What is a Rosca de Reyes?
A Rosca de Reyes is a traditional sweet bread that is baked and eaten in Mexico and other Latin American countries on Three Kings Day, which is celebrated on January 6th every year. It gets its name from the Spanish word “rosca” meaning ring-shaped bread or wreath, and “Reyes” meaning Kings.
The Rosca de Reyes bread is oval or circular in shape and is decorated with candied fruits to symbolize the jewels in a king’s crown. It is baked with a small plastic baby Jesus figurine hidden inside the dough, which represents baby Jesus. Tradition has it that whoever gets the baby Jesus figurine in their slice of Rosca must host a party on Candlemas, which falls on February 2nd.
Origins and history of the Rosca de Reyes tradition
The tradition of the Rosca de Reyes originated in Europe centuries ago, but it became an important tradition in Mexico and other Latin American countries when the Spanish brought it over.
In Spain, the Kings’ cake was traditionally eaten on January 6th which is the Epiphany, the day the three wise men visited baby Jesus. When Mexico became colonized by the Spanish, they brought this Three Kings Day celebration with them including the Kings’ cake which later became known as the Rosca de Reyes.
Over the centuries, Mexico developed its own unique version and traditions around the Rosca de Reyes. The bread gets its distinctive flavor from Mexican ingredients like cinnamon and dried fruits. The plastic baby Jesus figurine was also introduced by bakers in Mexico as a way to choose who hosts the next celebration.
When is the Rosca de Reyes eaten?
The Rosca de Reyes is specifically eaten on Three Kings Day, which falls on January 6th every year. However, in Mexico the celebrations start on January 5th and last until January 6th.
On the evening of January 5th, families gather together for a meal followed by opening presents that are left by the three wise men. The next day on January 6th, families and friends get together again to share slices of the Rosca de Reyes bread.
So the Rosca is eaten on both January 5th and 6th as part of the festivities. Other foods like tamales and atole (a hot corn-based beverage) are also commonly eaten during this holiday.
Where can you buy Rosca de Reyes in Mexico?
During the holiday season, Rosca de Reyes can be found at most bakeries, grocery stores, and markets across Mexico. Specialty bakeries will have elaborately decorated Rosca breads for order. Many Mexican families also bake the Rosca de Reyes at home themselves following treasured family recipes passed down through generations.
In the weeks leading up to Three Kings Day, you’ll see Rosca de Reyes for sale everywhere from small neighborhood bakeries to big grocery store chains. You can find both simple and ornate versions to choose from.
Many people order their Rosca from their local bakery ahead of time to make sure they secure one for the holiday. The Rosca breads are displayed in bakery windows for customers to admire and choose their favorite to purchase.
Traditions and customs around the Rosca de Reyes
There are some long-standing traditions and customs that surround the eating of the Rosca de Reyes in Mexico:
- Gathering together with family and friends on the evening of January 5th and again on January 6th to share the Rosca.
- Whoever gets the plastic baby Jesus in their slice must host a party on Candlemas which is February 2nd. This is called “being king/queen for the day” or haber tocado niño.
- Before eating the Rosca, it is cut into slices and served to guests to see who got the figurine. In some families, the figurine is left in the kitchen to prevent cheating.
- The person who gets the baby Jesus places it in a manger or nativity scene. It stays there until Candlemas.
- Traditionally Mexicans will gather together on Candlemas at the home of the person who found the figurine to eat tamales and atole.
- Godparents typically buy the Rosca for their godchildren for the Three Kings Day celebrations.
These traditions bring family and friends together to celebrate during the holiday season and keep Mexico’s customs around the Rosca de Reyes alive.
Significance of the shapes and decorations
The ringing shape of the Rosca represents the crown of a king. The circular form has no beginning or end which symbolizes the eternity of God.
The dried fruits that decorate the bread represent the jewels that would adorn a crown. The candied fruit used includes figs, quinces, cherries, pineapple, or raisins. They provide a sweet contrast to the bread dough.
The tiny plastic baby Jesus figurine hidden inside the Rosca symbolizes baby Jesus himself. Whoever finds the figurine in their slice is responsible for taking it to the church for the priest to bless.
Regional variations of Rosca de Reyes in Mexico
While the basic Rosca de Reyes recipe remains consistent across Mexico, each region has put its own spin on the bread:
In Oaxaca, the Rosca dough is decorated with fruits like figs and quinces that grow in the region. The bread has a smoother, rounded shape.
Michoacán Rosca de Reyes is made with dried Guava and Marzipan to create a flavorful bread. It has intricate designs on top.
Rosca from Jalisco has a subtle flavor with a hint of anise. The bread is topped with nuts and sprinkles.
The Rosca from Veracruz has both fresh and crystallized fruits. The fruits are grown locally like mango, guava, tangerines, papaya, and coconut.
