Rosca de Reyes (Three Kings’ Cake)

Rosca de Reyes (Three Kings’ Cake)

The celebration of the Epiphany, known as El Día de los Tres Reyes Magos in Spanish-speaking countries, takes place on January 6. This feast day commemorates the presentation of the baby Jesus to the Three Wise Men or Magi, who traveled from afar to worship him and bring him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gift-giving now forms a central part of the festivities on El Día de los Tres Reyes Magos.

The Argentine celebration of Reyes, as most here refer to the holiday, is tied to traditions that originated in Spain. Argentine children write letters to the Three Kings – just as children in the United States write to Santa – asking them for gifts. Then, on the night of January 5, the little ones place their shoes in the window of their bedroom or by the door to the house. They also leave water and grass nearby for the Wise Men’s camels. The next morning, the children awaken to find that the Reyes Magos have left them a gift on top of their shoes. Reyes also marks the end of the holiday season, and most families take down the Christmas tree and other decorations on this day.

The food most traditionally associated with this special day is the rosca de reyes, which begins to crop up in neighborhood bakeries just after New Year’s. A sweetened yeast bread formed into the shape of a ring, the rosca de reyes symbolizes both the crowns of the Three Kings and God’s unending love. In Spain and Mexico, bakers slip a bean or a small figure of the baby Jesus into the rosca de reyes (also called roscón de reyes in Spain); however, this custom is not observed in Argentina. The Argentine version of the rosca is usually topped with pastry cream, candied cherries and pearl sugar, and it’s not usually as large as the Mexican or Spanish versions.

Rosca de Reyes (Three Kings’ Cake)

Yields 2 medium-sized bread rings





1/4 cup bread flour

1 Tbsp. honey

2 tsp. instant yeast

1/3 cup warm milk



3 1/2 cups bread flour plus up to 1/2 cup bench flour

1/2 cup sugar

2 1/2 tsp. instant yeast

1/3 cup warm milk

1 Tbsp. lemon zest

1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

1 Tbsp. malt extract [optional]

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 stick butter, softened


Pastry Cream

2 cups milk

1 whole egg

3 egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp. vanilla extract



1 beaten egg

red candied cherries

pearl sugar

For the glaze: [optional]

1 Tbsp. apricot jelly

1 Tbsp. sugar

1 Tbsp. water



To make the sponge, in a medium bowl, dissolve the honey in the warm milk, and then add the yeast and flour, stirring to create a paste. Leave the mixture, covered with plastic wrap, to rise and bubble for 2 hours.


For the dough, sift together the flour and sugar into a large mixing bowl, then make a well in the center. Dissolve the yeast in the milk. Add the lemon zest, vanilla extract, malt extract, eggs, butter and the sponge to the well. Slowly add the milk and yeast mixture to the well while incorporating the flour and sugar into the wet ingredients with a wooden spoon. Once the dough comes together into a ball, turn it out onto a lightly-floured work surface and knead by hand (the dough will be sticky). Use up to 1/2 cup of additional bench flour to knead the dough until it’s smooth and elastic and no longer sticks to your hands, about 10 minutes. Divide dough and shape into two balls. Place each ball of dough in a lightly-greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow dough to rise in a warm place, until it doubles in volume.


While the dough is rising, make the pastry cream. Scald the milk in a heavy saucepan (milk should foam but not boil). In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the whole egg along with the egg yolks, sugar and flour until smooth. Slowly incorporate the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly to avoid curdling the eggs. Return the mixture to the saucepan, and whisking constantly, cook over medium heat until it just comes to a boil and thickens. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Transfer the pastry cream to a clean bowl (pass it through a fine-mesh strainer if you spot small pieces of curdled egg), and cool the pastry cream to room temperature.


Punch down the dough and form it into a ball. Place the dough ball on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat, and make a hole in the center of the ball with your fingers. Carefully stretch and shape the dough into a ring. Insert a lightly crumpled ball of aluminum foil or an empty tin can in the hole. Repeat the procedure for the other ball of dough. Allow the dough to rise in a warm place for about one hour or until doubled in volume.


Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Using a pastry bag with a star tip, decorate the rings with pastry cream. Brush the rings with beaten egg, avoiding areas with pastry cream. Place the candied cherries on top and sprinkle with pearl sugar.


Bake the rings for about 30 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.


Optional step: While the roscas cool, prepare the apricot glaze. Make as much glaze as you like, respecting the ratio between the 3 ingredients. Bring the apricot jelly, sugar and water to a low boil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring often. Let the glaze reduce until it has thickened slightly, about 2 minutes. Lightly brush the roscas with glaze to enhance their appearance and give them shine.


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