Rosca de Reyes

Tomorrow, January 6, is the day when the three kings, the wise men of the Christmas story, will bring gifts to the good little girls and boys in Mexico. This is Epipany, called Dia de los Santos Reyes on my Mexican calendar, and it is the offical end of the Mexican Christmas holidays. A sweet, decorated bread, the Rosca de Reyes, the (bread) ring of the kings is served to all, whether you have been good or bad.

This bread has a muñeca, a little ceramic doll, tucked into it to represent the baby Jesus. Whoever finds it in their slice is obligated to serve tamales to guests on Dia de la Candelaria, February 2. Because this can be an expensive meal (two tamales per person, at least, for twenty to thirty or more people), sometimes the one with the muñeca conceals it in their mouth and doesn’t own up. For this reason two or three muñecas may be in one bread, with the hope that at least one person will annouce they are the lucky one who will host the tamale dinner.

Most people in Mexico buy their Rosca de Reyes from a panederia (bakery) or supermercado. If you have a baking inclination, here are two recipes from past years. Rosca de Reyes are yeast breads decorated with ate, a dried fruit paste, and formed into a ring. This recipe is a classic Rosca de Reyes from 2010. My favorite, from 2011, Mini Rosca de Reyes with Frangipani, is a bit more work with homemade almond paste, though you could use store-bought. Either way, be sure to slip in a muñeco, or use a shelled almond as a stand-in as I did.

Leftovers toast well, and also make great French toast, maybe my favorite way to eat Rosca de Reyes. And now that the holidays are over, it’s time to take down the agave flower Christmas “tree”. And start eating salads.


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Mini Rosca de Reyes with Frangipane

Rosca de Reyes is a bread shared in Mexico on Epiphany, January 6, by family and friends. This “King’s Cake” is a yeasted bread in the shape of a ring, decorated with dried fruit. A small doll is inserted to represent the baby Jesus, and whoever finds this doll in their slice traditionally hosts a fiesta on February 2 for Día de La Candelaria. The February party can be expensive, especially if you have to buy forty tamales as we did one year. We were too new to Mexico to know that if you find the doll in your mouthful, some just swallow it and don’t confess. Well, had I known this, I hope I would not have done that. Our tamal party was a great fiesta shared with friends without resorting to drastic subterfuge.

Sounds crazy — swallowing a plastic doll (it used to be ceramic in years past) — but apparently this is done, as I learned from reading an article in Spanish about Rosca de Reyes.  A reader left this link with a comment when she read the recipe I wrote one year ago when I baked Rosca de Reyes for the first time. If you want to read the Spanish article, use Bing Translator. Bing gives a convoluted translation, but you will get the gist of it.

This is an egg bread recipe, basically the same as the one used to make challahs, the braided breads eaten on Jewish holidays. My rosca recipe was inspired by the recipe for Chernowitzer Challah on Epicurious, with my usual change of adding whole wheat flour, and this time using honey instead of sugar for added moisture. I also added the spices traditionally used in Rosca de Reyes. Plus, I substituted melted butter for some of the oil for added flavor.

The Huffington Post has a recipe for La Gallete des Rois, King’s Cake as baked in France. It has a frangipane filling, the most delicious almond anything I have ever eaten. My mini breads weren’t filled, but served with frangipane spread on the split side. Well, when I say “on the split side”, I mean smeared on every available surface the little rolls could offer, and then they were cut again to offer even more surface area on which to spread this almond wonder.

Rosca de Reyes with Frangipane makes about 20 rolls

  • 1 envelope (2 1/4 teaspoons/7 grams/0.3 ounce) instant yeast
  • About 2 cups (250 grams/9 ounces)  whole wheat flour, plus more as needed
  • About 2 cups (250 grams/9 ounces) white flour, plus more as needed
  • 3/4 cup (170 ml./6 fluid oz.) warm water
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup (1.6 oz./55 grams) vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup organic melted butter (1.6 oz./55 grams)
  • 3 tablespoons honey (50 ml.)
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon anise seed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (8 grams/0.3 ounce) salt
  • 1 egg, beaten, for glaze
  • Dried fruit for decoration, cut into small strips
  1. In the bowl of  a standing mixer, blend yeast and flour.
  2. Add water and mix with the dough hook until smooth.
  3. Cover the bowl with a plate and allow to rest for 20 minutes for yeast to develop.
  4. Add eggs, oil, butter, honey, cinnamon, anise and salt and knead with dough hook for five minutes. Add more flour if necessary until a smooth ball forms.
  5. Place dough in an oiled bowl, cover with an oiled plate and allow to rise until doubled. (Or refrigerate overnight for a longer rising time and more yeasty flavor and proceed with recipe the next day after dough has reached room temperature.
  6. Form into 2-oz  (60 grams) balls, press with the flat of your hand until 2 1/2″ (63 mm.) across and press a 3/4″ (19 mm.) hole into the center with the handle of a wooden spoon to form a ring.” (I pressed the ball of dough into a 2 1/2″ (63 mm.) cookie cutter for uniform roundness.)
  7. Place roscas on 2 greased baking sheets and let rise until almost double in size.
  8. Pre-heat oven to 350 deg. F. (180 C.).
  9. Gently brush rolls with beaten egg and arrange pieces of dried fruit on tops, such as dried apricot, peach and prune.
  10. Bake for 25-30 minutes, rotating baking sheets after 15 minutes, until golden brown and bottoms sound hollow when tapped.
  11. Transfer to a rack and cool. Serve with frangipane.


