Rosca de Reyes / Galette des Rois / Epiphany Bread

… On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love left his shoe by the door and waited for the three wise men to leave a present.

Yes this is what happens on Epiphany night in many countries.  In Mexico many people celebrate this night almost as much as Christmas eve, because this night is also loaded with symbolism, it is the night when the three wise men finally arrived to give gifts to the baby Jesus; and as such it is expected that the men will arrive and deliver a present to children… you just need to leave your shoe by the windowsill or by your bed or by the Christmas tree and the morning after there will be something there for you.

Of course this follows the previous night of families gathering to drink hot chocolate and cut the ‘rosca’. This is a bread/cake that is made on this night and it has the shape of a large ring, inside of which there is a token like a bean, a coin or even a plastic baby or person.  When you cut the bread, if you get the token, that means that you have to host a party on the 2nd of February that usually features tamales.

These breads used to contain one or two tokens or babies, as the world keeps turning, it seems that these have reproduced and now at least in Mexico City  roscas’ you can find as many as ten or more.  Personally I prefer the cakes that contain one or two tokens because then, the one who gets it, becomes ‘special’ a king for a day I guess.

This is not an exclusive Mexican tradition, it is an adaptation from other countries like Spain and France where they eat Roscon de Reyes and Galette des Rois, respectively.

Below is a simple recipe for a Mexican Rosca, this is followed by one for Galette des Rois.

This is another excuse for getting together, gather on the last night of this period, drink hot chocolate and have a slice of this bread, if you get the token, then make tamales at your place and invite more people.

Mexican Rosca

For the Bread

500 g strong white flour

100 g caster sugar

10 g salt

100 g softened butter

3 medium sized eggs

2 sachets or 14 g easy blend yeast

200 ml water

zest of 1 lime

zest of 1 lemon

zest of 1 orange

2 plastic babies for the rosca, or substitute with a dried bean

100 g acitron [this is a candied cactus] if you can’t find this, substitute with candied fruits


100 g soft butter

100 g icing sugar

150 g flour

2 Tbsp caster sugar

In the bowl of  an electric mixer, add all the powdered ingredients for the bread mix, then add the softened butter and cream, add the eggs, water and the zest of the citrus fruits, mix using the bread hook for three minutes at a slow speed, increase to a medium speed and mix for six minutes or until the dough is very elastic, you need to develop a lot of gluten here, leave to rest for 30 mins or 1 hour is your kitchen is cold.

Take out of the bowl and roll into two balls that you are going to shape into two long saugages that you are going to link into a ring, don’t forget to insert the tokens.

Place on baking trays that are covered with greaseproof paper.

Mix the ingredients for the cover by beating them in a bowl to fully incorporate.  Decorate the roscas by alternating the candied fruits and placing strips of the bread cover.

Leave to prove for another hour and place on greased in a medium hot oven 160 C fan, 180 C conventional Gas Mark 4 for 35 minutes.  The roscas are ready if they sound hollow when their bottoms are gently tapped.

Galette des Rois

Make about 250 g puff pastry [or rather buy…] and roll it out into two round shapes about 2 cm thick.  Place these on a baking tray that is covered with greaseproof paper.  Push a bean into the dough. Sandwich them together with frangipane cream before baking.  Trace a pattern on the top of the dough with the pint of a knife and brush it with egg.  Bake in a very hot oven at 250 C conventional oven, 230 fan oven, Gas Mark 9, until the top is golden brown.

Below is a simple recipe for frangipane:

125 g butter

125 g sugar

2 eggs

200 g ground almonds

½ tsp vanilla essence (optional)

Cream butter and sugar until white and fluffy

Add eggs one at a time add vanilla essence and fold in almonds

With thanks to Ingrid Vargas-Cessa for giving me her version of this recipe for Rosca de Reyes that I have adapted.

Galette des Rois Taken from Larousse Gastronomique


How to make a starter for sourdough bread and how to make sourdough bread, step by step

This is the time it takes to transform a simple mixture of flour and water to crusty sourdough bread.

My friend lent me the book from Bourke Street Bakery and in it, there it was a step by step way of making sourdough ferment from flour, water, air and time.

Having heard horror stories of failed fermentations, I decided to follow this easy guide to great results.  What you need is:

1.     The best quality of strong flour that you can afford

2.     A good source of fresh water

3.     A set of scales

4.     Basic organisational skills

5.     A little patience

Day one: Begin by mixing 50 g of flour and 50 g * of water

Mix well, cover and leave in a warm place overnight.

