Bolo Rei: Portugal’s Most Beloved Christmas Pastry

Christmas in Portugal is synonymous with Bolo Rei, or King’s Cake. The cakes are baked in the shape of a round crown, with jewels made from colorful chunks of dried fruits. They symbolize the gifts of the Three Wise Kings to the baby Jesus.

It is said that when the Wise Kings saw the Star of Bethlehem, they argued about which of them would get to present the gifts to Jesus. To end the dispute, the village baker cooked a cake with a fava bean hidden in it and then divided the cake into three pieces. The king who ate the piece with the bean won.

Today, children all over Portugal wait to see if they have the piece of cake with the bean, which is said to bring good luck and prosperity. The winner is also responsible for making the cake for family and friends the following year.

Here is my favorite recipe for Bolo Rei. Please feel free to post your favorite holiday recipes for our community to share.

May your days be merry and bright,

Catherine

Bolo Rei

3 cups flour, 1 ounce baker’s yeast, 3/4 cups of butter

3/4 cup sugar, 6 ounces assorted crystallized fruit

6 ounces assorted dried fruit, 4 eggs, grated rind of 1 lemon

Grated rind of 1 orange, 1/2 cup Port wine, 1 teaspoon salt

A handful of pine nuts and walnuts

1 fava bean

Chop most of the dried and crystallized fruit and soak in Port wine. Put the rest (unchopped) aside for decorating. Dissolve the baker’s yeast in a small amount of warm water and add 1 cup of the flour. Allow the mixture to rise for 15 minutes. In the meantime, beat the sugar, butter, and lemon and orange rind together and then add the eggs one at a time to the mixture. Add the flour and baker’s yeast mixture. Mix well and then add the rest of the flour and salt. Knead until mixture feels elastic. Add the fruit pieces. Shape the kneaded mixture into a ball and powder it with flour. Cover with a kitchen towel and allow to rise for 5 hours. After the mixture doubles in volume, place on a baking tray and put a hole in the middle. Hide the fava bean in the dough and allow it to rise one more hour. Before it goes in the oven, paint the cake with a beaten egg yolk; decorate the top with whole pieces of dried fruit, pine nuts, and walnuts. Bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees until golden brown. Remove from the oven and paint again with a small amount of gelatin diluted in hot water.

4 Responses to “Bolo Rei: Portugal’s Most Beloved Christmas Pastry”


  1. 1 Kathleen Grieser December 28, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    Would you consider making the boys romper in the Christmas plaid? And maybe even a skirt or a kilt for mom in the same plaid? It would make a lovely Christmas photo? Please let me know…

    • 2 papodanjo December 30, 2009 at 4:58 pm

      Bergdorf Goodman in New York City stocks the rompers in the Christmas plaid. We’re not making adult clothes yet, but please stay tuned!!!

      Catherine

  2. 3 Raquel January 4, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    Catherine,
    Do you know where we can buy a Bolo Rei in Manhattan?
    Thanks,
    Raquel

  3. 4 papodanjo January 5, 2010 at 2:16 am

    I’m not sure where you can buy it in Manhattan, but Newark has a thriving Portuguese community. I’ll check for a bakery.


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