The Kings bread, or Rosca de Reyes, is a traditional Mexican and Spanish sweet bread that is baked and eaten around January 6th, the date that marks the Three Kings Day – or the Epiphany. This holiday represents the day that the three wise men visited the baby Jesus with gifts. The Kings bread plays an important role in celebrations on this date.
When is the Kings bread eaten?
The Kings bread is eaten on January 6th every year, which is Three Kings Day or Epiphany. This date marks the visit of the three wise men or magi to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. In Mexico, Día de los Reyes, which means Day of the Kings, is a public holiday.
The night before on January 5th, children will leave their shoes out and fill them with straw for the wise men’s camels. In the morning on January 6th, the children wake up to find presents left by the wise men.
The Kings bread is then eaten on this day to celebrate the joyous occasion. Family and friends will gather together to eat this special bread and drink hot chocolate or atole.
What is the history behind Kings bread?
The tradition of the Kings bread originated in Spain. The Rosca de Reyes developed from the French Couronne de Rois, or Kings Crown – a cake baked in a ring shape to portray a crown. When Spain colonized Mexico, the Kings bread tradition spread to Mexico as well.
There are a few theories as to why the bread is baked in a circular shape:
- The circle represents the crown that the three kings wore.
- It is meant to portray the shape of a kings crown.
- The circular shape symbolizes eternity and unites the beginning to the end.
The tradition of placing a small figurine of baby Jesus into the bread is said to have started in the 16th century. Whoever found the figurine in their slice was meant to host a party on Candlemas, which takes place on February 2nd.
What are the ingredients and preparation?
The Kings bread is a sweet yeasted dough that contains candied fruit. Typical fruits used are dried figs, quince, cherries or cranberries. The candying of the fruit before adding to the dough acts as a preservative to extend the bread’s shelf life.
Here are the common ingredients used to make the Rosca de Reyes:
- All-purpose flour
- Granulated sugar
- Unsalted butter
- Dry yeast
- Vanilla extract
- Candied fruit
The dough is kneaded until smooth and elastic. Portions of dough are rolled into strands and then braided around the outside of a ring mold to create the circular shape. Candied fruit is kneaded throughout parts of the dough. A small plastic baby Jesus figurine is hidden in the bread before baking.
The Kings bread bakes for approximately 30 minutes until the bread is a deep golden brown. Bakers will glaze the bread with a concha glaze made from sugar, milk, and vanilla extract. The bread is decorated with colorful candied fruits on top.
What does the Kings bread symbolize?
The Kings bread is symbolic in many ways in Mexican culture:
- The circular shape represents unity, eternity, and the crown of the three wise men.
- The candied fruits represent the gifts and jewels brought by the magi.
- The plastic baby Jesus hidden inside represents the Christ child himself.
- Eating the bread signifies receiving the gifts of the Christ child just as the wise men did.
- Sharing the bread with family shows love and celebration of the holiday.
Traditions and customs involving Kings bread
There are many traditions and customs in Mexico involving the Kings bread on Three Kings Day:
- Baking: Families bake the Rosca de Reyes together. Godparents are often tasked with baking and gifting the bread.
- Sharing: The Kings bread is shared among family, friends, and neighbors to spread the joy of Three Kings Day.
- Jesus figurine: A baby Jesus figurine is baked into the bread. Whoever finds the figurine hosts a party.
- Slices: The bread is cut into individual slices and served with hot chocolate or atole (a warm corn-based drink).
- Gifts: Children receive gifts on the morning of January 6th left by the three wise men.
There are also some fun games and traditions involving the Kings bread:
- Trying to get the end piece of bread called la mordida which brings good luck.
- Whoever gets the slice with baby Jesus hosts a party or buys tamales and atole on Candlemas.
- Placing three slices of bread under your pillow to dream of your future wife or husband.
- Naming godparents during the cutting and eating of the bread.
Where can you find Kings bread in Mexico?
During the holiday season from December-January, the Rosca de Reyes can be found in many places throughout Mexico:
- Bakeries: Mexican bakeries have the Kings bread for sale in a variety of sizes.
- Supermarkets: Grocery stores like Walmart or Soriana sell fresh and packaged Kings bread.
- Street vendors: Temporary stands sell slices of Kings bread with hot chocolate and champurrado.
- Restaurants: Some Mexican restaurants bake the bread and include it in their Three Kings Day meals.
