Make Ahead

Christmas King's Cake - Bolo Rei (Portugal)

December 10, 2009
3 Ratings
Author Notes

Christmas is always spent with my family in Portugal, eating traditional Portuguese food and desserts. By the 23rd I’m starting the first of 3 or 4 King’s Cakes. No matter how big I make it, it disappears in 24 hours.
I dedicate this recipe to my father who was my number 1 fan and who would eat my King's Cake for dessert, breakfast, tea and just one more slice before going to bed.
Although we eat it for Christmas and you can even find it in pastry shops all year round, King's Cake was traditionally offered to people on King’s Day (6th of January). Apart from it's ingredients, this cake has a very curious particularity – being an offering, in respect to the Three Wise Men, it has 2 things inside - a small gift wrapped in parchment paper (normally a little metal saint or a coin) and a dry broad bean. The person who gets the slice with the gift keeps it. The person who gets the dry broad been will have to pay for next year's cake. So you can imagine, as a child, how many slices we went through to get to the gift.
Basically, it’s a brioche dough to which you add dried nuts, dried and candied fruit and you shape it as a crown with a hole in the middle. In the past years, a new version has come up without the candied fruits because so many people don't like them. This new version is called Queen's Cake. If making the Queen's Cake, omit all the candied fruit. - Maria Teresa Jorge —Maria Teresa Jorge

Test Kitchen Notes

Candied fruits and nuts are holiday classics that some people love to hate. This large king's cake strikes a nice compromise -- the bread is studded with just the right among of fruit and nuts so you get a little in every bite. The guests who love fruit and nuts will be satisfied but no one will be overwhelmed. Feel free to use only the fruits and nuts you like. The cake itself is an eggy, rich bread with the texture of a very good brioche. Try adding the Port with the milk. I needed some more moisture before my dough began to come together to form a beautiful silky, elastic dough. You also may want to divide the dough into two smaller king's cakes. – Stephanie —The Editors

  • Serves 8
  • 7 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup fine sugar
  • 6 eggs at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups butter at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 3/4 cup
    1/8 cup warm milk (210ml)

  • 1/3 cup Port Wine
  • 2 pinches salt
  • 1/3 cup pinenuts
  • 1/3 cup walnuts cut in pieces
  • 6 perfect walnut halves for decoration
  • 1/3 cup blanched slivered almonds
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 1/3 cup red and green candied cherries cut in quarters
  • 6 red and green cherries (3 + 3) whole with no seed for decoration
  • 1 cup candied fruits cut up in small pieces (pear, apricot, peach, lemon, orange, tangerine or whatever you prefer)
  • 2 half candied pears or other candied fruit you like and cut in strips for decoration
  • 2 candied tangerine or orange cut in quarters for decoaration
  • icing sugar for decoration
  • fruit jelly for decoration
In This Recipe
  1. Warm up the milk to 96ºF .
  2. In a bowl dissolve the yeast with 1/3 of the warm milk until totally dissolved.
  3. Sift the flour and put 1 cup in a bowl. Make a well in the center and add the yeast with the milk, a pinch of sugar and sprinkle some flour on top. Leave for 10 minutes to rise the yeast. If it doesn't rise it's not active and you need to start with fresher yeast.
  4. If the yeast rises continue with your cake. Put the remaining 6 cups of sifted flour in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the flour and yeast from the bowl, the sugar and the remaining milk. Attach the flat beater and mix slowly at first so the flour and milk don't fly everywhere. When all ingredients are combined mix at medium speed to get a stiff dough.
  5. Add the butter at room temperature, a chunk at a time, the Port wine, the salt and the eggs one at a time, beating very well before you add the next one. Mix on medium speed to obtain a smooth and shiny dough. At the beggining the dough is very sticky but as you beat it it starts to hold together like a ball, that unsticks from the sides.
  6. When the dough starts to unattach from the sides of the bowl change the flat beater to a spiral dough hook and beat at medium speed for 15 to 20 minutes. The dough will be very soft, elastic and very very sticky. Worry not!
  7. Sprinkle the top of the dough with a little flour, cover with a clean tea towel and put on top of a wooden board, in a warm and draft-free place. Allow to rise for 1 1/2 hours or until doubled. Wash the dough hook and reattach it to the stand mixer for the next step.
  8. Put the bowl back in the stand mixer with the spital dough hook attached and deflate the dough. Add all the nuts and candied fruit and mix to divide these evenly in the dough.
  9. Take a 2 1/2 diameter cookie cutter and wrap it with a 5 inch wide strip of parchment paper all around. Tuck a bit of the parchment paper under and inside the cookie cutter so it doesn't open. Butter and dust the outside of the parchment paper.
  10. Transfer the dough with the ingredients onto a lightly floured counter top, Dust your habds with flour and shape the dough into a long log. It's a sticky dough so just be patient, it's worth while!
  11. Line a big square or round baking tray with parchment paper. Transfer the dough and make it into a circle leaving a wide hole in the middle and attach the ends of the log (the dough is sticky so it will stick together very easily). Put the lined cookie cutter in the middle of the circle so the cake doesn't close in the center as it cooks.
  12. Cover the cake with a clean tea towel and allow to rise on a wooden board in a warm and draft-free place for 1 hour or until double in size.
  13. Pre-heat the oven to 275º F with rack in the middle.
  14. Decorate the cake with the halved walnuts, the cherries and the strips of candied pear and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the cookie cutter from the center and continue baking another 10 to 15 minutes until golden brown and it sounds hollow when you tap on it.
  15. Put the cake on a cooling rack, spread the fruit jelly with a brush while still warm to give it a shiny finish. Allow to cool completely and dust with icing sugar.
  16. For the Queen's Cake version, the procedure is exactly the same, you only omit the candied fruit.

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