In Spanish-speaking countries, January 6 is an important holiday called Epiphany. This special bread, called Rosca de Reyes, is served to commemorate when the three Magi from the East visited Jesus and gave Him special gifts. That's why this dessert, literally named "ring of kings," is made to look like a king's crown decorated with jewels.
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Where did Rosca de Reyes originate?
The original concept of making a bread decorated with fruit originates from ancient Rome. The idea was brought to France, where it was incorporated with Christian celebrations. Eventually, the Spaniards started making a Rosca de Reyes for Epiphany.
This treat was brought to Mexico by the Spaniards, where it has continued to be popular today. Over 4 million Rosca de Reyes are sold in Mexico each year!
Rosca de Reyes vs. King Cake
This dessert might remind you of king cake, and they do have some similarities. However, king cake is an Americanized version, and typically is filled with a cream cheese or cinnamon mixture and is decorated with white icing and green, purple, and yellow sugar. Rosca de Reyes looks and tastes quite different from king cake.
Fortunately, it doesn't take any hard-to-find ingredients to make a beautiful Rosca de Reyes for Epiphany! Let's talk about the key ingredients in this Mexican dessert.
- Bread Flour: You'll get the fluffiest, highest-rising Rosca de Reyes if you use bread flour rather than all-purpose. My favorite brand is King Arthur (affiliate).
- Orange Zest & Extract: Using a combination of freshly grated orange zest and pure orange extract will give the Rosca de Reyes a delicious flavor.
- Decoration Paste: A simple dough similar to shortbread is mixed up and shaped into strips, which are laid on the Rosca de Reyes before baking.
- Fruit Decorations: Strips of guava paste and candied cherries laid on top of the Rosca de Reyes make it look like a king's crown. Feel free to use nuts and other dried fruits, too!
How to Make
- Pour the flour into a mixing bowl and add the salt and yeast on opposite sides of the bowl. Stir each one in with your finger, ensuring that the salt doesn't touch the yeast directly, as that may kill the yeast.
2. Add the sugar, butter, eggs, orange zest, and orange extract, then mix everything together until a dry dough forms. Gradually add the milk to form a slightly sticky dough. Make sure no flour is sitting at the bottom of the bowl.
3. Knead the dough on a floured surface for 10-15 minutes, until it is smooth and no longer so sticky. It should also pass the windowpane test, which means that you can stretch a piece of the dough thin enough to see the light through it.
4. Place it in a bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let it prove in a warm place until it's almost doubled in size. This will take at least 1 ½ hours.
5. During the first prove, make the decoration paste. This is similar to cookie dough, and will be formed into strips to decorate the Rosca de Reyes before it bakes. Chill it in a plastic-wrapped disc for 20-30 minutes to make it easier to handle.
6. Now, divide the paste into six pieces and shape each one into a rectangular strip. Cut a few thin strips of guava paste, and grab some colored cherries.
7. Once the dough has proved, punch it down to knock out the air bubbles. Shape into a round ball, then poke a hole in the middle with your finger. Stretch the dough to make a ring, then lay it on a parchment-lined cookie sheet.
8. Cover the Rosca de Reyes with plastic wrap and let it prove in a warm place until the it springs back quickly when you press it. This should take about 45 minutes.
9. Just before it goes in the oven, brush it all over with beaten egg. Decorate it with the paste strips, guava strips, and the candied cherries. Sprinkle with some granulated sugar for crunch and sweetness.
10. Bake at 400°F for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 375°F and bake for 10-15 minutes. It will be a rich golden brown and have an internal temperature of 190°F. Let it cool on the tray for 5 minutes, then let it cool completely on a wire rack.
11. After the Rosca de Reyes has cooled, insert the baby figurine from the bottom so no one can see where it is hidden. Let each guest slice their own piece and see who gets the Jesus figurine!
It is a sweet yeast bread shaped in a ring and decorated with dried or candied fruit. It is traditionally served on January 6 in Spanish countries. It has a wonderful orange flavor and soft, cake-like texture.
