Roscòn de Reyes: Holiday baking traditions

It’s quite possible by now you’ve had enough of Christmas carols. However, the Twelve Days of Christmas begin today, continuing through January 5, when the Twelve Drummers Drumming arrive. The fun, in many parts of the world, is just beginning.

January 6 is the Epiphany, or “Dia de Reyes” (Three King’s Day). Growing up at our house, it meant it was time to take down the Christmas tree, but in most Latin cultures, Dia de Reyes is the day that children get presents from the Magi, not Santa. The night before, children leave their shoes (often decorated with dried or candied fruits) outside, filled with feed for the Kings’ animals and a note. The next day, Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar will have replaced the hay with gifts.

As with any great tradition, there’s a tasty baked good involved. Sometimes called Three Kings’ Bread, Roscòn de Reyes is more than a scrumptious treat. Its shape evokes a crown, and hidden inside is a trinket or small doll that represents the baby Jesus.  When the bread is cut and served, whoever finds the trinket in their portion is obligated to host a party on Candlemas Day, February 2.

In Spain, there’s both a trinket and a bean. The finder of the doll is crowned and becomes the king or queen of the banquet. Whoever gets the bean has to pay for next year’s Roscòn.

OK, now that the mechanics around the party are in place, shall we make some of this delicious bread? It’s as beautiful as it is tasty.

My first step is going to be to candy some orange peel. You can find a recipe for this in the Spring 2010 issue of The Baking Sheet. I’ve also put the recipe online. You can certainly use store-bought, but the flavor of what you make fresh is worth the effort, and you can make sure it’s the shape and size you want.

Once the orange peel is drying in its rack to set it into a nice curve, I’m ready to start the dough. Here’s the recipe for Three King’s Cake (Roscon de Reyes) so you can add it to your recipe stash, or follow along with me.

You can make the dough in  a bread machine or your mixer; I did both so you’d have an idea of how it works either way.  The technique is the same from after the first rise to the finish.

First, we scald some milk, then pour it over the butter and sugar. This melts the butter and dissolves the sugar.

Here’s the bread machine batch getting started.

I’ll let this mixture cool to lukewarm; while that’s going on I’ll gather and measure the rest of my ingredients.

This is the batch I made in the mixer; lukewarm now, so OK for yeast

Next, the yeast is added, then the eggs, salt, and flour.

Time to mix this up. I’ll start with the paddle. It’s going to look pretty raggedy at first.

The paddle brings all the ingredients together

Once the dough starts to form up, it’s time to switch to the dough hook. This is also the time to scrape the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl. I am a stickler for this step. It’s the difference between “OK” and “Wow!” in the final result of baking.

Yes, you have to scrape.

When we write recipes that say “mix and knead the dough”, this is the intersection or pivot point between those two instructions.

Once the bowl is scraped and the hook in place, I’ll let the mixer run at medium speed for 6 minutes. You don’t want to go too fast with this; else the dough gets beat up and the gluten you’re trying to develop gets torn. Since this is a sweet dough with butter in it (which will shorten the gluten strands anyhow, making the bread more tender), it’s important not to work it too hard. You need the gluten strands to form so they can capture the carbon dioxide from the yeast, and allow the dough to rise nicely.

How’s the bread machine batch doing?

While I was switching to the dough hook and scraping, the machine was very nicely doing its job in the corner. I added the flour, took a peek at the dough about 5 minutes later to make sure no flour was stuck in the corners of the bucket (that scraping thing again), and that was it. The machine took care of the rest. I love the machine.

Back to the mixer. Once the dough is kneaded…

See how the dough smooths out after kneading?

…I put it in a greased measuring cup for its first rise. We find these big bad measuring cups to be extremely handy for this. You can see what’s going on with the dough, and the marks tell you where the dough started and when it’s doubled. If you need the reminder, you can always put a little piece of tape on the level of the container where the dough started.

While the dough rises, I’ll put the filling ingredients together. You can use any kind of nut you want in the filling, but since I plan to decorate with almonds, I’m going to put chopped almonds in the filling. I usually start with slivered ones, since they give me a head start on the chopping thing.

You could pop ’em in the food processor, but I never pass up a chance to give my chef’s knife some exercise (also less to wash after). Next step, to toast them lightly. To do that I’ll put them in a pie plate (a baking sheet is fine, too. You just want something shallow.)

And bake for 10 minutes at 325°F, just until they begin to take on some color.

