Kings Of Christmas – Roscones del Rey

Madrid´s 600 bakeries and artesanal cake shops are expected to sell some 2.8 million of Spain´s favourite Christmas cake, Roscones de Reyes, this year, up 10% from last year according to the Asociación de Empresarios Artesanos de Pastelería of Madrid.

But what makes this cake so special?

It is the one thing that unites all Spaniards and that is that the Roscones de Reyes is truly the king of cakes and every Spanish home will be serving it at some time over the Christmas Holidays.

As befits its kingly title most will be served at family gatherings after the Cabagata del Reyes on the evening of the 5th January or on the morning of Three Kings Day on the 6th January.

The ring shaped cake is made with a mixture of bread flour, sugar, milk, butter, eggs, fresh yeast, orange blossom water and orange and lemon zest. It is precisely these last ingredients that give the Roscón its characteristic citric zing.

The cake is adorned with a crown and coloured frosted fruits that represent precious regal stones. Inside it hides two surprises: a bean and a figurine. Tradition says that whoever finds the figure will be crowned king, while whoever gets the bean will pay for the roscón!

Most roscones are filled with a whipped cream known as roscón de nata (cream-filled roscón) which is the most popular, but it can be with other types of filling including chocolate or just plain.

Origin of Roscones de Reyes

Like many popular dishes that stretch back over the centuties its history and tradition is disputed. Some say it comes from the Roman ‘Saturnalia’, a pagan festival that was celebrated every December, and where round cakes made with figs, dates and honey were distributed. Inside was hidden a dry bean, a symbol of prosperity, and whoever received it was acclaimed ‘king for a day’.

Starting in the third century, the tradition of baking a dry bean into the cake caught on. The lucky person who got the piece with the bean earned the title of “king of kings.”

As Christianity spread so too did the cake gain in popularity and became associated with the Epiphany on the 6th January,which is for the Eastern Christian church still the main Christmas celebration, and indeed for the Catholic Church in Spain where although Christmas Day celebrated, the Three Kings Day has culturally been the more important of the two. The first recorded mentions of what later became the roscón de Reyes in Spain itself date from the 12th century.

It became a popular cake in France where under King Louis XV the bean was replaced by a gold coin and from there came to Spain during the reign of the French born Felipe V who brought all manner of French delicacies to his new kingdom and made Roscones de Reyes a court favourite.

In the 19th century the gold coin was replaced by a figure and the bean was reintroduced but this time with a negative association, which has lasted to this day. Whoever got the bean had to pay for the cake. They say that is why the expression tonto del haba (the bean fool) came about.



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