The Magi Kings Day - or Epiphany - is here!

Queen Cake or Bolo Rainha

Not all Catholics venerate the Magi Kings Melchior, Gaspar, and Baltazar DayKings Day is celebrated on 6 January, today is the day! (Los Reyes Magos traditionally bring gifts for Spanish children on the night on January 5, not Santa Claus or Baby Jesus.)The tradition dates back to the 8th century. Today is the day we remove the Christmas decorations in our houses and on the streets Christmas lights and music are turned off. The Christmas trees are dismantled as well. ( I have a small one up all year!)  It's a working day and pupils are already attending school but at dinner or at night people will gather to eat a slice of King cake and drink some Port wine. Ok, it's an excellent excuse to gather again around the table and eat some more! In some regions, groups of grownups and children go door to door to sing typical carols called Janeiras (January songs). The Janeiras are popular Christmas-themed songs or Christian traditions. Back in the old days, the residents would let the singers in, mostly in villages and towns. They would receive something in the form of thanks. Today, mostly in places where people don't know each other very well, the singers stay outside, yet being offered wine, and sweets, among other delicacies.

Since the beginning of December, the most traditional sweets of the Christmas season begins to appear in the windows of pastry shops: it´s the bolo-rei. There are links to pre-Christian times when a cake was used in Roman rituals to please the god Saturn. With Christianization, the bolo-rei was then associated with the three Magi kings, signifying their offerings to Jesus: the crust represents gold, the aroma, represents the incense, and the fruits, the myrrh.

Candied fruits and dried fruits make up the original recipe but are currently excluded from many new cake proposals. In the last few years, several pastry shops all over the country have been creating new products from traditional recipes. There are now proposals for all tastes. You will find chocolate king cake, king cake with icing, or king cake with chocolate and hazelnut cream filling. Vegan options are also on the table. 

As I wrote before, the recipe for bolo-rei was brought by pastry chef Grégoire, recruited in Toulouse in 1875 by the boss of Confeitaria Nacional, an emblematic pastry shop located in Lisbon, close to Praça do Rossio. The price for this cake in this establishment can reach 48.00€/kg. The prices will vary a lot. Low prices will usually mean that the cake is not handmade. The national association of bread and pastry producers annually awards a prize to the best bolo-rei in the country. The 9th edition of O Melhor Bolo-Rei de Portugal, organized by the Association of Commerce and Bakery Industry (ACIP), picked the best cake months before Christmas. Padaria da Né, in Damaia, was the big winner of the contest to highlight The best king cake in Portugal. Pastelaria Visconde (in Coimbra) has the best Bolo-rainha, and Brisanorte (in Leiria) has the best Christmas braid. ( I never tasted this last one.)


Bolo Rainha has become as popular as the original recipe. It's an excellent alternative for those who do not like candied fruit. Bolo Rainha is made and decorated with dry fruits only (raisins, walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts) and is not covered with candied fruit.

Today is the Magi Kings Day and I usually have Bolo Rei at home on this date. This year I also bought a Bolo Rainha as my nephew doesn't like candied fruit. I didn't buy my cakes at the bakery.  I know, it's a sin, but I bought both from a supermarket chain. I had the opportunity to try different cakes and came to the conclusion of my favorite in this segment. I buy it because it's tradition but also because I like cakes with candied fruit. In the supermarket, the price is more affordable but the cake bought is no longer the cake I remember from my childhood. Mass production in big brands and large supermarkets is different from the way cakes used to be made in bakeries and small pastry shops. The handmade bolo rei uses ingredients that are expensive and also take a long time to make as the dough has to be left to rise and a lot has to be prepared to give it the right flavor. It does not contain dyes, unnatural aromas, or preservatives to last longer on shelves. The dough should be either pale yellow or brownish from Port wine. It is often very yellow and even smells like yeast. I've made the traditional recipe, at home, and it's nothing like the cakes I bought. This is a clear sign that the traditional recipe of Bolo Rei is being lost. This cake can be eaten still warm, when it comes out of the oven, cold, and then, after a few days, it is also very good if toasted with butter on top! Calories, oh calories!  

Yes, I know. Dieting commences tomorrow, January 7th. Have a great year!


For Christmas, Portuguese-inspired gifts visit the store A Portuguese Love!


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