The celebration of Twelfth Night or Eve of the Epiphany and Epiphany is one of our oldest celebrations in the church. It is even older than the celebration of Christmas Day!
Twelfth Night or Eve of the Epiphany begins at sundown and is the beginning of the celebration of Epiphany. On this day, we celebrate the long journey that the wise men made and their final arrival to the child Jesus. At the center of Twelfth Night celebrations is the Twelfth Night cake. Depending on the country, it is a simple cake with a dried bean inside. Whoever finds the bean in their piece of cake is crowned king or queen for the night and might also have duties assigned to them at a later celebration!
In England, the Twelfth Night Cake is a fruit cake with a gold paper crown wrapped around the outside.
The French serve their particular King Cake or Galette des Rois all month long. In northern France, they serve a pastry filled with frangipane, fruit, or chocolate. In southern France, they serve a brioche filled with candied fruits.
In Spain and Mexico they eat a cake called Rosca de Reyes. Rosca de Reyes is a sweet bread shaped like a wreath, with candied fruit on top and a figurine of a baby Jesus baked inside. The person who finds the figurine is expected to host a party on Dia de la Candelaria or Candlemas which is celebrated on February 2nd.
In Spanish, "Rosca de Reyes" means “Kings Wreath.” The cake is rich in symbolism and is about the story of Mary and Joseph's flight to Egypt to protect the infant Jesus from the slaughter of the innocents. The shape of the cake symbolizes the crown of King Herod from whom they were trying to hide the infant Jesus. The dried fruit placed on top are jewels in the crown. The figurine or bean in the cake represents baby Jesus in hiding.
Celebrate Twelfth Night and Epiphany by making your own Epiphany Cake. Our favorite is this recipe for Rosca de Reyes. It is delicious! We love the orange zest and sugared oranges on the top! Hide a dried bean inside the cake and let your family or guests know that whoever finds the bean gets to wear a crown and become king or queen for the night. Have them make a royal speech and let them make important decisions for the rest of the night!
Rosca de Reyes
1/2 cup of warm water
1 envelope or 2 ¼ teaspoons of active yeast
4 cups all-purpose flour plus 2 or 3 tablespoons more for dusting
¾ cup of sugar
3 large eggs
3 egg yolks mixed with 4 tablespoons of milk
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons orange water or 1 1/2 tablespoons orange extract
1 ½ stick unsalted butter softened
Freshly grated orange zest from one orange
1 plastic baby doll or a dried bean
Thinly sliced oranges
1/2 cup sugar
Enough water to cover the orange slices
1 egg beaten for glazing the bread
1 tablespoon whole milk or water
White sugar to sprinkle on top of the bread
2 or 3 plastic baby dolls
To make the sugared oranges, thinly slice oranges and then cut them in half. Place in a saucepan with water and sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce to a low boil and cook for 30 minutes. Drain the orange slices on a cookie rack and allow to cool.
To make the bread, put your lukewarm water into a bowl, and sprinkle with yeast. Stir with a fork until yeast has dissolved, then let stand until foamy, 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in ½ cup of the flour, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let stand in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 25 minutes.
In the meantime, mix flour, eggs, egg yolks, sugar, orange extract, orange zest, salt, and butter in a large bowl. Mix until crumbly. Add yeast mixture to the bowl and mix. It will be very sticky but manageable, add flour if needed. Place on a lightly floured surface and start kneading until you have a smooth dough. It will take about 15-20 minutes to get these results or 7 minutes in a stand mixer. DO NOT add too much flour to your working area, the texture should be very soft, sort of wet but manageable. If you add more flour than needed your bread will be dry.
Once your dough is smooth and soft, place in a buttered bowl, and cover with buttered plastic wrap. The dough must be wet and elastic. Let dough stand in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 and ½ hours. If the dough doesn’t double in volume after this time let it rest longer.
After the first resting period. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead a few times, then shape it into a round cushion and make a hole in the middle to shape it into a large ring. Transfer to a greased-rimmed baking sheet, and loosely cover with buttered plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes or more until almost double in volume. Gather all your decorations and the egg wash. For the egg wash whisk the remaining egg with milk or water.
Preheat oven for at least 20 minutes before baking at 375 degrees, with rack in the lower third.
Brush the dough with the egg wash two times for a golden crust. Place the sugared orange slices around the ring, pressing them gently into the dough. Sprinkle with sugar and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for 10 more minutes until bread is a nice golden brown color. Depending on your oven it will require more time.
Transfer the bread to a wire rack to cool. After the bread has cooled insert the plastic baby doll or bean from the bottom of the bread. Do not forget to let your guests know that there is a baby toy or bean inside the bread. The bread can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.