With lovely hints of orange and lemon zest, this Roscón de Reyes will make your home smell like a Spanish bakery over the holidays. Incredibly light and buttery, this tender sweet bread is studded with candied oranges, maraschino cherries, and almonds for extra flavor and crunch.
Homemade Spanish Kings’ Day Bread
Roscón de reyes is a Spanish holiday bread also referred to as Spanish Kings’ Day Bread, or Three Kings Bread. It’s baked every January 6th to commemorate the Epiphany or Three Kings’ Day. Visually, this dessert is supposed to resemble a king’s crown, like those of the Three Wise Men.
Sweet toppings like candied oranges, maraschino cherries, and almonds are added for crunch and flavor. They’re meant to symbolize the jewels and presents they offered baby Jesus. However, there’s more to this dessert than its religious history.
It’s a true citrus-flavored delicacy, but be prepared to put in the time and effort to make it. On its own or filled with whipped cream, nothing beats dipping your roscón into hot chocolate or coffee for breakfast.
What is Roscón de Reyes?
Roscón de reyes is a buttery brioche-like sweet bread spiked with a little bit of rum. It’s got delicate citrus notes coming from orange and lemon zests used to flavor the rich dough.
It’s traditionally studded with candied orange slices, dried maraschino cherries, and almonds. Then it’s sprinkled with an orange blossom sugar mixture for some extra sweetness and a floral taste.
Baked until perfectly golden, this holiday bread is light and airy. Every bite will be soft and pillowy, with explosions of flavor coming from its sweet and crunchy toppings.
What does Roscón de Reyes mean?
In Spanish, “Roscón” refers to the bread part of this dessert and “reyes” means “kings.” As a result, roscón de reyes translates into “kings’ bread.” Since the dessert is supposed to be a crown, it can also be interpreted as “kings’ crown.”
What’s the Difference Between Roscón de Reyes and Rosca de Reyes?
Rosca de reyes is the Mexican version of Spain’s roscón de reyes. Shape and taste-wise, they’re the same but it’s the toppings that set them apart.
Roscón de reyes is traditionally topped with candied oranges, maraschino cherries, almonds, and sugar. The Mexican version is decorated with dried figs, strips of guava and quince paste, maraschino cherries, and buttery sections of vanilla and chocolate sugary paste.
Is Roscón de Reyes the same as Kings’ Cake?
Although they both celebrate the Epiphany and hide a baby Jesus inside, they’re different desserts.
Kings’ Cake is heavily spiced with cinnamon. It’s like a cross between coffee cake and cinnamon rolls. Additionally, it’s iced with three different colors; each one representing one of the Three Wise Men.
Roscón de reyes, on the other hand, is flavored with citrus. Orange blossom water, orange, and lemon zest give it a tangy crumb. There is no icing on roscón de reyes. It only relies on dried fruits and sugar for decoration.
Brace yourself for the long ingredient list. Thankfully, it uses same ingredients over and over. Check out the recipe card at the bottom of this post for exact ingredient amounts.
- Milk: Use whole or low-fat milk. Please stay away from dairy-free alternatives. They’ll affect the fat ratio in the dough, resulting in a less springy bread.
- Orange Peel
- Lemon Peel
- Sugar: Only use granulated white or light brown sugar. Don’t use confectioners’ or dark brown sugar.
- Active Dry Yeast: You can swap it for instant dry yeast in the same quantity.
- Bread Flour: Bread flour has a higher amount of protein in the flour, which creates a more elastic dough. There’s no substitute for this. Using any other kind of flour will result in a denser, tighter crumb.
- Bread Flour
- Granulated Sugar
- Active Dry Yeast: You can swap it for instant dry yeast in the same quantity.
- Orange Zest
- Lemon Zest
- Butter: Unsalted butter is my go-to, but salted butter works too. If you do, make sure to leave out the salt in the rest of the recipe.
- Orange Blossom Water: You can find Orange Blossom Water at most specialty baking stores or online. If you can’t get a hold of any, substitute it for 2 teaspoons of food-grade orange extract or 4 teaspoons of vanilla extract.
- Granulated Sugar: I prefer white sugar, but you can also use light brown sugar.
- Orange Blossom Water
- Dried Maraschino Cherries: You will usually find these in the baking area of the grocery store for the holidays. They are also commonly used in fruit cakes.
- Candied Orange Slices: Candied lemon slices are a great substitute.
- Sliced Almonds
How to Make Roscón de Reyes
Making roscón de reyes isn’t for the faint of heart. It will require lots of time and patience. As long as you’ve got both, you’ll see it’s actually not that hard to make.
