3 Kings bread festival

10:41 AM

January 6th in most of Europe marks the 12th day of Christmas and is celebrated in many place with a breakfast or tea time ritual known as "Kings bread" or "Kings pie" depending where you live.

The 12th day of Christmas is the day the 3 wise men, often called the 3 Kings finally reached the manger in which Mary gave birth to Jesus and bring him presents.
In fact, in Spain and Portugal, the day kids traditionally open presents is on January 6th and not on Christmas day, though thanks to mass consumerism, this probably has changed.

In Switzerland, as in other countries across Europe, the day is marked with a fun family activity that involves finding a small figurine inside a sweet bread

Originally, the figurine was a dry bean, and in some areas a silver or gold coin and in most countries that observe this tradition, the token represents baby Jesus.
Everybody gathers and cut the bread, and whoever gets the token inside their bread roll or slice is elected King for the day.

In Switzerland, the tradition is slightly different though, because growing up I remember the bread having 2 tokens inside, one for the King, and one for the Queen. They were even shaped as a miniature king and queen, either made of plastic, or glazed ceramics. In some bakeries, you also had the option to buy a bread with a gold plated tokens as well.
Over the years, the tokens started turning into a collecting trend and big Disney movie franchises would release tokens with the movie characters on them.
More recently, it seems some supermarkets and bakeries have also altered the tradition a bit and downsized to just the one token : The King.

I have no idea if the Queen has always been part of the tradition, it really was a big thing when I was a kid and no matter where you bought your Kings bread, there would be two tokens inside.

Growing near the French border, I also got exposed to the French variant of the festival, which is celebrated with a "Galette des Rois" (Kings pie) which is a puff pastry  pie filled with almond paste.
In France they only put one token inside the pie, whoever gets it is elected King and they get to choose their Queen.

In both variant of the tradition, whoever gets the token gets to wear a paper crown, which is usually provided by the bakery or supermarket along with the bread.

This is one of the festivals from my childhood I love the most and one that has been REALLY hard for me to celebrate in India.
Why? Because of the token issue. I have tried to celebrate it with a rajma bean inside a few times, but the problem is that as the bread bake in the oven, the bean gets soft and you might almost not realise it's there in the first place.

One year, a French friend of mine went through a lot of hassle finding fresh puff pastry, then spent an entire afternoon soaking and peeling almonds to make the paste that goes inside the French Kings pies, then placed a big rajma bean in each of them. We were a big bunch of Europeans, all excited for the festival and I got the King in one of the pie, I bit into it and cut it in half because it got soft. The other pie's token was never found because someone ate it without even noticing it was there.

I heard people recommending to place a silver coin, or a small plastic token, which I about 1000000000% advise against doing.
The token bakes with the bread or pie, which means you want it to be 100% food grade and heat resistant. So unless your coin is 100% pure silver with no trace of any other metal that could be harmful, nix that option, don't get me started on plastic figurines.

Last year when my mom came to visit me, I asked her to bring me a store bought kings bread telling her that this was I could re-use the token from year to year.
She surprised me with getting me a whole bunch of traditional nativity scene tokens made of glazed ceramic instead. So now I can go years and years making the kings bread at home and do it the proper way.

If you don't have access to a supply of food grade tokens, you can insert a bean AFTER the bread has been baked, but it takes some of the fun out, as you would know where the token is hiding. Remember, the fun comes from eagerly eating your bread to find out if you got the king or queen token.

We celebrated the Epiphany a day early this year because baking and eating breakfast together is a ritual that is totally incompatible with a weekday.

The recipe is super easy, but it's better to eat the bread on the day it's been baked, and it takes about 2 hours for the dough to rise and about 30 minutes to bake it.


Here is the Recipe :

Ingredients

- 500g of white flour (known as maida in India)
- 1.5 tsp of salt
- 3 tbsp of sugar
- 2 tsp of dry yeast (I use this one from Amazon
- 60g of soft unsalted butter 
- zest of two small Indian lemons or half a big European lemon
- Two handful of sultana raisins that have been soaked for a few hours (kismis in India)
- 300ml of milk

- One egg for the egg wash
- Coarse granulated sugar and sliced almonds to top

Instructions

1) Mix the flour, sugar and salt together and dilute the yeast in lukewarm water with a pinch of sugar. Dig a hole in the flour and pour the yeasty water in, cover the yeast with a thin of layer and let it do its yeasty business.

2) Once the yeast is oozing out of its hole, add the soaked sultana raisins, butter, and the lemon zest. Slowly add milk as you knead the flour into a soft elastic dough.
Cover the bowl with a towel and let it rise in a warm spot. If you live in India, you will probably need to preheat your oven to about 40 degrees celsius and then place your bowl in the now off but still warm oven, or find a spot in the sun as the ambient cold in homes isn't really conductive to rising dough

3) Once the dough has doubled in size, line a baking tray with baking parchment and preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Take portion of the dough and make small balls out of them, I managed to yield 11 of them. Place one  token in one of the dough ball, or 2 if you are going for the King and Queen Swiss variant of the festival.

4) Arrange all your balls of dough into a wreath on the baking parchment and brush the beaten egg on top. Sprinkle with the granulated sugar first, then sprinkle the sliced almonds. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

5) Allow it to cool down a bit before serving. Present your bread on a plate with the two paper crowns placed on top and invite your friends over. This is a festival that is meant to be shared, and the more the merrier.


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4 comments

  1. Happy first few days of a new year. Fantastic tradition. I could well imagine the fun of finding the token. I like the miniature King and Queen, quiet cute. With great trepidation, I wish to make a suggestion. I was wondering what could possibly be put in the cake, may be something solid and nutty. I suggest you try putting one rewari (Sesame seeds rock candy bites). They are just the size of a small coin. I think they come in the size of small nuggets too, both white and brown.

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    Replies
    1. If you read the blog post again, you will notice that I mentioned that the token bakes alone with the bread, so anything will get soft, a hard candied treat will pretty much melt and soften with the baking process, the most solid thing that we used was those dry rajma beans and I ended up bitting right through one, the token in the second pie which we let the kids eat was never found because one of the kid ate it without even noticing.

      There is a reason why the token is usually ceramic, food grade plastic or precious metal, and why originally it was a coin, and in some case a thick hard cocoa bean.

      To show candied things won't work, there is a traditional non festive brioche type of bread in the French Alpine region that is called a "St Genis" that bread is stuffed with sugar coated candied almonds that have been died red, during the baking process the candied coating melts and colors the dough inside and the almond gets super soft.

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  2. I do not wish to cause any disrespect to a traditional dish. If at all, I apologize.

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  3. Glad you were able to get the tokens from Switzerland! My mother in law sent us the figurine along with the crown one year, and my husband baked the Galette des Rois for us. Such fun! My dad got the token and all of us still remember that year's celebration. We recently found out about a French grocery store near us that bakes and supplies all foods French (Belgian / Swiss stuff too) including the king's cake, but didn't get the chance to do it this year.

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