Holidays are usually special for families and for making memories. In the area where I grew up there were many Portuguese families who lived, worked, and shared with each other and their neighbors. The Christmas Holidays were filled with activities that served to make bring families together like the tradition of attending Midnight Mass at the local church; carolers singing Christmas carols in the streets; opening presents displayed around the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve around midnight or early in the morning on Christmas Day. I remember a few families continuing what was a very old tradition of putting one shoe from each child next to the chimney if they had one in the kitchen or next to a fireplace in a living room. Some had gas heaters to warm their homes and put the shoes somewhere around the stove pipe.
On Christmas Eve members of a very large extended family would gather to have dinner of codfish with boiled potatoes and cabbage and luscious deserts of fried pumpkin dough and delicious round tartlets made of chick peas, sugar, and orange peel or a kind of sweet vermicelli with eggs and on Christmas Day, people eat stuffed turkey for or baked ham for their main meal with more traditional desserts. But one desert included at every table was something called “Bolo Rei” or “King’s Cake” which is sweet rich fruit bread laced with port, brandy or rum. Surprise gifts are included in the dessert that is placed in after cooking. One is a little ring, a small coin, a holy medal or a tiny baby doll for one lucky family member who will have good luck and prosperity in the coming year and the other a raw, dried fava bean for the person who has to buy or make the bread the following year.Since there are so many memories I thought that I’d include a recipe given to me from one fine Portuguese woman. Isabel made this every year whether she got the bean or not in her piece of Bolo. Isabel has since passed but her memory lives on in her recipe. By the way if the bread is made without fruit it is called “Bolo Rainha” or “Queen Cake” but it still has the gifts included. Happy Baking if you decide to try it.
- 1 ½ cups of candied glazed fruit including citrus peel, dates, figs, cherries (red and green), pineapple, dark and golden raisins or any other glazed fruit you may want to add chopped in small pieces.
- 1 1/2 cup Blanched slivered almonds
- ¼ cup of port wine, brandy or rum
- 2 1/2 tsp. dried yeast
- ¼ cup warm milk
- 4 cups of all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 cup unsalted butter softened
- 1 cup of sugar.
- 1 tsp. lemon peel
- 1 tsp. orange peel
- 4eggs beaten
- 1 yolk beaten with a little water
- 1 dried broad bean
- 1 small medal or gift
- 4 tbsp. apricot jam
- 1 tbsp. icing sugar
- 2 tbsp. water
1. Chop 3/4 of crystallized fruit and reserve remaining 1/4 to decorate;
2. Soak chopped crystallized fruit in rum, brandy or port until ready to use;
3. Add yeast to warm milk, wait 10 minutes and stir to dissolve completely;
4. In a large bowl, mix flour, salt 5. Make a well in center of flour and pour in the dissolved yeast. Gently sprinkle some of surrounding flour into pool of yeast to form soft paste in center of the well.
6. In a separate bowl beat butter, sugar, lemon and orange peel until smooth and fluffy;
7. Add eggs one at a time, and beat well after each.
8. Incorporate butter mixture into flour mixture and continue bringing in sides to form
9. Lightly dust dough with flour, to handle, and turn out onto floured surface. Knead until
soft, smooth and elastic.
10. Add chopped crystallized fruit and almonds and knead to distribute evenly;
11. Roll dough into a ball and dust lightly with flour, put dough in a clean bowl covered with a clean towel in a warm room and let rise until doubled in size, about 4 hours.
11. Once dough has doubled, punch down and let rest for 20 minutes;
12. On buttered cookie sheet form a large ring with dough and insert an ovenproof ramekin or cookie cutter in center to keep hole while baking;
13. Wrap broad bean and small gift in waxed paper, like a small envelope, and insert
into bottom of dough ring, concealing the broad bean and the small gift in the ring of dough as best possible and in different places.
14. Cover the dough with dish towel, let rise again for another hour, until doubled in size;
15. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
16. When ring is ready, mix egg yolk with little water to make an egg wash, then brush
top and sides of ring, and decorate with crystallized fruit and sliced almonds.
17. Place in oven for 45 minutes and until golden brown;
18. When Bolo Rei is almost baked, place apricot jam in a small sauce pan and add
little water (approx. 2 tbsp.), mix over stove until incorporated and a bit liquid, so
that it is easy to brush on finished ring;
19. After removing Bolo Rei from the oven, gently brush top and sides with jam
mixture and dust with some icing sugar. 20. Cool and serve.
Happy Eating and Feliz Natal!