In Mexico City, the Rosca is topped with colorful candied fruits. Many times, small dolls are added to represent different characters.
|Oaxaca||Smooth rounded shape, fig and quince fruits|
|Michoacán||Intricate designs, dried guava and marzipan|
|Jalisco||Subtle anise flavor, nuts and sprinkles|
|Veracruz||Fresh and crystallized tropical fruits|
|Mexico City||Candied fruits, small dolls on top|
Popular places to buy Rosca de Reyes in Mexico
Here are some of the best bakeries throughout Mexico that are famous for their unique Rosca de Reyes breads:
El Globo – With locations across Mexico City, they have been baking Rosca for over 100 years using ancient techniques. Their signature Rosca is crunchy outside and soft inside.
La Vasconia – This bakery in Mexico City has become the official Rosca de Reyes baker to the President of Mexico since 1940. Their recipe uses pineapple, fig, and dates.
Panaderia Ideal – Located in Puebla, they bake one of the most traditional Rosca recipes that’s been passed down generationally since 1872.
Don Colocho – This classic bakery in Celaya has baked Rosca with homemade candied citrus peels for over 60 years, using a secret family recipe.
La Imperial – This Mazatlan bakery decorates their Rosca with tropical fruits plus candied egg yolk, pecans, and pumpkin seeds.
El Globo, La Vasconia, Panaderia Ideal, Don Colocho, and La Imperial are famous for their special Rosca recipes that have origins spanning back generations. They help carry on Mexico’s long-standing Rosca de Reyes traditions.
What are common Rosca de Reyes fillings?
The classic Rosca de Reyes bread has a subtle sweet flavor that comes from the dough itself. But some versions have fillings inside that add texture and more flavor. Common fillings include:
- Cream – Vanilla or cinnamon cream fillings help keep the bread moist and gives it more richness.
- Cajeta – A caramel spread made from sweetened cooked milk that has a distinctive caramel flavor.
- Chocolate – Either a dark chocolate or hazelnut chocolate cream lends more decadence.
- Fruit preserves – Fillings made from strawberry, pineapple, guava, or other tropical fruit preserves.
- Coconut – Shredded coconut cooked into a sweet filling provides texture.
These fillings complement the subtle bread dough and candied fruit flavors. They add another element to the enjoyment of biting into a slice of Rosca.
What are common drinks paired with Rosca de Reyes?
Mexicans enjoy Rosca de Reyes alongside some traditional drink pairings:
- Hot chocolate – Thick Mexican hot chocolate provides the perfect balance to the sweet bread.
- Atole – This warm corn-based beverage often flavored with fruit or chocolate is a classic partner.
- Champurrado – Similar to atole but thicker, champurrado has a chocolate flavor that matches the Rosca.
- Mexican coffee – Served black or with milk, coffee helps cut the sweetness.
- Ponche – Ponche is a warm spiced fruit punch commonly served at Rosca celebrations.
Beverages like hot chocolate, atole, and champurrado underscore the cinnamon, fruit, and sweet flavors of the Rosca. Coffee drinkers can still enjoy the bread and Mexican coffee balances out the sugar.
How to bake your own Rosca de Reyes
Making your own Rosca de Reyes is very rewarding but does take some time and skill. Here are some tips:
- Use a enriched bread dough recipe that contains eggs and butter or milk to keep it moist.
- Knead the dough very well until smooth and elastic. Let it rise twice to develop the gluten.
- Shape into a wreath form and decorate with dried fruits, candied citrus peels, nuts, or sprinkles.
- Proof the shaped Rosca until doubled in size before baking so it retains its shape.
- Bake at 350°F for 25-30 minutes until deep golden brown. Check for doneness.
- Hide a plastic baby Jesus figurine deep in the dough before shaping and baking.
Baking the Rosca can take most of the day but will fill your home with tempting aromas. Take your time to create a beautiful and delicious masterpiece.
Where to find the best Rosca de Reyes in Mexico City
Mexico City as the capital and largest city has some of the country’s finest Rosca de Reyes available from specialty bakeries. Here are some recommendations:
El Globo – With multiple locations, they have perfected the classic Rosca recipe for over 100 years. It has a signature crunchy outside and soft moist interior.
Rosetta – This elegant Mexico City bakery uses old-fashioned techniques but modern gourmet combinations like chestnut cream or fig-rosemary filling.
Panificación Francesa – Their Rosca is made with a traditional French brioche dough that has a rich eggy flavor and pillowy texture.
De la Rosa – Favored by locals, they bake Rosca in the traditional wreath shape or smaller “tortitas” covered in sugar.
Fournier – A French bakery serving Rosca made with imported European candied oranges, cherries, and figs.
L’eclair de génie – This bakery puts a unique modern twist on Rosca by shaping it like an eclair and filling it with “reyes” cream.
These Mexico City bakeries offer a wide range of takes on the Rosca de Reyes so you can find the perfect one for your Three Kings Day celebrations.
The Rosca de Reyes is a cherished tradition in Mexico during the Three Kings Day festivities. The symbolic bread brings families together to celebrate, honor history, and enjoy the special holiday flavors. Mexicans take pride in making and sharing this special bread that forms part of their heritage. Though recipes vary by region, the meaning behind Rosca de Reyes remains consistent. For Mexicans, this ancient kings’ cake represents community, faith, and remembrance of timeless rituals.