Small aside here. Nuts are expensive. I’ve seen pounds and pounds of them go straight to the trash can in restaurants from cooks who think that 400°F to 500°F ovens will save them some time. The high oil content in nuts means that once they start to caramelize, the window of opportunity to catch them at the right point gets smaller, the higher the temperature you use. Something like trying to stop a 200mph Ferrari on a dime with no notice. So be a fuddy duddy and do it once. Correctly. The first time. Low and slow is the way to go. End rant.

Combine the cinnamon, sugar, fruit, and nuts. I got ahead of myself and stirred the melted butter into the fruit instead of using it to brush the dough; either way works, so don’t worry yourself on that score.

Almost forgot the orange zest…

OK, how’s the dough doing? Despite it being December, it’s pretty warm in the test kitchen these days. We’re talking 83 degrees or more most days (we’ve got all guns [ovens, all 7] blazing). So it doesn’t take too long for the dough to double.

Ready to roll out. I greased the work surface and rolled the dough out into a long rectangle: 20” long by 10”. It’s best to roll it partway, let it rest for a few minutes, then roll once more to its final dimensions. That way it shouldn’t snap back when you’re trying to get it bigger.

20” long (just about),  10” wide

This is the point where I realized, “Oh yeah. Parchment.” Easy to remedy, thank goodness.

The bread is easier to move around if you assemble it on parchment.

I’ll spread the filling over the dough, leaving about half an inch of the long edges uncovered. If you’re going to add a doll or a bean (I used a single macadamia nut; I like my inclusions to be edible) to the bread as tradition requires, this is the place to do it. Now roll up the dough (don’t pull or wind it too tight; just flop it over on itself).

Brushing the edge with a bit of egg will help seal the roll.

Brush the edge with some beaten egg (I just use egg substitute right out of the carton) and pinch the edge to seal.

The Roscon is supposed to represent the crown of the king, so the idea is to bake it round. I have a hint to help you make a nice-looking circle. I take a small metal bowl (a ramekin or custard cup will work for this; so would a clean tuna can) and grease the outside. Place that in the center of the parchment, and place the rolled dough around it. This will help the bread keep a nice, neat circle inside as it rises and bakes.

The next step is to complete the circle. Tuck one end inside the other (a little like a snake eating its tail), and pinch the dough together.

Once this is done, it’s time to decorate. Remember the nicely curved slices of orange peel? I’m going to place them around the edges of the bread. Cut shallow slits (I did the four corners of the compass, then one more slice halfway between each cut for 8 in all) in the dough. Brush the cut with more egg…

The egg will help the peel stay in place as the dough grows.

…then place the peel in the cut.

Brush the rest of the dough with egg wash, and place halved candied cherries in each of the sections. Then it’s time to hunt for pretty slices of almond to finish the decorations. You won’t need to toast these, since they’re on the outside of the bread and will get toasted just fine during the bake.

What price beauty? Some time finding nice-looking almond slices.

Now that the bread is all gussied up, it needs to rise for about half an hour. In our tropical kitchen, it took less time than that. The dough should look puffy, but it won’t necessarily double. You’ll want to get the oven heated while the dough is rising.

You may have to keep an eye on the peel; just push it back into place if it looks like it’s loose.

Bake the bread for 25 to 30 minutes. Check it after about 15 minutes, and glue any rogue orange slices back in place with a little more egg if necessary. You can drizzle the bread with the sugar glaze in the recipe at this point or not. It gives the bread a nice, rustic look. For the beauty shot above, we just went with the egg wash and powdered the bread with some confectioners’ sugar after baking.

If you use the sugar glaze, you can put it on when you check the dough after 15 minutes.

When the center of the loaf reads 19o°F when measured with an instant-read thermometer, it’s done. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.

Now you’re ready for the party!

Please bake, rate and review our recipe for Three King’s Cake.

Print just the recipe.

Susan Reid

Chef Susan Reid grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Bates College and the Culinary Institute of America, and is presently the Food Editor of Sift magazine. She does demos, appearances, and answers food (and baking) questions from all quarters.


  1. akane86

    Looks delicious, thought the “classic” Roscón doesn’t have any filling. It’s true that the last years different varieties are prepared with cream, chocolate cream or “cabello de ángel” (sweet filling made with a special pumpkin), among others, but I prefer the “real” one, so I can dip it into my hot chocolate 🙂

    And there’s one ingredient I miss in your recipe: orange flower water. It’s very important because it gives the Roscón its traditional (and magic) aroma. I like to add also a bit of rum.

