Bolo-Rei: The Most Traditional Christmas Cake in Portugal. Travel Blog
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Taste It: Bolo-Rei, The Traditional Christmas Cake

Taste It: Bolo-Rei, The Traditional Christmas Cake

December 01, 2016

Discover one of the most traditional cakes of the Portuguese Christmas: Bolo-Rei (King Cake) and explore its stories and legends with us!

It wouldn’t be Christmas in Portugal without the famous Bolo-Rei around the family table. In fact, from the beginning of November to the end of January, it’s impossible to enter in a Portuguese pastry shop without being bombarded by that rounded cake with crystallized fruit.

Today, we will explain to you what this traditional sweet is and if you have the chance do not lose the opportunity and taste it. It is absolutely unique, gorgeous and delicious!

Stories and Legends about the Portuguese Bolo-Rei

The Portuguese Gastronomy is a world pearl. It is riche, it is varied, and it is simply delicious. And at Christmas, it seems that the Portuguese people improve a lot (if it is possible!). All around this country, the family tables are plentiful, colourful, full of incomparable and traditional sweets and desserts. The Portuguese people know… diets after the Christmas Eve.

But right in the middle of such delicious delicacies which we can taste in Christmas time, there is a typical sweet that we should highlight. It is considered the most traditional and famous cake of Christmas. It is the King of the family table. It is the Bolo-Rei (King Cake).

Bolo-Rei: the perfect receipt

The Bolo-Rei is unmistakable: its round shape, with a hole in the centre like a crown, and its decoration with crystalized fruit on top make it irresistible. The Bolo-Rei is a Christmas sweet that is traditionally eaten between 25th December (Nativity) and January 6 (Epiphany). But its fame is so great and gorgeous that we can find this delicacy for sale from the beginning of November to the Epiphany!

The Bolo-Rei is a kind of sweet bread with eggs, filled with nuts, dried fruits, raisins and topped with candied fruit and powdered sugar. In essence, it is the tastiest version of fruitcakes.

Traditionally, there is also a fava bean inside the cake, usually a large bean. The family tradition says that who ever has the slice with the fava bean is the King and has to buy or bake next year’s cake. However, in order to avoid serious problems, nowadays the pastry shops choose not to put anything inside the cake beyond what you can actually eat.

Stories about Bolo-Rei

The Bolo-Rei is one of the most remarkable symbols of Christmas in Portugal for 2,000 years (at least). It represents the gifts that the Magi gave to baby Jesus when he was born: the crust symbolizes the gold, the candied and dried fruit symbolizes the myrrh and the aroma of this cake symbolizes the incense.

But the bean inside the cake is traditionally associated with some legends.

Supposedly, when the three wise men, the Magi, followed the star from the east to worship baby Jesus in Bethlehem, they were discussing who should be the first to give the gift. During this journey, they met a baker who added a fava bean to the cake to settle this dispute. The Magi with the slice with the fava would be the first. This story sins because it doesn’t reveal who was the Magi winner.

However, there are some historical explanations: the Romans used the technique of the hidden fava in some parties for choosing the King of that event. Probably, this costume had origin in a child’s play in which the children could choose the King of the group. Consequently it evolved to formal issues and it became a common practice in various meetings to use the fava beans to vote.

And among other possible legends, there is one more story that we should highlight: years ago, the tradition dictated that Christians should eat 12 Bolos-Reis between Christmas and the Epiphany.

By the way, probably this cake had origin in France, under the command of Louis XIV. Apparently, it was baked for the celebration of the New Year’s Eve and the Epiphany event and then adapted and improved in Portugal.

With the French Revolution of 1789, this sweet was banned in France. However, it was so good and so attractive for business, that they started to sale it under the name of Gâteau des San-culottes.

In Portugal, with the establishment of the Republic, they also tried to eliminate this cake of the family tables but it remains the true King of Christmas!