Leave it to us to keep the party going. Christmas, New Year’s and the fiesta season may be over for many people, but the Latino holidays rage on until this coming Sunday, which is Dia de Reyes (or Three Kings Day) marking the official end of the 12 days of Christmas.
A Christian holiday, every year it falls on January 6 and commemorates the three Wise Men—los Reyes Magos—who traveled from afar to see the newborn baby Jesus and brought him gifts. (Santa may be The Man in the US, but in Latin America los Reyes are the ones who dole out presents, traditionally left in or near the shoes of children.)
Like every important holiday, Three Kings Day is celebrated with culinary treats, none more popular than the Rosca de Reyes, a sweet bread that’s the quintessential symbol of the season. Round in shape, it represents a king’s crown and, typically, it has hidden inside it a small plastic toy or figurine, usually a baby Jesus. As the story goes, the hiding of the baby Jesus in the bread represents the hiding of his birthplace in biblical times.
While most people no longer bake their own rosca at home—bakeries throughout Latin America and in many US Hispanic communities sell them pre-made—NBCLatino.com caught up with pastry chef Juan Olivera, the Uruguayan-born head baker at Miami’s Delicias de España, where over the next two days more than 600 roscas will be sold, and asked him to share his rosca-making secrets. (If you prefer to order one online, you can do so here.) If you’d like try to make it on your own—something we highly recommend if for no other reason than your home will smell delicious!—read on for Chef Olivera’s step-by-step instructions.
Rosca de Reyes
Chef Olivera divides the process of making roscas into three “stages” that make baking this sweet bread simple. Below, his step-by-step with some photos to help you.
Stage 1 (The dry ingredients)
1 lb pastry flour
2 oz active dry yeast
1/2 tsp salt
12 oz water
Place above ingredients into a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment. Mix on medium speed until ingredients are fully incorporated and a smooth dough forms, adding water in small amounts if the dough is too dry. Allow the dough to rest for about 5 to 10 minutes or until it rises and doubles in size. (This might take longer, depending on the temperature in your kitchen.)
Stage 2 (The wet ingredients)
1 lb pastry flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 whole eggs
8 oz whole milk
4 oz sugar
1/2 tsp red food coloring
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 T finely grated orange zest
4 oz butter, softened at room temperature
1 lb assorted candied fruits, finely diced
Add the first eight ingredients to the stand mixer where the dough has been resting. Mix on medium speed to incorporate the ingredients into the dough. Once the liquids are incorporated, add the softened butter and candied fruit and mix again to fully incorporate.
Stage 3 (Portioning, decorating and baking)
Miniature oven-proof baby doll or other toy, for hiding in dough
2 T water, divided
12 slices of fresh pineapple or dried fruit of your choosing, like figs and candied cherries
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1. Place the dough on a well-floured surface, and divide in two equal parts. Using a circular motion with the palms of your hands, kneed each portion into a smooth circle. Allow to rest for 10 minutes. Using the palms of your hands again, flatten the circles into 1-inch- thick discs. Then, using 2 or 3 fingers, make an hole in the center of the discs. Stretch open the hole in each to form a large ring—your roscas! The roscas should be about 12 inches in diameter by the time you’re done stretching. Place a miniature toy inside the dough and fold over to hide.
2. Place formed roscas on a greased, rimmed baking sheet and set aside in a warm (but not hot) and humid place to rest for about 40 minutes. The dough will rise and double in size.
3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl whisk together the egg and 1 tablespoon of water and set aside. In a separate small bowl, mix the sugar with the remaining tablespoon of water to moisten the sugar so that small clumps form. Set aside.
4. Now you’re ready decorate. Bring them out and gently brush just enough of the egg wash to make the two roscas glisten. Decorate with the fruits, and sprinkle with the moistened sugar. Bake at 320 degrees for about 25 to 30 minutes, until the roscas are firm to the touch.