    I haven’t seen any Roscón here with a nuts and fruits filling, but it seem great! Maybe I’ll make two Roscones this year 😉

    Merry Christmas from Murcia (Spain)
    I love learning from people who grew up with traditions like this. Orange flower water makes perfect sense, and when I make this again I’ll be sure I have some. Thanks! Susan

  2. Nikkei

    The recipe is fine, but it looks more like the Mexican roscón. The Spanish one is different. It has more candied fruit than nuts and always on the outside, as a decoration. But most importantly, it needs a preferment, which gives it a much deeper taste. In the main dough, pulverized orange and lemon zest are a must, along with orange blosom water. Without these ingredients, it is not a Spanish roscón. I’m not saying Spanish is better than Mexican, but they are two different preparations. Just like a British “biscuit” and an American “biscuit” are two different things.
    Thanks for the clarification; as well as the idea for the preferment. We’ve done the same with Panettone, because the sugar, butter and eggs can really slow the dough down. Susan

  3. vibeguy

    This looks fantastic, but you gave me PTSD-esque flashbacks. When I was working on a hazelnut version of my infamous brownies (nutella, chopped hazelnuts, Frangelico), I used that exact same logic: “I just need a cup of chopped nuts; I’m not going to wash the Cuisinart for that.”

    The subsequent ER visit, the months of agony, the reconstructive surgery, the hand therapy and the lost wages made that pan of brownies well over $30,000. Who knew that you could hit so many vital structures in your hand with the tip of a knife!?! Granted, almonds have the good common sense to not roll around.

    Anyway, I *love* King Cake. I’ve been known to carefully mark which pieces will have the inclusions so that either a good baker gets stuck with the next one, or someone who knows a *REALLY* good bakery is on the hook. ;0)

    This looks like a great application for either a little Fiori or LorAnn Buttery Sweet Dough Emulsion.

    Hey, do you change the Hair Color for the holidays? 😉 I can tell you that the emergency room at the hospital near one restaurant where I worked knew me by sight when I’d walk in with a side towel wrapped around a digit. I agree with your flavoring ideas, as well as your strategy for making sure a good baker gets the handoff! Merry Christmas, E. Susan

  4. ogoshi

    Hi, how did the bread dough rise so vigorously with the butter and eggs?

    Our test kitchen has a tendency to be pretty warm (when all the ovens are rockin’, it’s usually over 80°F in there). So that tends to get dough moving more quickly than it would be at a more everyday sort of temperature. Susan

  5. Mercedes

    Beautiful cake, as Akane mentioned before. I just have everything ready in my kitchen to start testing for this year… and see it comes out perfect for Jan 5th. We do not like that much the candied fruit at home, so I tend to just put the sliced almonds and some wet sugar… you know, just pour a few drops of water over a bowl with sugar until it gets kinda clumpy, and then put small amounts of sugar over the dough. Uhmmmm, it’ll be even sweeter.
    As Akane also mentioned we love to dip in hot chocolate (at least that’s how we do it at home), but in some bakeries they open the roscones once they’re baked and filled them with heavy whipped cream (plain sweet or chocolate…), wow, that is a great end for the holidays, I can tell you 🙂
    Love from Cáceres (Spain)

  6. milkwithknives

    Beautiful bread! I love filled breads/cakes and enjoyed watching you assemble yours.

    But I have to say, I was even more excited about the recipe for candied orange peel. I saw about thirty seconds of something on Food Network about chocolate dipped, candied orange peel, but it was one of those totally exotic things I never thought about making for myself. No more! It is orange season, I have sugar and chocolate in the house (in excess at the moment, actually), and I am on these like a cheap suit. Thank you SO MUCH for magically and totally by chance revealing the clues to one of my little food mysteries.

  7. maria5310

    I was about to make the same comments as akane86 and Mercedes.

    I really recommend the idea of using a poolish (100% hydration) the night before, which what I usually use. And although the traditional Roscon hasn’t any filling or cuts, we do put candied fruits on top.

    This is in any case a wonderful variation, and it looks delicious!

