The tradition of El Dia de los Tres Reyes Magos (literally, the Day of the Three Magi Kings)--aka the Epiphany--is a holiday that originated in Spain and is now celebrated in Hispanic cultures around the world on January 6th.
The Magi are those three Wise Men--the kings who traveled to Bethlehem to visit the infant Jesus and bring him gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. The holiday is meant to celebrate the appearance to the world of the baby Christ.
As part of the tradition, which marks the end of the Christmas season in Spanish-speaking countries, children write letters to the Three Magi asking for gifts, much like American children write to Santa Claus. And just as children leave carrots out for Santa's reindeer, Argentinean children leave out grass and water for the Kings' camels.
The children's little shoes are left out on the night of January 5th by the door of the house, and on the morning of January 6, they find a gift there. (Below, a picture of our Esteban's shoes filled with chocolate coins.)
Holiday decorations are taken down and put away for the next year on this day, and breakfast is strong coffee (or hot chocolate) and Rosca de Reyes--Kings' Cake. The cake is a sweet bread-like ring, very similar to the Rosca de Pascua that is eaten at Eastertime. The ringed cake is topped in pastry cream, candied cherries and candied figs, with little sugar pearls. (Candied figs were not available to me here, so I substituted slivered almonds).
This tradition has taken different forms in the places where 'Los Reyes' is celebrated--in New Orleans, the cake is covered in sugar crystals in Yellow, Purple and Green Mardi Gras colors, in Mexico, extra portions of dough representing the four directions are placed on top of the cake, some cultures include little babies (representing the baby Jesus) or coins inside the dough--the person who gets the baby has to throw a party on Feb. 2nd, though in Argentina, they don't include a baby in their tradition.
This special cake is the perfect way to celebrate los Reyes with your family. It's a wonderful way to wrap up the busy holiday season, with a cake that's fit for kings--and a few wisemen, too..
Find me on facebook: Rebecca Caro or From Argentina With Love, on twitter: @RebeccaCaro. I can be reached by email at email@example.com.
Rosca de Reyes
Three Kings Cake
1/2 cup warm milk
2 teaspoons yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
zest of one orange
zest of one lemon
3 1/2 to 4 cups flour
sugar cake decorating pearls
For the pastry cream:
2 egg yolks
1 cup warm water
1/2 can sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons corn starch
a dash of vanilla
Heat the 1/2 cup milk in the microwave until very warm. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the warm milk, yeast and sugar and whisk until dissolved. Let sit until foamy, about 10 minutes.
In another bowl, combine the melted butter, salt, vanilla, sugar, eggs, and lemon and orange zests, and stir until well combined. In the mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix in the butter mixture and blend in at medium speed until well mixed. Add in the flour, one cup at a time, until a smooth dough has formed.
Fit the mixer with the dough hook and knead the dough until elastic, about 5 minutes. Place in a warm spot and let rise until doubled in size, about an hour and a half.
Roll out the dough on a lightly-floured surface into a long oval, with the long side facing you. Roll from the edge closest to you (please see step-by-step photos on flickr--From Argentina With Love) make a long roll, leaving no space in the middle.
Leave one end open, and taking the other end, put the closed end into the open end, sealing the two ends so that there is no seam visible, with the dough creating a ring shape.
Place the ring on a greased cookie sheet and let rise a second time until doubled in size, about an hour.
Meanwhile, make the pastry cream.
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Start the pastry cream-- Separate the eggs and reserve the egg whites. Heat the egg yolks, water, sweetened condensed milk and corn starch in a small sauce pan over medium heat, stirring constantly. As the mixture gets hotter and comes to a boiling point, stir more rapidly. As it starts to thicken, remove it from heat. The consistency should be like a pudding, thick but not thick enough to let a spoon stand on its own. Stir in the vanilla.
Remove from heat and place into an ice bath to cool (ice cubes and water in a bowl). Spoon the pastry cream into a pastry bag fitted with a large, star-shaped tip. With the tip of a sharp knife, score (making a shallow slit) around the ring in the top center. Open and widen slightly with your fingertips, then pipe the pastry cream into the slit. Place the candied cherries around the ring into the pastry cream. Sprinkle with slivered almonds and sugar pearls. Brush the areas that are not covered in pastry cream with the egg whites.
Bake for 35 minutes, or until golden brown on top, and a knife inserted comes out clean. Sprinkle on any additional sugar pearls as desired. Let cool before serving. (Or make it the night before.) Serve with coffee or hot chocolate.