Rosca de Reyes, a Spanish Epiphany cake flavoured with rum and packed with fruit and spices, is a tasty treat to mark the end of the Christmas holidays.
A Cake for the Three Kings
Celebration has to mean cake, doesn’t it? Birthday cakes, wedding cakes, and Christmas bakes from stollen to bûche de Noël, via panettone and rich fruit Christmas cake with everything else in between.
But there’s one trick we’re missing out on: a cake for Epiphany on the 6th of January. Across Europe, garlands or crowns of delicious rich sweet fruit bread or cake are baked to commemorate the visit of the Magi and the end of the Christmas season.
In France it’s the galette des rois, in Portugal, it’s the bolo-rei, in Germany the Dreikönigskuchen, and in Italy the focaccia della befana. In Spain and across the Spanish-speaking world, it’s Roscón de reyes or rosca de reyes.
Epiphany, or the feast of the three kings, is special in Spain. Traditionally, that’s when Spanish children receive their gifts, delivered by the Magi rather than Father Christmas. This upbeat Epiphany carol captures the spirit of the celebration well.
The rosca de reyes is the traditional bake for a Spanish Epiphany gathering. The enriched spiced bread is full of dried fruit, and the top can be decorated with more dried fruit and sugar or with colourful candied fruit and nuts.
A bean, or a figurine of the Christ child or a king is traditionally hidden inside. Finding it is a sign of good fortune to come, the equivalent of finding a silver sixpence in the Christmas pudding. Traditionally the cake is served topped with a paper crown.
Rosca de Reyes or Roscón de Reyes?
I was intrigued the first time someone suggested I try baking a rosca de reyes. This version is a large ring of bread enriched with butter and eggs, flavoured with vanilla and spices, and decorated with dried fruit. We had seen them in bakery windows in Las Palmas between Christmas and New Year a few years ago, but failed to realise the significance. It’s a shame that we missed out on trying one on the spot but I think this rosca de reyes is delicious.
I was a little nervous about cooking this the first time, as it was actually my first enriched dough bread. However, the end result turned out well. I still think it would be fun to go back and enjoy Epiphany in Spain and roscón de reyes from the baker. Until then, this will do very well.
But what is it called? Rosca or roscón? Well, in Spain it’s roscón, and in Spanish-speaking America it’s rosca.
How to make Rosca de Reyes
Step one – Soak 150g of the dried fruit in the rum. Leave it overnight to plump up and soften.
Step two – Measure out the ingredients. Grate the orange zest and sift the flour.
Step three – Cream together the butter, sugar, lemon and orange zest until pale and fluffy.
Step four – Then beat in three eggs, one by one. The mixture will look like partially-cooked scrambled eggs but the kneading will complete the mixing. Pour the mixture into a separate bowl. Don’t worry too much about cleaning the main mixing bowl.
Step five – Mix the dry ingredients: the flour, yeast, cinnamon, and salt. Add the water, vanilla extract, and butter mixture.
Step six –Mix together into a dough. Knead for five minutes until smooth and pliable.
Step seven – Add the soaked fruit and rum and knead to distribute the fruit evenly through the mixture. Before leaving the dough to rise, add the figurine or bean (if using).
Step eight – Place the dough back in the bowl. Then cover it and place somewhere warm and allow to rise until it doubles in size.
Step nine – Turn the dough out and roll out into a sausage shape. On a baking tray, form the dough into a ring and decorate with the remaining 50 g fruit, pressing it into the dough.
Step ten – Place in a warm spot to rise again. It should double in thickness – this will take about 1 hour, depending on temperature. Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C/Gas mark 4.
Step eleven – Beat the last egg with a splash of milk and brush over the top. Bake for 35–40 minutes until golden. The bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. When cool, decorate with a drizzle of icing or sprinkle with icing sugar. Top with a paper crown, and enjoy!
Hints, Tips & Variations
- This is a rich dough, so despite the 100% white flour, it doesn’t rise like a loaf of white bread.
- You don’t need a stand mixer to make this recipe. Instead, mix the butter and sugar with a hand-held mixer (or a wooden spoon), and whisk in the eggs. You can mix and knead the dough by hand.
- Decorate with colourful glacé fruit – orange slices and cherries are effective.
- Cut the rosca in half like a sandwich cake and fill with Chantilly cream. You can add fruit or orange flower water to the cream filling.
- Leftovers freeze well. Toast from frozen, or used as a base for eggy bread/French toast.
Paper crown cut with my Cricut Maker (gifted) using image #M44EC1 in design space. I like this look. However, you could engage any children in the house to make a decorative cardboard crown – a useful rainy-day activity for the end of the school holidays.
Recipe: Rosca de Reyes - Spanish Epiphany Cake
- 200 g dried fruit
- 100 ml rum
- 100 g unsalted butter (softened)
- 100 g caster sugar
- 500 g strong white flour
- 7 g quick yeast
- 1½ tsp salt
- 2 tsp powdered cinnamon
- 100 ml water
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- zest of 1 orange & 1 lemon
- 3 eggs + 1 for egg wash
- icing sugar to decorate
- Soak 150g of the dried fruit in the rum, preferably overnight.
- Cream together the butter and sugar. Mix in the eggs, adding one at a time. Mix in the orange and lemon zest. If using a stand mixer, transfer this mix to another bowl.
- Mix the dry ingredients: flour, yeast, salt, and cinnamon.
- Add the water, vanilla extract and butter and egg mix to the flour. Mix well, and then knead for a few minutes until smooth and elastic.
- Knead in the dried fruit, adding a little at a time. Place the dough back in the bowl, cover, place somewhere warm and allow to rise until doubled in size.
- Once risen roll out into a sausage shape, and form into a ring. Decorate the top with the remaining dried fruit, pressing them well into the dough.
- Place on a baking tray, place in a warm spot, and allow to rise again until doubled in thickness - this will take about an hour.
- After about 45 minutes, heat the oven to 160°C (Fan)/180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
- Beat the last egg and brush over the top as an egg wash. Bake in a preheated oven for 35-40 minutes until golden and sounding hollow
- Allow to cool and decorate by drizzling on some orange icing or dusting with icing sugar.
- This is a rich dough, so despite being made with 100% white flour, it doesn't rise like a loaf of white bread.
- You don't need a stand mixer to make this recipe. Mix the butter and sugar with a hand-held mixer (or a wooden spoon), and whisk in the eggs. The dough can be mixed together and kneaded by hand.
- Decorate with colourful glacé fruit - orange slices and cherries are effective.
- Cut the rosca in half like a sandwich cake and fill with chantilly cream flavoured with fruit or orange flower water.
- Leftovers freeze well, and can be toasted from frozen, or used as a base for eggy bread or french toast.
- This recipe is 7 Weight Watchers Smart Points per portion
Update Notes: This recipe was originally posted in December 2012, but was rewritten and republished with new photos, step by step instructions and hints & tips in December 2019.
If you like this recipe, why not try this heritage einkorn loaf with crimson raisins or these warming fragrant cinammon buns? Or for another way to celebrate Epiphany, make a delicious galette des rois.
If you are still using up Christmas leftovers, try this post-Christmas pancake recipe!