- Simmer the peels. Place the orange and lemon peels in a small pot over medium heat. Pour the milk in and bring it to a simmer for 1 minute. Next, remove the pot from the heat and cover it with a lid. Set aside to cool for a minute.
- Strain. Discard the peels and strain the milk through a fine mesh strainer.
- Make the yeast mixture. Pour 1/2 cup of milk, water, sugar, and yeast into a small bowl and mix well.
- Proof. Add flour to the yeast mixture and stir to combine. Next, cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Let the mixture rest in a warm spot for at least 15 minutes.
- Mix the dry ingredients. Add 2 cups of flour to a large bowl. Add the sugar, yeast, orange zest, lemon zest, and salt. Whisk everything until well combined.
- Add the wet ingredients. Add the butter, rum, and orange blossom water. Stir well. Add the yeast mixture and continue to mix until you form a loose dough.
- Knead. Dust a clean surface with flour and knead the dough for 15 minutes or until smooth. It should be slightly tacky, not sticky or stiff. Roll it into a ball.
- Grease the bowl. Lightly spray the same bowl you mixed the ingredients in with non-stick baking spray. Place the dough inside and give it a grease it with non-stick spray. Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap.
- Let it rise. Let the dough rise in a warm spot for about 2 hours.
- Re-roll the dough. Punch out all the air, remove the raised dough from the bowl, and roll it into a ball.
- Shape it. Use your index finger to poke a hole through the center. Use your hands to stretch and shape the dough into an oval with a hollow center.
- Prepare the tray. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Transfer the roscón to the baking sheet. Give it a light spray of non-stick baking spray and cover the dough with a clean kitchen towel.
- Let it rest. Let the roscón rest for another 30 minutes. Don’t skip this step because it’s the second rise. Without it, your roscón won’t be as tender.
- Preheat the oven. Set it to 350 F and let it preheat for 10-15 minutes or until it reaches this temperature.
- Make the egg-wash. Whisk the egg and milk together until well combined. Set it aside.
- Make the sugar mixture. Mix the sugar and orange blossom water until a crumbly mixture forms. Set it aside.
- Decorate. Brush the roscón with egg-wash. Add candied oranges, maraschino cherries, and almonds to taste. Get creative and make your own designs with the toppings! Sprinkle the sugar mixture on top.
- Bake. Pop the roscón into the oven for 20-25 minutes or until lightly golden brown around the edges.
- Cool and enjoy. Remove it from the oven and let it rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing. Serve with butter or sweetened whipped cream.
Tips for Success
Whether you’ve made roscón de reyes before or not, follow these tips to instantly become a pro bread-baker:
- Use an oven thermometer: Sometimes the actual oven temperature is off. This is terrible news in the world of bread-baking because it results in rubbery, dense bread. Use an oven thermometer so the oven is properly heated.
- Splurge on butter: Butter is an important flavor component for the dough. Higher quality butter will result in a much richer bread.
- Lightly grease your hands: Kneading the dough during its initial stages can be incredibly annoying because it will stick to your hands. If you grease them with a bit of non-stick baking spray, you should be able to keep your hands clean throughout the process.
- Don’t add more flour: The dough will be really sticky at first. Despite this, you should resist the temptation to add more flour. If you’ve kneaded for 8 minutes and it’s still too moist, then add a handful of flour or less. Any more than that will make your bread turn out dry.
- Let it rise in the oven: Sometimes even after the 2 hours of resting time, the dough still won’t rise. To make up for lost time, preheat the oven to 390 F for 10 minutes and then turn off the heat. Transfer the dough into a heat-safe bowl and cover it with a kitchen towel, not plastic wrap. Pop it into the warm oven and let the dough rise in the oven using the residual heat.
- Use steam: Place a tray of water on a lower rack as the roscón bakes. This will create steam and keep the bread’s exterior soft as it bakes.
How to Serve Roscón de Reyes
Nothing beats a warm drink to enjoy homemade roscón de reyes. Hot chocolate, coffee, tea, and a glass of milk all go great with it.
If you’d like to be more creative with your roscón, start by slicing it in half. Fill it with sweetened whipped cream and your favorite fruits. Fruit jams, compotes, and even Nutella are amazing fillings too!
What Happens If You Get the Baby in Roscón de Reyes?
If you’re lucky enough to cut into a slice with a baby Jesus inside, you’ll become “king” for the day. In some families, it also means that you’ll be the host for next year’s gathering. This often comes with the added responsibility of getting the roscón for the celebration.