Day two:  Make a paste by mixing 50 g of water and 50 g of flour, fold this mix into your original mix, cover and leave to rest overnight in a warm place

Day three:  Make a paste by mixing 100 g of water and 100 g of flour, fold this mix into your original mix, cover and leave to rest overnight in a warm place

Day four: Make a paste by mixing 200 g of water and 200 g of flour, fold this mix into your original mix, cover and leave to rest overnight in a warm place

Day five: Discard all but 100 g of the mix [the book says you can place what you won’t use into the compost].

The flour and water are mixed to a rough paste

The starter is folded into the flour/water mix but never stirred

The starter is folded into the flour/water mix but never stirred

* Richard Bertinet advocates for measuring water by weight and not by volume, it is more accurate

Repeat the steps from day two to five, every day for three weeks.  This time should be enough to make your ferment strong enough for making bread.

As the days go by, you will see that your mixture will start to bubble and smell ‘bready’.

It is important to feed the mix every day, otherwise at this stage,  you run the risk of starving and killing the ferment.  It is important to keep the mix in a warm place, an airing cupboard is good or any place that is draught free. DON’T put in an oven, over the AGA or over a radiator, you want warmth but not direct heat.  It is also important to work with clean utensils and to keep containers clean.  This is like a baby and as such, it needs to be fed and to be kept warm and clean!

If your mixture is too cold or hungry, it can develop a grey liquid in the surface, if this happens, please put in a warmer place or feed it with some more flour/water mix.


A grey liquid on the surface might mean the ferment is either hungry or cold.

If your mixture does not bubble anymore, it means it might be dead and you need to start again!

To be honest, if you are careful, you cannot go wrong.  Give it a go and when you are ready you can start baking the most amazing bread ever.

Once your ferment is mature, you can feed it less often, twice a week should be enough.  You can even put in the fridge for later use.   If you want to use your ferment from the fridge, feed it three times in a day as described below, this way you can revive your fermet at any time.  This means you can put your bakery on standby and go on holiday for instance.   Once you have mature ferment, you can also share with friends.  I have done this before and it is a great thing to do, however corny this might sound, it transforms lives, do it and you will see what I mean!

Below is an adaptation from the original recipe for sourdough from Bourke Street Bakery, it is not difficult, it just requires a little time and attention. Give it a go, the results are well worth the wait.  This is pure magic!

Begin by feeding the starter on the day you are going to start the baking process; this needs to be done whether you are using your starter/ferment for the first time, from the fridge or from ambient temperature, what you want is to get the ferment going!  Follow the feeding times as described below, this way you will not have to wake up in the middle of the night to feed this baby -a sure advantage of having a bread baby instead of a real one!

First feed about noon: 50 g flour and 50 g water, add this to 100 g of starter, remember to roughly mix the flour and water and then fold this onto the starter as you did when creating the starter.

Second feed –  eight hours after the first feed: 100 g flour and 100 g water,  same process.

Last feed – eight hours after the second feed or early in the morning: 200 g flour and 200 g water, same process.

Now for the bread! This makes 1.5 Kg of bread, that you can divide in three very nice 500 g loaves.


400 g starter

600 g organic strong white  flour

170 g organic strong wholemeal flour – this particular flour blend makes a heavier mix, for a lighter version use only strong white flour

400 g water

20 g sea salt -ground

In the bowl of a food mixer, put the starter, add the flour and water.  Attach the dough hook and mix on slow speed for four minutes and then increase to the next speed and mix for another three minutes.  You should end up with a rough dough.   Cover the bowl and set aside for 20 minutes, add the salt and mix on slow speed for one minute and increase the speed to medium, mix for six minutes, you should have a very elastic dough that can be stretched to form a ‘window’.  To ensure that you have reached the right level of elasticity, take a small portion of the dough and stretch it within your fingers,  the dough should be able to stretch to transluscent without breaking, if it tears, knead it for another minute or so.

Leave the dough in the bowl and cover with cling film, leave to prove for one hour by allowing to rest in a place at room temperature.

Take out of the bowl and place on a lightly floured surface, stretch to obtain a rectangle that is about 2 cm high and fold one third of the rectangle onto itself and repeat with the remaining third.  Turn ninety degrees and repeat the folding process.  Place the dough in the bowl and cover with cling film, leave to rest for another hour.

Take out of the bowl and cut into three pieces that should weigh roughly 500g each.  Shape the loaves by repeating the folding process described above.

