roscon slice

It’s been called the longest night of the year. Kids are waiting for their gifts with feverish anticipation and parents (shhhh, you didn’t hear it from me) are quietly wrapping all the presents making sure nothing on the letter to the Three Kings was forgotten. It is the feast of Epiphany and it commemorates the arrival of the three wise men to pay homage to baby Jesus with gifts of gold, myrrh and frankincense.

When I was little, I couldn’t go to sleep. I wanted to wait for the kings, the camels and the pages (they miraculously fit in the living room all at once for that single evening) to get a glimpse of the presents before anyone else. I never made it, but I was up at daybreak running down the hallway to see what I received that year.

There were surprises, successes and a few misses, like the year that some fancy toothbrushes made it into the mix. Epic fail. It’s difficult for an eight year old to get excited about that. There were lots of frowny faces that time. First of all, those toothbrushes were never on my letter and they quite possibly displaced a very valuable gift I would have otherwise gotten. A real shame.

No matter how we fared (and we always did pretty well), we had roscon to look forward to. Even though I never cared much for sweets (and now I know that the gluten was quietly killing me) I invariably made an exception for this gorgeous cake. It was beautiful, it was delicious and it had an element of both surprise and competition: the hidden prize (and choking hazard) that would anoint its owner as the luckiest person for the year that was just beginning.

After lunch, when it came time to have dessert, all the kids would examine the surface of the roscon for any bump or indentation that might potentially indicate the presence of the little figurine. We would point and an request specific pieces to be placed on our plates. Inevitably, there were some arguments and you had to be quick to pick your portion. We all did our best to make good use of our pretend x-ray vision while staring at the roscon and circling the table. We were on a mission and it never got old.

roscon doughI would suggest (for the sake of safety) that if you and your guests are not familiar with this tradition, you make a big deal to announce the presence of a choking hazard in the food they are about to consume. Suggest that they carefully examine their piece of cake and that maybe they break it apart with their forks until they are sure nothing inedible is lurking inside. I also recommend that whatever you put into the cake (and make sure it doesn’t contain any substance that could be poisonous) is of a very unnatural and bright color so that it can be very easily spotted. Ideally, it would be detected when you slice the roscon even before the portions make it on to individual plates. That is why it is best to claim your piece before the cutting of the cake just in case. If the prize shows up in your piece, you are the undisputed winner even then.

Enjoy this moist and fragrant cake it with a cup of coffee or, if you want to be irrepressibly traditional, with a cup of thick, hot chocolate. Then relax for a minute or two and proceed to pick up all the shreds of wrapping paper and the ribbons left behind from the morning mayhem. Happy Dia de Reyes everyone.

Roscon de Reyes

3 cups high gluten flour (bread flour)
1 oz fresh yeast
1 cup milk
2/3 cup sugar
1 stick butter
2 eggs
6 tsp orange blossom water
Pieces of orange & lemon peel
Pinch cinnamon
Pinch salt

Candied fruit (orange, cherries) in slices
Sliced almonds
1 extra egg
1/3 cup sugar

Start by creating the starter batch of sourdough.  Set aside 2/3 cup of flour, 1 tsp yeast, 1/3 cup warm milk. Mix together in a bowl and transfer to a clean surface. Work the dough with your hands for about ten minutes. Sprinkle a bit of flour inside a clean bowl and let the dough rise at room temperature for three hours.

In the meantime, warm the rest of the milk with the cinnamon, a piece of orange peel and another one of lemon peel.The citrus flavor will slowly permeate the milk.

In a larger bowl, place the rest of the flour and incorporate the sourdough starter in small pieces. Add the rest of the yeast and mix well with your hand right inside the bowl.  At this point the dough will be dry and almost sandy in texture. Add a pinch of salt and the granulated sugar. Mix well.

You will now add the wet elements in the recipe. First, the eggs. Working with your hands, incorporate them into the dough prior to adding the next ingredient. The orange blossom water can now be added. It gives the roscon its unique flavor. Six to seven teaspoons are needed for a roscon this size. The warm milk comes in next. Add it a little bit at a time and make sure to first remove the lemon and orange peels. The dough will now turn sticky. Transfer it to a dry surface and knead it until supple and moist. It takes about ten minutes for the dough to become homogeneous.

At this point, add the butter (at room temperature) in small bits. Knead the dough until the butter completely disappears into it. Another ten minutes should suffice.

The dough needs to rest at room temperature for another two hours inside of a bowl. It will grow to twice its size. Cover the surface of the bowl with plastic wrap.

Take the dough out of the bowl once more and knead it for 2 minutes. Make it into a round ball and keep it covered with a tea towel for 15 minutes. With your fingers, punch a hole in the middle. Stretch the dough in every direction to shape it in to a ring. It can be round or oval. Both shapes are traditional. Carefully transfer it onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Rest the roscon for another hour at room temperature.

Paint the roscon with a generous amount of egg wash and decorate it with almonds. Place the slices of fruit on the top and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 25 minutes or until golden.