Rosca de Reyes is a sweet yeast bread with a delightful orange flavor! Topped with cherries, apricots, and almonds, it’s also known as Three Kings Bread. This special treat is traditionally enjoyed in Mexico on January 6th to celebrate Kings Day.
One of my favorite holiday treats as a kid was freshly made Rosca de Reyes, which is a sweet, fluffy Mexican bread with citrusy flavor. It’s decorated with cherries, apricots, and almonds to look like a king’s crown. My grandmother (Nana) made this bread once a year for Kings Day on January 6th, which made it all the more special for us kids. Rosca de Reyes marked the end of the holiday season and it was always exciting to see who would end up with the baby Jesus in their slice.
Now that Nana is no longer with us, I love to carry on this tradition. This Kings Day Bread is quite simple to make. You only need a few simple ingredients and the dough is quite easy to work with. I recommend getting kids involved when making this Mexican dessert, especially when it comes time to decorate the bread.
Watch How to Make It
Want to see the step-by-step? Here’s a quick video showing you how to make Rosa de Reyes from start to finish:
What is Rosca de Reyes?
Rosca de Reyes, which translates to “ring of kings”, is a dessert served in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries on January 6th. It’s also known as Three Kings Bread or Kings Day Bread.
The dessert is a sweet yeast bread, similar to pan dulce, that is formed into a wreath (rosca), and decorated with dried fruit and almonds, with a light orange flavor. A small doll figurine representing baby Jesus is hidden inside the bread and part of the fun is seeing who finds the doll in their slice.
What is the Significance of January 6th?
In Mexico, January 6th is known as Dia de los Reyes (Day of the Kings). In other parts of the world it’s known as Ephiphany or Three Kings’ Day. Traditionally, this is the day that the Three Wise Men arrived to give their gifts to baby Jesus and also the day that gifts are exchanged in Mexico, marking the end of the Christmas season. (Note that this tradition is mostly observed in Central and Southern Mexico. In Northern Mexico, gifts are usually exchanged on Christmas Day.)
What Does The Baby Jesus Represent?
There is a lot of religious symbolism in Rosca de Reyes, with the bread itself representing a King’s crown. The baby Jesus figurine represents Jesus in hiding – some say this refers to when Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt to protect Jesus from King Herod.
What Does It Mean If You Get the Baby in Your Slice of Rosca de Reyes?
If you find the baby Jesus in your slice of Kings Day Bread, congratulations – you now get to throw a party and cook tamales for everyone on February 2nd (Candelaria Day)! It’s also considered good luck. 🙂
Three Kings Bread is made with pantry staples. Here’s what you’ll need for the dough and the decorations. Scroll down to the recipe card for exact measurements and details.
For the Dough
- Unsalted butter
- Milk – Whole milk is ideal.
- Granulated sugar – Adds just a bit of sweetness to the bread.
- Orange zest – Freshly zested! Gives the bread a light orange flavor.
- All-purpose flour
- Active dry yeast – Yeast does expire so make sure yours is still good. Otherwise, the recipe won’t work.
- Eggs – Make sure they’re at room temperature.
- Orange juice – Orange juice from the orange you zested is ideal but orange extract will work too.
For the Decoration
- Unsalted butter – You want cold butter for this part of the recipe.
- Superfine sugar – Granulated sugar will not work.
- All-purpose flour
- Cold water
- Egg – The egg wash makes the bread nice and golden.
- Decorations – The top of the bread is decorated with candied cherries, dried apricots and almond flakes.
If you can’t find the traditional decorations, you can easily substitute them. Here are a few other toppings frequently used:
- Candied citrus peel
- Figs or prunes
- Pecans or walnuts
How to Make Rosca de Reyes
Even if you’ve never made yeast bread before, Rosca de Reyes is quite easy to make. Your home will smell amazing too! Here’s a quick overview. Scroll down to the recipe card for even more details.
- Melt the butter. Combine the butter, milk, and sugar over low heat, until melted and combined. Do not boil.
- Make the dough. Add the active dry yeast and orange zest to flour in a stand mixer . Add the salt and mix. Whisk the eggs in a separate bowl then add to the flour. Mix until the dough begins to form. Slowly add in the warm milk mixture.
- Continue kneading. Add the orange juice after the milk mixture. Knead on low speed for 10 minutes, until the dough has a soft texture.
- Allow to rise. Cover the bowl with a cloth and set in a warm place for an hour.
- Make the decoration. While the dough is resting, make the decoration. Chop butter into cubes and place it in a bowl. Add flour and sugar and combine in your hands until a crumble starts to form. Add cold water and combine until a paste forms. Shape into a rectangle, cover with a foil and let it rest in the fridge for approx. 15-20 minutes.