Traditionally in Mexico, you would become the godparent of the little child Jesus. You would need to make tamales and hot chocolate and host a party on February 2, or Candlemas Day, which celebrates Jesus' presentation in the Temple.
There is actually a lot of symbolism in the Three Kings bread. It resembles a king's crown, which symbolizes the Magi that gave gifts to Jesus on Epiphany. The round shape represents God's never-ending love, and the candied fruit looks like the jewels on a crown.
The child figurine hidden inside represents Jesus hiding from the evil Roman king Herod, while the knife that slices it symbolizes the danger that Jesus was in from the Romans. Eating the Rosca de Reyes symbolizes communion with Jesus.
The name literally means the "ring of kings."
Rosca de Reyes will keep at room temperature for up to 1 day, as long as it is tightly sealed. For best freshness, slice and freeze it in a freezer bag for up to 1 month. Defrost in the microwave for 30 seconds per slice.
- Use bread flour. All-purpose flour can't make a bread that rises as high or is as fluffy.
- Knead thoroughly. This is a crucial step; otherwise, it will flatten out intstead of rising up.
- Prove slowly. The first prove, when the dough is in the bowl, will take a while, but it will give the dough flavor.
- Make the hole in the middle bigger than you think is needed. The dough will grow as it rises.
- Change up the decorations as desired. Cherries, guava paste, sliced almonds, citrus peel, or figs are good choices.
- Be careful not to overbake. It's done when it has an internal temperature of 190°F.
- Have leftovers? Slice, seal in a freezer bag, and freeze for up to 1 month. Defrost in the microwave.
Other Holiday Sweet Breads You'll Love
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Rosca de Reyes: Three Kings Bread
For the Dough
- 4 ⅛ cups bread flour
- 3 teaspoons fast-action yeast
- 2 teaspoons fine salt
- ¾ cup unsalted butter, softened
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- ⅓ cup whole milk
- 4 teaspoons orange extract
- 2 teaspoons orange zest
For the Decoration Paste
- ¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
- ½ cup icing sugar
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 large egg yolk
For the Decoration
- 1 large egg, for egg wash
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, for sprinkling
- 4 red glace cherries
- 4 green glace cherries
- 6 narrow slices of guava paste
Make the Dough
- Pour the flour into a mixing bowl and add the salt and yeast on opposite sides of the bowl, then mix each one in with your finger.
- Add the sugar, unsalted butter, eggs, orange zest, orange extract, and some of the warm milk. Mix until a dough forms, then gradually add the rest of the milk to get a soft, slightly sticky texture.
- Knead it on a lightly floured surface for 10-15 minutes, until it is smooth and no longer as sticky. It should pass the windowpane test. This means you can stretch a lump of the dough thin enough to see the light through it.
- Let the dough rise in a warm place until it’s nearly doubled in size, about 1 ½ to 2 hours.
Shape the Rosca
- Punch the dough down, then shape it into a circle. Use floured fingers to poke a hole in the center and shape into a ring.
- Place the ring on a large parchment-lined cookie sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside to prove in a warm place until springy to the touch, about 45 minutes.
- While the Rosca is proving, beat the softened butter and sifted icing sugar together until smooth. Add the flour and egg yolk and beat until a paste forms. Shape the mixture into a disc and wrap tightly in plastic wrap, then chill for 20-30 minutes.
- Divide the paste into six equal pieces, then shape each piece into a rectangular strip. You’ll use these to decorate the Rosca later.
Decorate & Bake
- Set the oven to 400°F about 10-15 minutes before the Rosca is done proving.
- Once the dough is springy to the touch, brush it with beaten egg and arrange the cherries, guava paste strips, and paste strips on top. Sprinkle with the sugar.
- Bake at 400°F for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 375°F and bake for another 10 minutes, until golden brown. The bread should have an internal temperature of 190°F on a meat thermometer.
