Thursday, January 5, 2012

Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?

It's twelfth night and Christmas is officially over.  I refuse to let the celebrations fizzle out without a sense of occasion, so after taking the decorations down the kids and I celebrated the Epiphany with some cake.

This year to shake things up a little I decided to make a Spanish king cake instead of our usual British twelfth night fruit cake.  The Spanish Epiphany Bread (Roscón de reyes) is a bit like brioche shaped into a big ring (like a crown).  Traditionally a figurine of the baby Jesus is hidden in the bread to symbolise Jesus fleeing King Herod (who planned to kill all babies that could be the prophesised messiah).  Whoever finds the baby in their cake is blessed.  Sadly the only baby figurine I could get my hands on was plastic.  I suspect melting a small effigy of christ in the oven isn't really the route to 'blessing' anyone, so I used a dried bean instead.  In many cultures finding a dried bean in the twelfth night cake means you are king for the day.

The bread was beautifully light, fluffy and subtly sweet.  Honestly it is a small christmas miracle that this cake worked out at all!  My mind was wandering while I was baking and I totally went off the reservation and didn't follow the recipe.  I've included the original recipe (sourced here) at the bottom of this post along with notes of my modifications and crazy missteps in italics.

Spanish Epiphany Bread (recipe originally found here)

Preheat oven to 180° C (350° F) 


450 g (3 c.) white flour 
75 g (1/3 c.) butter 
75 g (1/3 c.) sugar 
25 g (1 oz.) fresh yeast dissolved in 140 ml (1/2 c.) warm water 
2 tsp. lemon zest 
2 tsp. orange zest 
2 eggs + 1 egg white, well beaten 
1 tbsp. brandy 
1 tbsp. orange flower water 
A pinch of salt 
1 silver coin, china figurine, dry bean, or whole almond (your choice)


Large pieces of candied fruit 
Flaked almonds 
A silver coin or dry bean 

1. Place the flour and salt into a large bowl.  
2. Make a well in the centre and pour in the dissolved yeast. Since I couldn't get my hands on fresh yeast I used 7g of dried instant yeast and to help it along I also added a teaspoon of honey to the water 
3. Gradually mix in the flour.  
4. When the mixture is thick, sprinkle all over with flour and let rest for 15 minutes in a warm place. Ok so at this point my mixture was like chunky floury bread crumbs so there seemed little point sprinkling it with more flour.  I kind of freaked out and added about 5 tablespoons more water, kneaded it some more and then let it rest. 
5. Meanwhile, cream together the butter and sugar.  
6. Mix the zests, brandy, orange flower water and the two eggs into the dough. I didn't have orange flower water so I just left that out.  At this point I failed to read the recipe properly and also added the extra egg white which you were supposed to use for glaze. 
7. Knead until it becomes smooth. My dough was way too wet at this point so I added about 2 tablespoons of flour (just making up for the extra water I added!!) 
8. Gradually mix in the butter, kneading constantly, until the dough becomes even smoother and more elastic.  At this point the dough was still too wet - I added about another tablespoon of flour then kneaded for about ten minutes.  The dough was still much wetter than a bread dough but I left it to rise since in my experience when making brioche it is better to err on the wet side lest you end up with a tough rock. 
9. Cover with greased paper and let rise in a warm place for about 90 minutes, until the dough has doubled in volume.  
10. Place the dough on a floured surface.  
11. Knead for 2 to 3 minutes. 
12. Add in the silver coin, figurine, bean, or almond.  
13. With your hands, roll the dough into a long sausage-shape, approximately 65 cm (2 feet) long and 13 cm (5") thick.  Don't panic if your dough isn't quite this big - it will puff up again when it rises the second time!

14. Place on a baking sheet, forming the dough into a circle. 
15. Join the two ends by pinching the dough together.  The recipe doesn't mention it but you need to put some kind of ramekin (or other round oven safe object) in the centre or the dough will just end up filling the hole when it rises.  I wrapped some oven paper around the ramekin so it wouldn't stick.
16. Cover with greased paper and let rest another 90 minutes or until the dough has doubled in volume.
17. Brush the crown with the beaten egg white. 
18. Decorate with the almonds and slices of candied fruit, pressing them down so that they stick to the dough. I was too lazy to make large slices of candied fruit so I just studded the crown with some multicoloured glace cherries!
19. Place into a 180° C (350° F) oven. 
20. Bake for 30-35 minutes until the bread is cooked and golden brown. 
21. Place on a rack and let cool.

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