The celebration of the Christian Epiphany, known as El Dia de Los Tres Reyes Magos in Spanish-speaking countries, takes place on January 6th and marks an exciting end to the Christmas season for children in Argentina. 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.
The Argentine traditions of this holiday of El Dia de Los Reyes originate in Spain. Children write a letter to Los Tres Reyes Magos (aka, the Three Wise Men) with their list of wishes and then leave their shoes under the Christmas Tree or by the door or window on the Night of Kings (Noche de Reyes, January 5). They also put out some water and grass for the three kings’ camels before they go to bed. The next morning, the children awaken to find that the Reyes Magos have left them a gift on top of their shoes. The Dia de Los Reyes also marks the end of the holiday season when most families take down their Christmas trees and decorations.
The food most associated with the Dia de Los Reyes in Argentina is Rosca de Reyes, a ring-shaped ‘Epiphany cake’ that is often topped with custard cream, eggs, candied fruit and sugar. It can be found in bakeries across Argentina and on tables in every home during these holidays.
Rosca de Reyes Receta (Recipe)
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
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
For the glaze: [optional]
1 Tbsp. apricot jelly
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. water
HOW TO MAKE IT
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.
Share your favorite Rosca or other holiday cake recipe below.
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