- Let the Rosca cool on the tray for 5 minutes, then transfer on a wire rack to cool completely, about 45 minutes. Insert the plastic baby from the bottom of the rosca once it has cooled.
- Let each guest cut their own slice. Enjoy with Abuelita, a type of Mexican hot chocolate.
- Use bread flour. All-purpose flour will not make the high-rising, fluffy rosca we want.
- Make the hole in the middle bigger than you think is needed. The dough will expand as it rises.
- Change up the decorations as desired. Any combination of cherries, guava paste, sliced almonds, citrus peel, or figs is lovely.
- Be careful not to overbake. It's done when it has an internal temperature of 190°F.
- Leftovers? Slice, seal in a freezer bag, and freeze for up to 1 month. Defrost in the microwave.
Serving sizes and nutritional information are only an estimate and may vary from your results.
This post was originally published on January 6, 2020 and was republished on December 2021 with updated, reformatted content and resized photos.
Great recipe! My Mexican wife gave it her seal of approval and my three year old had lots of fun decorating it.
I've made Rosca de Reyes before using a different recipe and it came out really dense.
This recipe was a definite winner - the orange essence and zest combination meant that the bread had really good flavour rather than just being a vehicle for the toppings. I used a fairly strong flour and it ended up really stretchy (almost like a panettone, in a good way!).
Next time I'll try baking at a lower temperature - my oven is a fan assisted oven and I had forgotten that these are less common in the US so the temperatures probably applied to a conventional non-fan oven. This meant it came out a bit more caramelised on the top but the inside still had a great texture.
My only disappointment is having to wait a year before I can make another one! May have to make some conchas in the meantime 😉
I'm delighted that this recipe was met with approval from you and your family, Thomas! I did write the recipe for non-fan ovens, as many of us here in the States bake with electric ovens, which rarely have a convection feature. I'm so glad that you enjoyed the flavor and texture of the Rosca!
I tried this recipe, and while my roscas came out fluffy they’re way too salty for my taste. I double checked and separated my ingredients before I started so no I didn’t add extra salt. I actually made two separate batches and they both turned extra salty. I know salt is important in the gluten rise process but any idea how much less salt I could use next time ?
I've made bread with 2 teaspoons of salt (10g) per 4 1/8 cups of bread flour (500g) in countless recipes for many years, so I know that ratio works perfectly. The bread may taste too salty because the measurements are off. Using a kitchen scale will ensure accuracy. If you do want to cut down the salt, I wouldn't go below 1 1/2 teaspoons (7g) per 4 1/8 cups of bread flour.
i just made this for my Mexican in-laws. I never bake and had no idea what I was doing. I thought the recipe wasn't going to work, it didn't seem to rise enough and the orange essence was leaking out during the rise. well, fears cast aside. it tasted awesome! looked a bit messy and the "cookie" part must've been too thick. but anyway, the in-laws really liked it and were surprised it turned out as deliciously as it did. thanks for a great recipe!
You're welcome, Em! I'm so glad that the rosca was a success and that your Mexican in-laws enjoyed it. (I found that the rosca dough is quite heavy due to all the enrichments of egg, butter, milk, and sugar, so it won't rise as much or as quickly as a plain white bread.)
I am so thankful to you for providing this recipe to me. I am of Puerto Rican descent and unfortunately my generation has lost the tradition because it was not passed down to us. Thank you so much for the detail and insight into this sacred tradition.
You are welcome, Jasmine! Making a Rosca de Reyes to share with family and friends is such a special way to celebrate Epiphany.
This soft bread tastes like orange and is crammed with butter. The guava paste tastes like pear and strawberry, and the cookie stuff is very crunchy and airy. This is an interesting bread.
Thanks, Beth! I’m glad that you enjoyed this bread!
This bread is light and fluffy, the cherry is chewy, and the decorative paste strips taste like a cookie. It is delicious! This bread definitely looks like a crown.
Thanks, Alex! I love how the cherries really look like jewels!