Rosca de Reyes is bread that Mexicans bake and eat to celebrate epiphany. All over the world, epiphany is celebrated with special bread – enriched with butter, eggs, or milk; packed with dried fruit; or enhanced with spices – or all of the above! The Mexican version is a very rich bread, flavoured with orange blossom water, and decorated with dried fruit and nuts. Traditionally it was baked as a round loaf but the modern version is baked as a ring.
The special feature of the Rosca is that it has a tiny figure of the infant Jesus hidden in the bread. The purpose of this is to remind people of Christ’s narrow escape from Herod. Today, eating the rosca is a team sport. Each person cuts his or her own slice and everyone watches with baited breath…who will get the figure of Jesus? The person who does has to host a party on 2 February (when Christ was presented to the Temple) at which Tamales are served. A perfect blending of Old World and New World customs and food is created on 6 January every year and bread takes centre stage as a beautiful, edible scuplture that is shared between friends.
As ever, there are many recipes for Rosca – here is the one I like the best
500 g plain white flour
120 g sugar
5 g dry or instant yeast (or 10 g fresh yeast)
50 ml warm water (only include if you are using dry yeast and need to proof it)
5 g salt
200 g unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into cubes
1 tsp of orange flower water
For the glaze: beat together 1 egg, 1 teaspoon each of water, sugar and salt.
To decorate: sugar, candied fruit including angelica, pears, plums, nuts, seeds – anything bright and cheerful
If you are using fresh or instant yeast, measure all the ingredients except the butter into a big bowl. Bring everything together and then turn the dough out onto the counter. Knead well for 5 minutes and then add the butter. Don’t freak out. You want to work as quickly as possible to absorb the butter before it melts but basically you will get a “lake” of dough before it begins to come together. It will come together and be like chewing gum. You will know when it is ready when you have dark yellow streaks in the dough. This may take 20 minutes of kneading. Just grit your teeth, use a scraper and get stuck in.
If you are using dry yeast, measure the water into a little cup and add a tablespoon of the sugar and all the yeast. Give it a stir and let it sit for 10-15 minutes. A beige sludge will form on the top of the water.
Measure the other ingredients (except the butter) into a a big bowl. Pour over the water/yeast mixture and bring everything together and then turn the dough out onto the counter. Knead well for 5 minutes and then add the butter. Don’t freak out. You want to work as quickly as possible to absorb the butter before it melts but basically you will get a “lake” of dough before it begins to come together. It will come together and be like gleaming chewing gum. You will know when it is ready when you have dark yellow streaks in the dough. This may take 20 minutes of kneading. Just grit your teeth, use a scraper and get stuck in.
Transfer the dough into a very large bowl, cover it with cling film and leave it to double in size. This will take 12 hours in the fridge or 4-6 hours outside the fridge depending on how warm the day is. Don’t be tempted to put the dough anywhere too warm. This will simply melt the butter. In any case, the dough is much easier to work with when it is cooler.
When the dough has doubled, remove it gently from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface.
To shape the rosca:
Shape the dough into a tight ball. Then, flour your hands and poke a hold through the centre of the ball with a floury finger. Gently widen the dough with your hands and, using gravity to help you, encourage the dough to expand into a ring. The dough making the ring should be about 10 cm wide. Place the ring on a baking tray that is lined with greaseproof paper. Push the token/statue up into the dough from the inside and, if you want to be cunning, push in some other surprises like different kinds of nuts. We tried jelly beans once but they just melted, leaving little colourful dots where they had been!
Flour the rosca and then cover it with a tea towel and let it rest until doubled in size. If the dough was cold, this will take about 4 hours. If warm, about 2.
Turn the oven on to 180 degrees. Brush the loaves carefully with the egg wash and then decorate. Sprinkle the sugar thickly over the tops of the dough in four to six stripes – 3 cm each – spaced evenly around each ring. Between the sugar stripes lay the candied fruit. We don’t really like candied fruit so we don’t use a lot of it. We prefer to use nuts and seeds.
Bake for 30 minutes or so until the bread is golden on the top. Let it cool completely on a wire rack (transfer the rosca to the rack on the greaseproof paper or you risk breaking it!) before calling in all your friends to cut it up. Rosca is not a keeper. It is best eaten on the day it is baked.
To read more about yeast, click here.
To take a class in learning how to manage high butter, soft dough, take Jane Mason’s bun class!
And, if you like this recipe, there are more like it in All You Knead Is Bread, available on Amazon.