Fascinated by this cake I decided not only to buy one but also research its origins.
Bolo Rei is not simply a cake but a true symbol of the Christmas season!
The Bolo Rei (King Cake) originated in France and only arrived in Portugal during the mid nineteenth century. It is traditionally eaten on the 25th December (Nativity) and the 6th of January (Epithany). However, the cake is so popular that it is on sale from the end of November through to the Epithany. The bread-like cake is round with a hole in the centre like a crown and decorated with candied fruits and nuts to symbolize the gifts offered by the Magi. The Magi were the wise men who followed the star from the east to worship baby Jesus in Bethlehem. They were later referred to by the Church, as Kings. Hence Bolo Rei.
Inside the Bolo Rei are nuts, candied and dried fruits. There is also a fava bean and according to one legend, a baker added a fava bean to the cake to settle a dispute as to which of the wise men gave the gifts to baby Jesus. The Magi who found the fava, in his slice of cake, was then selected.
A family tradition in Portugal is that who ever has the slice with the fava bean has to buy or bake next year’s cake!
I bought a bolo Rei from Lidls to present to our guests as a “taste” of Portugal. Unfortunately, nobody liked the highly colored crystallized fruits and the cake, despite having a sell by date of the 5/1/2011, seemed stale. We were extremely disappointed as it “looked” a beautiful cake. Next year I will buy from the bakers and try again… or may even attempt to make my own!