Can I Freeze This?
Absolutely! You can freeze it before or after baking. Here’s how:
Before baking: Follow the instructions for this recipe up until you have to shape the dough into an oval. Don’t brush any egg-wash over it and pop the raw roscón in the freezer for 4 hours. After that, remove it from the tray and wrap it with plastic wrap. Finally, transfer it to a freezer-friendly bag or container and freeze for up to 3 months. When ready to bake, remove the plastic wrap and set it on a parchment-lined baking tray. Let it come to room temperature before adding egg-wash, toppings, and baking.
After baking: Wrap the whole thing or the slices in plastic wrap. Transfer it to a freezer-friendly bag or container and freeze for up to 2 months. To thaw, leave it on the counter until it comes to room temperature.
Roscón de Reyes
Tender and buttery, this Spanish roscón de reyes is a biteful of tradition. Topped with candied oranges, almonds, and maraschino cherries, it's delightfully sweet with hints of citrus.
- ¾ cup whole milk, divided
- 1 orange peel
- 1 lemon peel
- ¼ cup water, very warm
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoons dry, active yeast
- 1/3 cup bread flour (one with at least .5 oz of protein)
- 3 cups bread flour, divided
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons butter, room temperature
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons rum, optional
- 2 tablespoons orange blossom water
- 1 large egg
- 2 tablespoons whole milk
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon orange blossom water
- 6-8 dried maraschino cherries
- 4-6 candied orange slices
- 1/4 cup sliced almonds, chopped
- Add the milk, orange and lemon peels to a small saucepan and bring it to a simmer over medium heat.
- Simmer for 1 minute, then remove the pan from the heat and cover with a lid and let the milk cool until very warm, but not too hot.
- Strain the milk through a fine mesh strainer and discard the peels.
- Pour ½ cup of the milk into a small bowl and then add the water, sugar and yeast. Stir to combine.
- Add the flour and stir to combine again, cover, and let it rest for 15 minutes in a warm area.
- In a large bowl, stir to combine 2 cups of the flour, sugar, yeast, orange zest, lemon zest and salt.
- Mix in the butter, eggs, rum, orange blossom water and add in the first fermentation mixture, stirring until you can no longer mix.
- Scoop out the remaining cup of flour and lightly dust some of it onto a countertop. Turn the dough out onto the counter and fold and knead it for 15 minutes, adding flour as needed, but don’t overdo it. You want the texture to be tacky, but not sticky or stiff.
- Spray the same bowl that you used to combine the dough with non-stick spray and tuck in the edges of the dough to form a ball.
- Place the dough into the greased bowl, spray the top with the same non-stick spray and cover with plastic wrap.
- Let the dough double in size in a warm place for about 2 hours.
- Turn the dough out of the bowl and tuck in the edges to make a ball once again.
- Poke a hole in the center of the dough with your finger then stretch and form the dough into a large oval shape.
- Place a sheet of parchment paper on a 9x13 baking sheet and place the roscon onto the parchment paper and lightly spray the top of the formed dough with non-stick spray.
- Cover and let it rest and rise, once more, for another 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Whisk the egg and milk together in a small bowl and set aside.
- Stir the sugar and orange blossom water together until it forms a sand mixture.
- Brush the top of the roscon with the egg wash and add a few orange slices, cherries and almond pieces to the roscon in whatever design that you like. Add the sugar mixture around the top of the roscon.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the top and sides start to turn a light, golden color.
- Let it rest for 10-15 minutes before serving with butter or with sweetened whipped cream.
- Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.
- When making a Roscón de Reyes is that it is a recipe that takes time. Patience is key, there are many steps, but it will be worth it!
- You will have to do two fermentations for a proper Roscoe De Reyes. It is similar to the method used in baking a Panettone. You first prepare a small piece of dough, that sits in water, that is fermented first and then added to the main dough.
- Bread flour - it is very important to make sure you are using a high protein flour - one that has over .5 oz of protein listed in the nutrition facts on the back of the bag. You need a flour that can create a dough that has elasticity and can be formed into the large shape, without cracking on the top. Your dough will get this elasticity from a long kneading time as well as the higher protein bread flour.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 386Total Fat: 12gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 76mgSodium: 316mgCarbohydrates: 61gFiber: 2gSugar: 26gProtein: 10g
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I just made this and it was excellent. I wish the ingredients were in grams to measure precisely, but it had great flavor and wasn’t dense. Would definitely use this recipe again. Thanks!