Line three bowls with a tea towel and sprinkle liberally with flour, place the dough seam side up, cover with cling film and put in the fridge to prove overnight [eight to twelve hours is best].

The morning after, preheat the oven to 200 C.  Take the loaves out of the fridge and leave them to rest for a couple of hours or until they have grown by about two-thirds of their original volume.  To ensure they are ready to go in the oven, apply light pressure with your finger on the loaves, if the dough springs back nicely when you put pressure, they are ready, if the indent stays in the dough, they need further resting.

Turn the loaves onto a baking tray that has been covered with grease-proof paper, score using a serrated knife or a razon blade, make sharp indentations about 1 cm deep -this is your signature on the bread.

Put in the oven and if you want, spray with water, this will give a crustier loaf.  Bake for 35 – 40 minutes or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped underneath.

Leave to cool on a wire rack and enjoy fresh or lightly toasted, the best!

How to make Mexican pan dulce

One aspect of Mexican cuisine that seems to be a little overlooked is that of bread-making.  Although Mexico is not a country that has strong associations to bread as it is the case in many other places around the world, and although we are mostly associated to tortillas; there is actually quite a strong tradition of bread making that we inherited through European colonialism and which became firmly established during the years of Empire in the nineteenth century.

It is particularly during the short period in which Mexico became subject to the puppet emperor Maximilian, where traditions of European influence became adopted by the elites.  This included the introduction of bread-making, particularly that of making sweet confections that included pastry, elaborate biscuits and a variety of other items made out of sweetened dough.

As it tends to happen in Mexico, these items were adapted to locality and they took their own shapes and names; so it can be an amusing and strange experience for a foreign person to go and buy ears, gendarmes (or policemen), banderillas (or a hurting device that gets stuck on the back of a bull during a bull fight), shells, bows, rhombs and of course the once yearly Bread of the Dead.

It is not difficult to recreate these confections and recently I made a batch of conchas or shells that we consumed with gusto whilst accompanied with my Mexican parents.  They the big judges actually loved them.

The recipe is taken from Diana Kennedy’s El Arte de la Cocina Mexicana. I have done very small adaptations.  Be aware, this recipe takes a long time to make, but if you have time and with a little preparation you can have a fun weekend of making bread with delicious results at the end of the day.  Since the recipe is so long you might want to make a large batch and then freeze the bread.  To enjoy from frozen, simply place in a warm oven to defrost and warm through and enjoy with a cup of steaming coffee or hot chocolate.

Makes about 16 conchas

Begin by making a first ferment or siembra for the bread, many Mexican breads begin by making a first ferment that is used for the confection of the various types of sweet bread including bread of the dead:

250 g strong bread flour

one sachet [8g] of dried yeast

2 Tbsp warm water

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Put the flour in a bowl.  In a small bowl, crumble the yeast and mix with the warm water, beat well to obtain a paste, add this paste to the flour and eggs, beat well using the dough hook attachment of a food mixer for a couple of minutes, the dough has to be soft and sticky.  Add a tiny bit more flour so that the dough comes off the bowl, take out and place on a lightly floured surface, using your hands, fold it so that it looks like a round cushion and put on a baking tray that has been covered with some greaseproof paper, make three diagonal cuts across and leave to rise in a warm place for a couple of hours, until it doubles its size.

Use half of this ferment and freeze the rest, if you want you can use all the ferment, in which case it will be necessary to double up the quantities below.

Now you are ready to make the main dough:

Cut the ferment into large chunks, place in the mixing bowl and add the following:

500 g strong flour

180 g sugar

½ tsp salt

45 g soft butter

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

60 ml warm water

Beat the ferment and the ingredients using a dough hook for 8 minutes at a medium-high speed, the dough needs to be soft, sticky with a shiny gloss and it should stick together.  Add a little flour so that the dough comes off the mixing bowl.  Again place on a lightly floured surface and fold to make a round cushion shape.  Butter a large bowl and place the dough in it.  Sprinkle with a little flour and cover with cling film and a tea-towel, leave in a warm place for 2 hours or until it has doubled in size.  After this period, place in the least cold part of the fridge and leave it to ferment for 8 hours or overnight.

Before finishing with this process, make the butter and sugar cover for the breads, for this you will need:

125 g plain flour

125 g icing sugar

60 g butter at room temperature

2 tablespoons cocoa

1 tablespoon cinnamon

Sieve the flour and icing sugar and add the butter, mix well using your fingers or whiz using the food processor, you are aiming to have a soft dough.  Divide in two portions, add the cocoa to one and the cinnamon to the other one, incorporate well.  Cover and set aside.

