Make Ahead

Christmas King's Cake - Bolo Rei (Portugal)

December 10, 2009
3 Ratings
  • Cook time 3 hours
  • Serves 8
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

What You'll Need
  • 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
  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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Ariana Pazzini
    Ariana Pazzini
  • Maria Teresa Jorge
    Maria Teresa Jorge
  • Sagegreen
  • matthewddsg
  • Candyland Queens
    Candyland Queens

16 Reviews

Ariana P. October 4, 2016
Maria T. December 4, 2011
My most sincere apologies. It was all my fault. You see, in Europe we use grams and when converting to teaspoons I have to go through a intricate procedure. It so happens that I put 2 1/2 teaspoons of dry yeast instead of 1 1/2 teaspoon.
I have corrected the recipe and I have taken out the fresh yeast because this will cause even more problems.
I hope you forgive me and that you try the cake once more.
Just a quick word - sometimes the dough becomes softer because the eggs are bigger or you live in a more humid town. Keep an eye on the dough on the addition of the 5th egg. After beating see if you think that it's shiny and soft. Maybe 5 are enough.
Do keep me posted and hopefully I love Lucy doesn't happen again.
All good thoughts,
Maria Teresa
a2squaredfl December 4, 2011
I just tried making this gorgeous recipe and am not sure what went wrong. Remember the I Love Lucy episode where she used too much yeast when baking bread? That's what happened to me! The dough spread out so much, it overflowed the baking sheet! Now it looks more like a pizza than a bread or a cake. Wha' happened?
Sagegreen December 9, 2010
Lovely recipe. Congrats on the ep, too!
Maria T. December 12, 2010
Thanks Sagegreen.
matthewddsg November 25, 2010
This cake sounds delicious but i'm allergic to most of the nuts. How vital are the walnuts and almonds to the recipe?
Maria T. December 12, 2010
The cake should have all the nuts but you can totally ommit the nuts if you are intolerant. Are you also intolerant to pinenuts? Maybe you can use these if it's ok with you. But you can make the cake with whatever you want, the most important thing is that you enjoy the cake but not get sick right?!
Good luck.
kmm May 28, 2010
I just helped my daughter make this for a school project on Portugal. I don't have the fancy mixers but my normal mixer and hands worked just fine for the mixing. I left out some nuts that weren't my favorites and substituted marischino cherries for the candied ones (I don't like the taste of candied fruit) also substituted canned fruits in heavy syrup (drained) and dates instead of the other candied fruits. This was actually easier to make than it sounds and was absolutely delicious!!! I'm happy to say she got an A+ on the project! Thank you so much for sharing your amazing family recipe!
Maria T. December 4, 2011
kmm, I'm so sorry I missed your post. I'm so happy about your amazing success and congratulations.
I hope you can repeat the cake this year.
All good thoughts,
Maria Teresa
Maria T. December 23, 2009
There is no difference in taste between fresh or dry yeast. I have made this cake with dry yeast when I can't get the the fresh one, wether in Portugal, or Italy or anywhere else.

Fresh Yeast is easily substituted for dry yeast and in the recipe you have the equivalency.

Equivalencies for general purposes:

1 cake fresh yeast = 0.06 oz

1 cake fresh yeast = 2 1/4 teaspoons package dry yeast

1 (1/4 oz) package dry active yeast = 2 1/4 teaspoons = 1 (.06 oz) cake compressed fresh yeast
Candyland Q. December 23, 2009
Obrigada Maria! Thanks! I will give it a try for New Year Eve.
Maria T. December 22, 2009
Tell me how it came out. If you like brioche kind of dough you can use the recipe to make a loaf. Play around with the candied fruit and nuts and use the ones you like best.
Candyland Q. December 22, 2009
I am having trouble finding the cake fresh bread yeast. Where do you get it (and I understand that you now live in Tuscany, so it may be different)? Thanks :)
Candyland Q. December 22, 2009
Thanks for sharing this recipe. We are definitely trying it.
Maria T. December 11, 2009
Dear Internet Cooking princess, how can you doubt of your cooking skills. Just follow the instructions, think positive and do it! If the first time it comes out good, the next will even be better. But you have to do it because you can! Otherwise why would you be a Princess.
theicp December 11, 2009
I LOVE King's Cake...although I'm pretty sure my cooking skills aren't capable of something this fancy! I still love admiring your recipes though.