One of my favorite parts of celebrating the holidays in Santander, Spain with my inlaws is the day we get the Roscón de Reyes. In Spain, epiphany is the main Christmas holiday. On January 5th everyone goes to the city center to watch the parade. At the end of the parade the three kings, los reyes magos, each have their own float and they throw candy out to the kids along the route. Imagine a parade with Santa Claus x 3. Each kid has their favorite king and they shout out their names as they pass by- “Melchor! Gaspar! Baltasar!”. Later that evening everyone in the family leaves a shoe out for the kings to fill with gifts… or… if you’ve been bad you’ll get carbon(coal).
My brother-in-law always gets two large cakes for us all to enjoy. One of them is big and filled with sweetened whipped cream(nata), and the other is called a “borracho”(drunk) and has a streusel filling and the whole cake is dipped in a sweet fortified wine. The roscónes in Spain always have a little prize inside. The prizes vary from bakery to bakery and city to city. In some parts of Spain there’s a lime bean inside, and sometimes it’s a little toy or figurine. Folks have different rules about what the winner of the prize needs to do. Sometimes it’s pay for the roscónes, or buy them the next year, or maybe host the celebration for Candlemas on February 2nd. In my family there are no rules, the person who finds the prize is just lucky!
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.