  8. veronica

    Can I use your gluten free flour to make this Three King’s Cake?? If so, do I need to change anything or add anything to your recipe instructions?
    Hi, Veronica. I wouldn’t just sub out the flour; instead, I recommend taking our Gluten-Free Sandwich Bread recipe, and adapting that. The dough will be more like a thick batter, which you won’t be able to shape the same way. If you have a ring, tube, or Bundt pan, I suggest putting some of the batter in, then some filling, then more batter, etc. to replicate the filled bread. I think that’s your best shot at a gluten-free version. Susan

  9. Ricardo Neves Gonzalez - FMP-FASE- Petrópolis, RJ - BRAZIL

    I´m now at new challenge here in Brazil. AS a Head Baker at local resort
    At this hotel i´m working hardly to change radically the breakfast to a better wellness, healthier one.
    But i must admit is difficult to resist this Roscón de Reyes recipe is superb. I´d baked two of them one will have a special place at the table of breakfast tomorrow. The other i´d sliced those fatty and flavorfull, extremely softly pieces to serve the guests. Hope they love it as i loved…specially because i´m Spanish descendent. My Grandpa come from Pontevedra, Galizia to BRAZIL AT FAR 1930.
    MY best 2011 votes for all KAF´S Staff!!!!

    Ricardo, you are as always a breath of fresh air. I’m so glad the recipe is working for you. We’re growing all the time, so who knows where you may find us next?

  10. bruja

    appy New year to all!

    I write from Spain, and as it has been said, our tradition is non-filled “Roscón de Reyes”. But yours looks incredible and extremely appealing.

    Roscón de Reyes has been chosen as December recipe in “El Foro del Pan” (The Bread Forum), an interactive community (such as the Baking Circle in King Arthur Flour webpage). It is mainly for home bakers (and some professionals), and we Spanish speaking bakers join forces, suggestions, questions, trying to resove doubts. This forum exists thanks to some extraordinary and enthousiastic spanish home bakers and you can visit (even register to take part in) in

    The Roscón de Reyes thread is at:

    You can read my own version -based on a Challah bread recipe, but adapted to the Roscón de Reyes taste, which includes orange flower water, among others at:

    Only caveat is that the blog is mainly in Spanish, although from time to time some recipes or comments in English are offered.

    Well happy baking for the rest of the year!
    Thank you for sharing! Elisabeth

  11. Gina F

    Hi, where Do you get orange flower water? Love to buy it, and yes the special ingredient on LA Rosca de Reyes” thanks for sharing…gina

    Gina, you can often find orange flower water at Middle Eastern groceries; and we’ve sold it on and off as well. it should be coming back online here in a few months… PJH

  12. mrsblocko

    I made this for the first time and wrote about it here. It was amazing. Thank you for posting this recipe.

    Thanks for making this, and for blogging it – nice story! PJH

  13. Elizabeth Lof

    I made this recipe (doubled) last year for our “family” at our local Mexican restaurant. It was a huge hit! Especially when the owner was the one who received the token! As this holiday season has progressed I have been discretely questioned by the staff to find out if I will do it again! I will! They all tell me that this is the BEST they have ever had! Of course, being in Washington state makes foods like mama made much harder to come by!

  14. Blo

    I’m from Spain and that does NOT look like a Roscón de Reyes at all. They don’t have any fillings to start with

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thank you for your feedback Blo. The recipe is only a version of Roscon de Reyes. Elisabeth@KAF

    2. SAH

      In Mexico (where I’m from) there are a couple of different versions of the traditional Rosca de Reyes depending on which part of the country you are in. Even though this recipe doesn’t look exactly like any of the traditional versions I know of (none of them have filling), I do thank KAF for introducing me to yet another, delicious and hearty version –I actually think my non-mexican friends and family might like it better! Also I wanted to share that in modern times bakers to have the option of not baking in the baby figurine: once the bread is ready to be served, you can just insert a plastic one (or several, depending on the size of the rosca) by lifting the bread and pushing the figurine through the bottom. A gracious guest doesn’t look at the bottom of their slice when it is served, they just dig in and hope for a surprise. 🙂

  15. Elisa

    Can you please tell me if it’s absolutely necessary to make the slits on this roscon or can it still be done without the slits/cuts on it? Thank you for your response.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      The slits help to let the steam generated by the filling to escape, minimizing blowouts or hollow sections inside. They also provide a handy way to keep your orange peels fastened. You’re perfectly welcome to leave them out, but your results might not be quite the same as ours. Happy baking! Laurie@KAF

  16. Lisa

    I made this is was delicious!! I added extra lemon/ orange zest and used dried sour cherries . It was amazing and makes a beautiful presentation as well!!


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