The name says it all. “King cake” or, in Portuguese, “Bolo Rei” is a traditional Portuguese treat that you can find a bit everywhere from early December until early January.
According to the tradition, “King cake” should be eaten on Christmas and on January 6th, Kings’ Day, in a reference to the Three Wise Men.
This cake is made of a soft white dough, with various nuts, such as almonds, hazels or pinions, may include raisins and its signature ingredient is colorful crystallised fruit on top, making it seem almost like a crown covered with bright jewels.
Its recipe dates back to the 17th century, during the reign of French monarch Louis XIV, was brought from France in the early 19th century and was introduced in Portugal by a pastry chef that used to work for Confeitaria Nacional, in Lisbon, that still makes this delicious cake and keeps being one of the most famous “King Cakes”.
The “King Cake” was such a success that soon enough pastry chefs from all over the country started making it and became a national tradition.
The cake went through a lot all over the centuries. During early republic days it was forbidden because of its name and was even called “President’s Cake”.
Until the mid 90’s it used have a fava bean, mixed with the dough, and a small tin toy, called “the prize”. Whoever got the fava bean should pay the following cake. However, both the bean and the toy were forbidden due to safety reasons.
Recently, the original recipe was reinvented and it is now possible to find some tasty alternatives, such as the Queen Cake (made with the same dough but only with nuts, no crystallised fruits), the Chocolate King Cake (instead of nuts and fruits, it has chocolate mixed in the dough) and the Broken King Cake (it has no crystallised fruits and it is irregularly shaped).
Nevertheless, no matter what the ingredients are, or what shape it is, the “King Cake” managed to maintain its essence and it is mandatory to have a piece of it during Kings’ Day.
And we are gonna fill you in on a little secret: “King Cake” is delicious when freshly made but it can be even yummier if it is a couple days old, and if you toast it before having a bite. Bon appétit!