whipped cream layer, but in Spain they’re often wrapped in plastic and baked into the cake.
I’m not being specific in my recipe as to how to make your whipped cream. I used a full quart of heavy cream to make mine. I also added a bit of confectioners sugar and vanilla. I also used some whipped cream stabilizer because you typically want the cakes to stay edible for more than just one day.
Here are a few other products that might help you out if you’re making this recipe:
Roscón de Reyes: Spanish Three Kings Cake
A traditional Spanish cake that’s served to celebrate Epiphany on January 6th. This is based on a fabulous roscón recipe from the blog La Receta de la Felicidad.
For the sponge:
- 70 grams lukewarm whole milk 1/3 cup
- 1 packet instant yeast 7 grams
- 130 grams all-purpose flour 1 cup plus 1 tbsp
- 1 tbsp sugar
For the dough:
- the sponge made from the ingredients above
- 450 grams all-purpose flour 2 1/4 cups
- 120 grams confectioners sugar a scant cup
- 1 packet instant yeast 7 grams
- 1 pinch salt
- zest of one orange
- 60 grams lukewarm whole milk a scant half-cup
- 2 eggs extra large
- 30 ml orange-blossom water 2 tbsp
- 70 grams salted butter 5 tbsp
- 1 cup sugar
- a few drops of orange-blossom water
- lots of fresh sweet whipped cream
For the sponge:
Mix all sponge ingredients together and form into a ball. Place the ball in a deep bowl and cover with lukewarm water.
Allow to proof until the ball doubles in size and floats to the surface of the water. It takes about 20-30 minutes for me usually. It depends on the ambient temperature and how active your yeast is.
To make the dough:
Measure out your flour, yeast, sugar, zest, and salt and put it into the bowl of a stand mixer and mix for a second on low to incorporate everything.
Remove your proofed sponge from the water bath and add it to the mixer along with the milk and orange-blossom water. Mix well.
Add eggs one at a time mixing in between each egg.
Knead the dough for 5 minutes in your stand mixer on low using the dough hook attachment. You can also knead by hand for 5-8 minutes.
Add the butter to the stand mixer and knead on low for 10 minutes until the dough is elastic, soft, and all the butter is incorporated. You can also knead by hand for 10-13 minutes.
Put the dough in a bowl and cover with a damp cloth and allow to proof in a warm place for about 2 hours, or until the dough has doubled in size.
After it’s doubled in size, remove the dough from the bowl and divide into two halves.
Shape each half into a ball and then form a ring from the ball. place the dough rings onto two baking sheets lined with parchment. (I also used silicon liners in my pans below the parchment.) The finished rings should be about 8-9 inches in diameter.
Cover the rings loosely with plastic wrap and allow to proof in a warm place for about 2 hours, until they have about doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 375F/190C.
If you wish to garnish the rings with sugar, simply mix a few drops of orange-blossom water with sugar. Add the water a drop at a time until the sugar is the consistency of damp sand. Sprinkle the damp sugar around the rings.
Bake the cakes one at a time for about 15 minutes each. They should be golden brown.
Allow the cakes to cool completely on wire racks.
Make a big batch of your favorite whipped cream. I like to make mine SWEET and add a bit of vanilla too.
Cut the rings in half horizontally with a serrated knife. Pipe a thick portion of whipped cream on top of the bottom half and then top it with the top half like a big whipped cream sandwich.
In Spain there is often a prize and/or lima bean hidden in the roscón. In Spain it’s often baked into the bread, but I like to wrap a little trinket in plastic wrap and hide it in the whipped cream layer.