- Homemade: Many families bake the Rosca de Reyes from scratch at home.
In some places, like Mexico City, Oaxaca, or Guanajuato, you’ll find specialty Kings bread bakeries. Many Mexicans order the bread from local bakeries or buy from street vendors.
What are some key vocabulary terms about Kings bread?
Here are some key Spanish terms to know when talking about or buying the Rosca de Reyes in Mexico:
|Rosca de Reyes||Kings bread|
|Día de Reyes||Three Kings Day|
|frutas garapiñadas or escarchadas||candied fruit|
|niño Jesús||baby Jesus figurine|
|pedacería||baby Jesus figurine|
|la mordida||lucky end piece|
What are some variations of Kings bread?
There are many different varieties and flavors of the Rosca de Reyes bread found throughout Mexico:
- Plain: The simplest version contains just dough, candied fruit, and the Jesus figurine.
- Fruity: Variations with strawberries, pineapple, lemon, or orange zest.
- Creamed: Filled with creams like vanilla, chocolate, or coconut.
- Spiral: A snail-shaped spiral with candied fruits sprinkled on top.
- Ovate: Shaped like an oval wreath and braided.
- Monkey bread: Individual pieces of dough rolled into balls then baked together.
- Mini: Tiny individual ring-shaped breads with candied fruit on top.
Some regions in Mexico have their own unique styles. In Oaxaca, the bread is shaped like a braid. In Michoacán, it’s made with pine nuts and figs. The sky’s the limit when it comes to Kings bread flavors!
What are some interesting facts about Kings bread?
- Mexico’s largest Rosca de Reyes was over 65 feet long and weighed nearly 3000 pounds.
- January 6th is the day that Mexicans exchange Christmas gifts rather than December 25th.
- Mexico City consumes around 90 million pounds of Kings bread from December to January.
- Hiding three baby Jesus figurines in the bread is said to represent the Holy Trinity.
- Kings bread appears in traditional Mexican Christmas songs like Los Peces En el Rio.
- Large bakeries can make up to 15,000 Kings breads over the holidays.
- Special fillings like cream, guava, pineapple, pumpkin, and chocolate are used.
- Prices range from 50 pesos to over 1000 pesos for extravagant designs.
- Having the baby Jesus and getting the mordida brings a year of good luck!
What are some popular places to find excellent Kings bread?
Here are some highly recommended bakeries for fresh, delicious Rosca de Reyes in Mexico:
- El Globo: Famous Mexico City bakery known for classic and gourmet Kings breads.
- Panaderia Rosetta: Beloved neighborhood bakery in Mexico City with perfectly glazed Rosca.
- La Imperial: Historic Oaxaca bakery serving traditional braided oval Kings bread.
- Marquez Bakery: Top spot in Mazatlán famous for its chocolate-filled Kings bread.
- Concha Bakery: Specialty shop in Guadalajara making mini Reyes breads with intricate designs.
- La Primavera: Iconic churreria in Puebla offering excellent classic Rosca de Reyes.
Trying Kings bread from famous local bakeries is a delicious way to experience authentic Mexican culture and Three Kings Day traditions.
How can you enjoy Kings bread if you can’t travel to Mexico?
There are a few ways you can still enjoy tasty Kings bread without traveling to Mexico:
- Check Hispanic bakeries or panaderias in your area that may bake them.
- Order one online from bread bakeries located in Mexico or the US.
- Bake your own using traditional ingredients and candied fruit.
- Substitute fruits like dried cranberries and apricots when candied fruit can’t be found.
- Shape dough into a wreath on a baking sheet instead of using a ring mold.
- Hide a dried bean or coin in place of the Jesus figurine for fun.
- Enjoy Kings bread at a Mexican restaurant celebrating Three Kings Day.
With some substitutions and creativity, you can recreate this iconic Día de Reyes bread and celebrate Mexican traditions.
The Rosca de Reyes or Kings bread plays a significant role in the Three Kings Day celebrations held throughout Mexico every January 6th. This ring-shaped sweet bread holds many meanings and traditions from the candied fruit representing gifts to finding the baby Jesus figurine symbolizing receiving the joy of Christ. Enjoying this holiday bread with loved ones shows the importance of sharing this occasion together. Hunting down the best Kings bread from famous local bakeries and savoring the flavors makes for a festive way to honor Mexican heritage and connect over food.