The Bolo Rei – The Portuguese Taste of Christmas

When Steph Blog in France suggested a Christmas Blog Hop I thought what a great idea and maybe someone can share their tried and tested recipe for Bolo Rei as it originates in France!

Bolo Rei - a true symbol of the Christmas season
Bolo Rei - a true symbol of the Christmas season

Bolo Rei is not simply a cake but also symbol of the Christmas season in Portugal as it is in France.

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 (Epiphany). However, the cake is so popular that it is on sale from the end of November through to the Epiphany. 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.

Slice of Bolo Rei
Slice of Bolo Rei

One 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 5th January, 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!

Does anyone have a good recipe to share?

Further information courtesy of Fernanda
Many years ago… Bolo Rei was not a christmas cake, it was a cake for the new years celebrations and if you had the “fava” you had to buy another cake for the “Dia de Reis” (King’s day) on Jan 6. Today it’s a christmas cake and you have so many “varieties”, the traditional, only with dried fruits (called “Rainha”), with dried fruits, “fios de ovos” and “doce de gila” on a “squarish shape” (called “escangalhado”)

Finally DON’T buy the cake on Lidl or other supermarkets they have been done on a factory several weeks ago, look for it at your local bakery/pastelaria…
Gila or Chila is a kind of pumpkin (it’s popular in the Algarve) here you have the image http://olhares.sapo.pt/abobora-gila-foto1024651.html

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70 thoughts on “The Bolo Rei – The Portuguese Taste of Christmas

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  1. It looked yummy and reminds me a lot of the king cakes we eat in Louisiana, where I’m from. The only difference is ours doesn’t have dried fruit and it contains a platic baby. Whoever finds him is the king or queen and has to buy the cake next time. Sorry about the sell by date. Ouch!

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    1. I was going to mention the same thing. I used to live in southern Louisiana and it reminds me of the “King Cake” served at Mardi Gras. From the photo, it looks more like fruitcake, though, because the King Cake I tried seemed more like “coffee cake.”

      Pan de Pascua is big here in Chile. I’d call it a version of fruitcake. Though I’ve never been a big fan of fruitcake, I’m actually thinking of trying to make one. Don’t ask me why….I just love a challenge! haha

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        1. Hi did and welcome 🙂 I’d love to try cooking it but I like other people to be guineapigs 🙂 I’ve just found the recipe in the Pingo Doce magaze and naturally it’s in Portuguese. Think will have to try and translate 🙂

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  2. I’ve bought King’s Cake in the grocery store here in France and it was okay…not great. I think homemade is always better! I’ll be back to read more of your blog after the blog hop is over. Portugal sounds fascinating!

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  3. I have to say that our experience of Bolo Rei matches yours, Piglet. We didn’t like the highly dyed candy and the cake was dry – that was the Modelo version.

    I’ll stick to Xmas pud – so slimming 🙂

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  4. In Mexico, they have the “Rosca de Reyes” with a baby in it (more than one if the cake is very big. The “winner” has to buy tamales for the group at a day in February (i can never remember the day). These cakes go on sale around Christmas and I’ve even found them at some Latino stores (and Wlamarts) here in Texas!

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  5. Very similar to France’s Galette des Rois (King’s Cake) filled with almond based cream called frangipane; there is also have a feve – traditionally, the youngest child present hides under the table and calls out who gets which slice as the cake is cut and whoever gets the feve is crowned King.

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    1. The Galette des Rois really is delicious – in the UK we had a Galette party every year on/around 6 January and our friends loved it. The ‘king’ had to wear a crown all evening… The cake is really easy to make, and much much better than shop bought!! x

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      1. Yes you might have missed my badge – 52,650 words and it was my first time. I am pretty proud of myself. Haven’t looked at it yet but plan on rereading and rewriting 30 pages at a time starting January 2013. How about you? Are you planning on doing it next year too?

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        1. Oh well done! Yep plan to do it next year and already have something in mind. Let’s connect as buddies next year and support each other. I don’t know what I’d have done without my buds they were so supportive 🙂

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  6. Hello from France, we always used to groan when our son came home from school with the feve from the galette des rois – it meant we had to find another cake to take into school the next day, in rural France this is not easy! I think this tradition is there so the shops are able to sell them until at least February! Thanks for hopping over to my blog!

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  7. What a lesson about Christmas cakes I have learned today! Glad I was on late 🙂 ! But being the totally savoury person I am, when I saw the first photo [I’m afraid multitasking, talking to someone at my door] I thought the pie of tomatoes, gherkins and white and brown rice very attractive – go back and take a QUICK look 😀 ! Am still laughing!

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  8. You should buy your Bolo Rei at a good bakery. Some bakeries make it with more or less candied fruit too. When it is freshly made it is lovely and after a few days you can slice it, and eat it toasted with butter! I don´t think the supermarket cakes would be that good or fresh, they were probably make 6 months ago…

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          1. Well I would, but my partner has lived in France for 12 years, she would never leave, she speaks perfect French. I do like life in France, but I miss aspects of Portuguese life, maybe because I can get by in Portuguese and my fond memories are probably best left as that.

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  9. When i did a patisserie class on Galette de Rois the maitre patissier told us that the galette is traditionally a brioche type cake in the south of France (so I guess that is why it has hopped accross the border into spain). The french tradition is that the feve winner becomes king for the day. The northern french galette has a frangipane centre and puff pastry outside, equally with a feve. I have to admit to preferring the northern version as I adore frangipane, and it is so moist and delicious. I always find that brioche gets a little stale quite quickly, and as unfortunately most of these cakes are made way in advance (unless you have an amazing patisserie) they can be disappointing. I will ask Arnaud (the patissier) for a genuine recipé. I do have a brioche recipe on my blog which is easy enough to make, but I don’t know if the Bolo Rei has added ingredients in the basic cake.

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    1. Hi Frenchi and welcome.
      I like the French tradition of becoming King for the day 🙂 So it seems there are regional variations as to the recipe in France.At least it’s nice to know I was not going crazy when I said there was Frangipane in the one I tasted. But it was def in Portugal as it was a free sample in one of the supermarkets here. So, seems like a I will have a couple of recipes to try…think I will have to have a cook off!

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  10. Many years ago… Bolo Rei was not a christmas cake, it was a cake for the new years celebrations and if you had the “fava” you had to buy another cake for the “Dia de Reis” (King’s day) on Jan 6. Today it’s a christmas cake and you have so many “varieties”, the traditional, only with dried fruits (called “Rainha”), with dried fruits, “fios de ovos” and “doce de gila” on a “squarish shape” (called “escangalhado”)
    Finally DON’T buy the cake on Lidl or other supermarkets they have been done on a factory several weeks ago, look for it at your local bakery/pastelaria…
    Gila or Chila is a kind of pumpkin (it’s popular in the Algarve) here you have the image http://olhares.sapo.pt/abobora-gila-foto1024651.html

    Like

  11. Hi,
    I did a Christmas traditions exchange with our Portuguese for Foreigners classes and a colleague took a Bolo Rei (with candied fruit) and a Bolo Rainha (without the candied fruit but more dried fruit and gila). I loved the Bolo Rainha so much I’m going to ask where she bought it.
    I have to say that I was not impressed with mince pies, although I did like the Irish Christmas cake. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted British Christmas pudding.

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      1. haha, I’ve just seen this comment – I made mince pies or two different sets of French people this year (with mincemeat lovingly brought from the UK by my sister), and NONE of them liked them (though some were more polite about it than others…)! I wish I’d seen your comment beforehand as I wouldn’t have wasted my precious mincemeat!

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