I love Mexico: the Cookbook‘s matter-of-fact style: each recipe comes with the minimum or decorum: a list of ingredients, the method, sometimes a picture, that’s it. For someone familiar with Mexican culture and cuisine, that’s all they need. But sometimes a headnote would not go amiss, as in the case of her Rosca de Reyes, or ‘King’s Ring’, the Mexican sweet bread traditionally served at Epiphany. Amongst the list of ingredients and the separate steps, Carrillo has missed the most important ingredient: a little plastic baby Jesus.
In Mexico, as in many Latin countries, Christmas presents are not delivered by Santa or the Christkind, as they are in many English- or German-speaking households.
Instead, the gifts are delivered by the three kings, who arrive on January 6, bearing gifts to present to the new-born King. And if baby Jesus could wait that long for his birthday presents, so can the children all over the Spanish-speaking world.
To celebrate this event, many countries share the tradition of hiding a little figure within a wreath-shaped cake, be it in the French gallette or gâteau des rois, the Spanish roscón de reyes or the Latin-American rosca de reyes. Whoever finds the little trinket is crowned ‘king for the day’, which comes with added responsibilities: in France the finder will have to provide the following year’s cake, whereas in Mexico they’ll have to provide the tamales and atole for the next party, Candlemas, on February 2nd.
The Rosca really is a sweet bread, prepared over two days and decorated with crystallised fruit that represent the jewels in the king’s crown. Still working my way through Carrillo’s cookbook, I had to adapt her recipe slightly: for a start, Mexican family gatherings are much bigger affairs than our European ones, so halving her recipe is a must; the lovely decorations, on the other hand, posed their own problems in form of having to glacée my own orange peels and figs; Carrillo’s decorative dough strips contain so much salt that I replaced them with the kind of mix used for the crosses on hot cross buns. As for the little figurines I was just very grateful as a Mexican friend dropped them round in time for preparing the rosca.
The finished result, albeit not as pretty as the one in the book, has the most amazing texture, thanks to the rather wet dough. From a photographer’s perspective, adding flour will give you a tighter and more defined ‘crown’-shape, but at the cost of an incredibly light and open texture. I’ll leave that decision to you, guys.
Rosca de Reyes (makes one generously-sized loaf)
For the starter:
- 1 tsp dried active yeast
- 4 tbs caster sugar
- 250g plain flour
- 2 large eggs
For the dough:
- pinch of salt
- 100g sugar
- 100g cold butter, diced
- 250g plain flour
- 4 eggs
- 1 tbs orange blossom water
- the freshly grated zest of 1/2 orang and 1/2 lemon
Mix all of the ingredients except for the butter with your starter and knead firmly for a good 10 minutes (if you have a Kitchen Aid or similar, that’s a good moment for your very own epiphany). Add the butter and knead for another 10 minutes or until you get a shiny and elastic dough. Pop it back into the bowl, cover it with cling film and rest it until it has doubled in size (this takes a good 4 hours).
Once the dough has doubled in size, form a roll that’s around 2in/5cm in diametre and shape it into a wreath. Place the wreath onto a baking sheet lined with baking parchment and cover it with a tea towel. Leave to rest for another hour.
For the candied fruit:
either use shop-bought candied orange peel, cherries and figs,
or make your own:
- the peel of 1/4 orange, cut into thin, long slices, 2 figs, quartered
- 100g sugar
- 100ml water
In a small saucepan, mix the sugar and water and bring the mix to boil, stirring it until all the sugar has dissolved. Add the fruit and keep boiling the syrup over a medium heat until the water has evaporated and the fruit look slightly transparent. Place them on a sheet of baking parchment and leave them to dry.
For the decoration:
- 200g flour
- some water
- 1 beaten egg
- sugar for dusting
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F. Mix the flour with enough water to make a very thick paste.
Glaze the wreath with the beaten egg and decorate with the strips of paste and the candied fruit. Sprinkle the sugar over the top and bake it for 25-30 minutes. You might have to cover it with some tinfoil after a while to prevent it from getting too dark.
Cool on a wire rack and hope you won’t be the one to find baby Jesus. Although, to make sure it’s not just me doing all the work (again!), I put in a whole handful of baby Jesuses, just to be sure.