  • 5 oz. (140 grams) organic sugar
  • 4 oz (120 grams) organic unsalted butter softened to room temperature
  • 2 large eggs
  • 5 oz. (140 grams) ground almonds
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 tablespoons rum
  1. Beat sugar and butter together until fluffy.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and beat until smooth.
  3. Refrigerate until cold and firm.


The dough for Rosca de Reyes can be kneaded by hand or in a bread machine, kneading the raisins in by hand.

Flours tend to hold more moisture in our humid climate in Mexico, so I had to add more flour, almost a cup, for a smooth ball to form. Conversely, your flour may be very dry, necessitating more water for the dough to form a ball. Add it in one tablespoon increments.

If you are not sure how to grind almonds, use a coffee grinder, the kind with a rotating blade in the bottom, not a burr grinder. Or grind in a food processor. Whichever method you use, adding some sugar helps speed the grinding, but don’t over-grind, as you will almost end up with almond butter, not a bad result, but not the intended one in this case. Grind in two batches. If a few nuts remain whole, pick them out and grind again.

The rolls are wonderful as an afternoon snack, split and toasted, then slathered with frangipane.

The translation of “rosca de reyes” puzzles me. Our Cassel’s Spanish Dictionary gives a definition of rosca as screw-thread or twist. It also offers “twisted loaf” for rosca de pan”, as in “braided bread”. I have never seen this bread braided, as challah is. “Reyes” means “kings”.

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Rosca de Reyes — Three Kings Bread for Epiphany

A Classic Mexican Recipe

Recipe for Three Kings Bread — Rosca de Reyes,
a Traditional Mexican Bread

I thought I was finally done with holiday baking, but I had forgotten that today is Three Kings Day, the last day of Christmas in Mexico. Also known as Epiphany, this is the day the Three Kings bring gifts to good little Mexican girls and boys. Traditionally Rosca de Reyes, a yeast bread, is served with a plastic baby Jesus hidden in the dough. The lucky person who finds the baby Jesus in their slice hosts La Dia de la Candelaria in February and serves tamales. The very first time we were invited to a Three Kings dinner in Mexico, guess who found the baby Jesus in her slice. Yup, so the next month, we ordered five dozen tamales from our local tamaleria. And here I thought La Dia de la Candelaria had something to do with candles.

My roscas are in the oven right now, not with a plastic baby, but with an almond in each one. I could not bring myself to use plastic as an ingredient in bread.

I used an egg and yeast bread recipe which I found on the internet and of course made my own changes, primarily decreasing the sugar and using part whole wheat flour. It was easy to mix and knead with the Kitchen Aid and its dough hook but, like any bread machine recipe, it can be mixed and kneaded by hand. The twinkling stars designate holiday recipes.

Rosca de Reyes makes 2 loaves

  • 2 cups (280 grams) all purpose white flour, more if needed
  • 2 cups  (250 grams) whole wheat flour, more if needed
  • 1/2 cup  (100 grams) sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 lightly beaten eggs (250 grams, weighed without shells)
  • 4 oz.  ( 114 grams) soft butter
  • 1/4 cup (60 grams) warm milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon anise seed
  • 4 oz. (116 grams) raisins
  • 1 or 2 almonds
  • Mexican ate (see glossary on right), or assorted dried fruit
  • 1 beaten egg
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. (180 C.)
  2. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook, or in a large mixing bowl if mixing by hand, mix beaten eggs, milk, butter, flour, salt, sugar, yeast, vanilla, cinnamon and anise seed. Since the water content of flour can vary widely, you may need to add more flour if the dough is too wet (or more water if it is too dry). Add flour gradually until the dough comes together in a ball. Knead with the dough hook or by hand for five minutes.
  3. Add the raisins and knead just until incorporated, either with the dough hook or by hand.
  4. Turn dough onto floured surface. Divide the dough into two portions, form each into a ball, flatten with your hands, and punch a hole through the center. Gradually stretching the dough, increase the size of the hole until you have a ring or oval.
  5. Place rings on a greased baking sheet. Arrange strips of dried fruit or ate decoratively on the surface of the ring and put in a warm place to rise until double in size.
  6. When the dough has doubled in size, brush with beaten egg and bake for about 40 minutes.
  7. The bread is done when it is a nice, golden color and you can hear a hollow thump when you tap the bottom of a rosca with your fingers. Slice and enjoy, hoping you are not the one who gets the almond.


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Mini Roscas with Frangipane (Cooking in Mexico)

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