Three Kings Cake (Rosca de Reyes)

Recipe by Susan Reid

Three Kings Cake (or bread), also known as Rosca de Reyes, is closely allied with the traditions around the Epiphany (January 6th). The tender, enriched dough is shaped like a wreath and filled with cinnamon, nuts, dried fruit, and citrus zest, evoking classic holiday aromas and flavors. Tradition states this bread be served, garnished with "jewels" (candied fruits and more nuts). Usually, a small clay or porcelain doll is baked inside whoever finds the doll must give a party on Candlemas (February 2nd).

1 hr
25 to 30 mins
2 hrs 55 mins
1 loaf, 16 slices
Three Kings Cake (Rosca de Reyes) - select to zoom
Three Kings Cake (Rosca de Reyes) - select to zoom
Three King's Cake (Rosca de Reyes) - select to zoom


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  1. To make the dough: Heat the milk to a simmer in a small saucepan or at medium power in your microwave. Pour the hot milk over the butter, sugar, and salt, and stir occasionally until the butter melts. Cool the mixture to lukewarm.

  2. In a mixing bowl combine the milk mixture, eggs, and yeast. Weigh your flour; or measure it by gently spooning it into a cup, then sweeping off any excess. Add the flour 1 cup at a time, mixing and kneading — by hand, bread machine, or stand mixer — until a soft, smooth dough forms. You can also use your bread machine, set on the dough cycle, for this step.

  3. Place the dough in a greased container, cover it, and set it in a draft-free place to rise until doubled (about 1 to 1 1/2 hours). Or let your bread machine complete the dough cycle.

  4. After the first rise, deflate the dough, cover, and let it rest for 10 minutes. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface; roll into a 20" x 12" rectangle.

  5. For the filling: Brush the surface of the dough with the melted butter, leaving a 1/2" border bare along one of the long edges. Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Add the nuts, mixed fruits and zest, and stir to coat. Sprinkle this mixture evenly over the buttered section dough.

  6. To assemble: Roll up the dough cinnamon-roll-style, working toward the edge with no filling on it. Pinch the seam together to seal it firmly, then bring the ends together to form a ring. Grease the outside of a small bowl or ramekin and put it on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Place the ring, seam-side down, around the bowl. Pinch together the seam again where the two ends meet to ensure the ring is sealed.  

  7. Flatten the ring slightly, and using a pair of scissors, make cuts in the dough at 1 1/2" intervals around the outside edge. Hide a doll, candy, or blanched almond inside the bread. (Whoever finds it is the winner!) You can place strips of candied orange peel in the cuts to create the look in the photo at the top of the recipe. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise until nearly doubled (about 30 to 40 minutes).

  8. To bake: Once the dough is shaped and is rising for the second time, preheat the oven to 350°F. When the dough is risen, remove the plastic wrap, and brush the top with the egg wash. Place the candied cherries (cut in half) in the spaces between the slits in the dough, and decorate with nuts as desired.

  9. Bake the bread for 25 to 30 minutes, covering the loaf loosely with foil after the first 15 minutes, as it will brown quickly. Remove the bread from the oven when the inner parts of the slits look cooked and the interior measures 190°F when measured with an instant-read thermometer. Cool the bread on a rack before slicing and serving.

Tips from our Bakers

  • If you don't have a little doll to hide inside the bread, put a whole blanched almond inside with the filling, before you roll the bread up.

  • If you want to use the glaze pictured in the accompanying blog post, combine 1 tablespoon of sugar with 2 teaspoons of water and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Stir to combine, then drizzle over the bread for the last 20 minutes of the baking time.