Thursday, January 6, 2011

Three Kings in Santa Monica

Barbara Hansen at Table Conversation reminds us that the holidays didn't end at New Years.

Today, January 6, is Epiphany. Also known as Twelfth Night and Three Kings Day. Epiphany is the day in the Christian calendar that celebrates the incarnation of Christ. In Catholic and Protestant countries, it commemorates the visit of the Three Kings, or the Magi who followed a star in the east that guided them to the holy family in the stable, bringing gifts and paying homage to the infant Jesus.

In Mexico, Central America, and, of course, Latino Los Angeles, Epiphany is celebrated with gift-giving and sharing delicious food and warm drinks. Children leave their shoes out, with a bit of hay or straw to feed the Kings' animals, in hopes that gifts and toys will be left behind.

Rosca de reyes, or the Kings' Cake is a traditional treat served at Epiphany. "Rosca" means wreath, and the cake is shaped in a circle decorated with sugar and candied fruit. Barbara gets hers in Cypress Park at La Morenita Bakery, but when I read her blog, I immediately thought of our little Westside Oaxacan bakery, Antequera Panaderia in Santa Monica.

The cake is baked with a tiny figurine of the infant Jesus inside. In lore, this hidden baby represents the flight of the holy family from Herod's massacre of the innocents. At Epiphany celebrations, whoever finds the Baby Jesus in his or her slice of cake is obliged to throw a party at Candelmas on February 2 - and tamales must be served!

I dropped by the bakery early this afternoon. There were quite a few cakes waiting on pre-order. The largest ones were oval-shaped instead of round. The woman at the counter went into the back room to find me a "chiquito" or the smallest cake they had. It was still a 12" wreath- large enough for our small family.

It was decorated with bands of sugar/flour paste typical of Mexican pan dulce, candied cherries and strips of candied fruit. Like the bakery's wonderful pan de muerto for All Soul's Day, the cake itself is a rich, sweet egg-enriched yeast dough, like a brioche.

When I got it home, I couldn't resist a taste. And guess what?

I found the Baby Jesus with the first slice!

Rosca de reyes is traditionally accompanied by a warm cup of champurrado, a warm sweet drink made with Mexican chocolate. But I think I'll have mine with a little glass of sherry.

I'm so grateful to Barbara for alerting me to this holiday treat! If you live in or near Los Angeles, or if you're interested in great food from Mexico, South America, or Thailand, you should visit her blog.

Now I'll have to ask her advice for some great tamales for Candlemas!


cactus petunia said...

Looking forward to the tamales!

Cheri @ Blog This Mom!® said...

I want this. Real bad.


Gilly said...

I've just had breakfast, but looking at that Kingly cake is making me drool!

What wonderful customs you have around LA!

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Party at Aunt Snow's house!

Anonymous said...

That looks delicious!

Jackie Owens said...

Yum! Maybe I should go to LA for Candlemas!

SUEB0B said...

Now I have to try to make champurrado.

Daisy Deadhead said...

That looks fantastic beyond words!

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

It's a good thing nobody choked on the baby Jesus figurine! The last king cake I had was a donut-like Cajun style one with purple and gold frosting.

I really have to start hitting the panaderias as well as the taquerias... never had much of a sweet tooth, though.

Anonymous said...

The only time I've had King's Cake is at Mardi Gras, where the person who finds the baby Jesus figurine is tasked with hosting the shindig the following year.
So many wonderful traditions!