- Shape the dough. Once it has doubled in size, shape the dough into a ball then roll it into a 24-inch log. Bring the ends together to form a ring. Place on an oversize baking tray. Place a ramekin or other oven-safe bowl in the center to help the bread keep its shape as it rises.
- Allow to rise. Cover with a cloth and let it rise for 20 to 30 minutes.
- Add the egg wash. Brush the dough with an egg beaten with milk.
- Decorate. Cut the paste into strips and place it around the wreath. Add the glazed cherries between the strips, surrounded by dried apricots and almond flakes.
- Bake. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden.
- Cool. Allow to cool completely then add the figurine of baby Jesus from the bottom.
Tips for Success
Here are a few tips for making Kings Day bread – these are especially helpful if you’re not familiar with yeast-based dough.
- Make sure the milk mixture is warm, not hot. When adding the milk mixture to flour and yeast, make sure it is very warm but not hot. I like to use the “baby bottle” method where I place a bit of the milk on the inside of my wrist. If it feels hot, then it will be too hot for the yeast. If it feels just warm, then it’s perfect. This is important because if your milk is too hot it will kil your yeast and your dough won’t rise.
- Make the dough circle bigger than you want. When forming the wreath (rosca) make the hole a little bigger than you feel it should be. The bread will expand as it grows and bakes, so the hole will become smaller. I also recommend placing an oven-proof bowl in the middle.
- How to insert the baby Jesus. Insert the baby doll from the bottom once the cake has baked and cooled completely. Just push it up through the bottom.
- Counter: Rosca de Reyes will last for 2 or 3 days at room temperature, either wrapped in plastic or in an airtight container.
- Fridge: You can also store it in the fridge to extend its shelf life. Store it in an airtight container for 5-6 days.
- Freezer: To freeze your bread, let it cool completely. Wrap the entire loaf in a couple of layers of saran wrap. Then wrap it in aluminum foil. Or, you can slice the bread, wrap each slice in saran wrap, and place them in an airtight, freezer-safe container. The bread will keep for up to 3 months. Defrost on the counter for a few hours when you are ready to eat it. Or, if you froze individual slices, remove the plastic wrap and zap each slice in the microwave for about 30 seconds.
Rosca de Reyes
Rosca de Reyes is a sweet yeast bread with a delightful orange flavor, topped with cherries, apricots, and almonds. Also known as Three Kings Bread, this special treat is traditionally enjoyed in Mexico on January 6th to celebrate Kings Day.
- Prep Time: 50 minutes
- Cook Time: 25 minutes
- Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
- Yield: 16-20 servings
- Category: Dessert
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: Mexican
For the Dough
- 1/3 cup unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup milk
- 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
- Freshly grated orange zest of 1 orange
- 2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 eggs (at room temperature)
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice, or 1 teaspoon orange extract
For the Decoration
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter (cold)
- 1/2 cup superfine sugar
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tablespoon cold water
- 1 egg + 1 tablespoon milk – for the egg wash
- Candied cherries
- Dried apricots (sliced, arranged around a cherry)
- Almond flakes
Making the Dough
- In a small pot, melt the butter with milk and sugar over low heat, just until melted and combined. Careful not to bring it to boil. Set aside.
- Zest the orange and squeeze the juice.
- Fit a stand mixer with a hook attachment and pour the flour into a large bowl of the stand mixer. Add active dry yeast and orange zest and mix with a spoon or with your hand. Add salt and mix again.
- In a separate small bowl, whisk together eggs, just until combined.
- Add eggs to the flour and mix until the dough starts to form. Then, turn on the mixer to low speed and start gradually adding the warm milk with butter and sugar mixture.
- Once the entire milk mixture is added, add the orange juice. Continue kneading the dough on low speed for 10 more minutes. The dough will have a soft texture and it should easily come off a hand when touched.
- Cover the bowl with a clean cloth, set aside in a warm place for about an hour. The dough should double in size.
- While the dough is resting, make the decoration. Chop butter into cubes and place it in a bowl. Add flour and sugar and combine in your hands until a crumble starts to form. Add cold water and combine until a paste forms. Shape into a rectangle, cover with a foil and let it rest in the fridge for approx. 15-20 minutes.
Shaping the Dough
- Shape the dough into a ball, then roll it into a 24 inch long roll. Bring ends together to form a ring (rosca) and place with a seam side down on a parchment paper and an oven-size baking tray.
- Cover with a cloth and let it rise for approx. 20-30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Brush the dough with an egg beaten with milk.
- Cut the paste into strips and arrange on top, along with the glazed cherries, strips of dried apricots and almond flakes.
- Bake at 350°F (no fan setting) for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.
- Take out of the oven and cool completely on a wire rack before adding a figurine of baby Jesus. Serve and enjoy!
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Keywords: three kings bread, kings day bread, rosca de reyes bread