After the long fermentation period, put the dough on a lightly floured surface and turn it into a cushion without pushing too hard, you don’t want to lose the bubbles formed during the fermentation period, divide the dough in four and then in four again in order to obtain 16 pieces, it is wise to weigh the pieces, they should be about 60 g each:

Place some greaseproof paper on three baking trays.  Make a dough ball rolling the pieces of dough and place on the trays, leaving a space of about 8 cm in between each piece.                                                                                                                                                     Divide the chocolate and cinnamon sugar mixtures in eight small pieces each and roll into rounds that you will flatten using the palms of your hands, press until you have a sheet that is slightly larger than the bread ball:

Place this over the bread ball and press firmly over the dough ball, flattening it a little and repeat with all the bread pieces. Once you have done this, proceed to make the cuts; using a sharp knife, cut into the sugar paste making diagonal incissions:

Leave to rest in a warm place for –yes you guessed another two hours, or until the bread rises once more from this:

To this:

Heat up the oven to 190C.  Place the trays in the oven and bake for twelve minutes or until they puff up and turn golden brown:

Now they are ready to be eaten!

Although this process seems interminable, it actually works perfecty for a weekend at home, start on Saturday morning, carry on with your life and do the fermentations during the day, leave the dough in the fridge overnight and continue on Sunday am, you should have bread ready to dunk into hot chocolate sometime around brunch time!

Pan de Muerto / Bread of the Dead

Pan de muerto / Bread of the dead

It is that ime of the year again, the one where evenings get longer and when spooky ghosts will knock on our doors.  In the area where we live, it seems that the number of ghosts grow exponentially each year, we started with 10 and now there seem to be hundreds of kids knocking for tricks or treats.  This is a nice thing and I like to see our road full of little witches, ghosts and vampires, I like to see carved lanterns and it is all quite picturesque.

What I also like is to put a small altar with flowers to my ‘abuela’ Enriqueta, to my second  mother Alisi and to my ‘muertitos’ to our dead ones, to remember them with a small and colourful offering which will include pan de muerto, this bread is typical of Mexico and it has lots of symbolism, it made in a round shape to signify the world, it has small pieces of dough attached and these signify bones, and it is always made only at this time of year.  It is very nice served with Mexican Hot Chocolate or Cafe de Olla here is a recipe:

Pan de Muerto  (Bread of the Dead)

Makes 1 large bread

1 x 7g sachet ‘fast action’ dried yeast

100 ml warm milk

500 g flour

150 g plus 2 Tbsp caster sugar

4 eggs, beaten

the juice and zest of 1 small orange, about 35 ml juice

1 tsp vanilla essence

50 g soft butter

½ tsp crushed caraway seeds (optional)

Put the oven to 180 C conventional /  160 C fan / Gas Mark 4

Activate the yeast by dissolving it in the warm milk and add 2 teaspoons of the sugar.

Sieve the flour into the bowl of an electric mixer such as a Kitchen Aid or Kenwood, add the sugar and salt plus the optional caraway seeds and the orange zest.  Add the yeast mixture and mix well.  Add the liquid ingredients except for the butter and using the flat paddle or the attachment for bread, mix at a medium speed for 5 minutes. Add the softened butter and continue mixing for 10 more minutes.  The dough should look very elastic and translucent.  Cover the bowl with cling film or a moist tea towel and leave to rise for a couple of hours in a draught free place or overnight in the fridge.  Punch the dough and put on a floured surface.

Cut ¼ of the dough and with the rest form a ball and flatten on the edge.

Separately make ‘bone’ shapes, you will need 4 long bones plus one ball that represents a skull.

Put the bread on a non-stick, floured baking tray or on some baking parchment.

Leave the bread and bones to rise for another ½ hr and when ready, decorate with the bones making a cross pattern and putting the ball on top.  Brush the whole of the bread with beaten egg and sprinkle with 2 Tbsp of caster sugar.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes at the indicated temperature, then lower the temperature by 20 C and leave for 20 minutes, then lower the temperature again by 20 C and leave for a further 20 minutes.

To see if the bread is cooked, it should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom, and should look golden brown and it should have risen quite a bit too!

Note.  This recipe makes a rustic version of bread of the dead which is more dense than commercial varieties.

It is a funny thing that whilst outside the street is a vampire party with everyone dressed mainly in black, inside the house the place is full of vibrant colours with a more solemn atmosphere, a funny contrast which seems go to well in our diverse society.