I am on the email list for Despaña Princeton, so when I got an email from them in early December about ordering Roscón de reyes – King Cake – for Epiphany (which is today), I couldn’t resist – I’d always wanted to try one of these! They are also popular for pre-Lenten celebrating during Mardi Gras in New Orleans. King Cake traditionally has a little statue of baby Jesus secreted in it, or, in old times, a fava bean, or some other porcelain trinket – search Etsy for “féves” and you’ll be entranced by the variety, especially of French figurines, of people, of animals, or, oddly household items.
Today, most bakeries are loathe to risk lawsuits, so they leave them out, or maybe provide a tiny plastic Jesus separately so the purchaser can insert it him/her self at home. Some king cakes are made with puff pastry, or a yeasted pastry, and filled with almond cream, which sounds delicious. The ones for Mardi Gras are topped with garish dyed sugar in purple, green, and gold, the traditional Mardi Gras colors.
But the one I picked up from Despaña the other day (made by a New York bakery to their specifications) was somewhat more “grown-up,” made of barely sweet yeasted dough studded with chopped candied fruits and walnuts, and exuberantly decorated on top with large slices of, according to manager Michael Dokovna, “figs, orange slices, apple slices, cherries, and quinces. Normally,” he continued, “the cake in Spain contains a miniature baby Jesus, toy or more traditionally a Fava bean. The person who finds the toy, Jesus or Fava, is responsible for purchasing the following year’s Roscon.” I’ve also read that the person who wins is supposed to have good luck during the coming year.
This cake did not come with any figurine, but it did have those excellent candied fruits plus confectioners’ sugar tossed on top. It was just delicious, and I – along with the friends I shared with – am already looking forward to next year’s. Much like a coffee cake, I found myself enjoying the cake with morning coffee and afternoon tea. And, who knows, maybe when Mardi Gras rolls around, someone in our area will offer a version with puff pastry and almond cream!