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Christmas means Christmas cake. And in every country there is a typical Christmas one.
You cannot talk about typical sweets without mentioning Bolo Rei. Is there any Christmas dessert more typical in Portugal than this one?
Behind this cake there is a symbology with about 2000 years of existence. The legend says that the cake represents the gifts that the three Wise Man gave to Baby Jesus at birth: the crust symbolizes gold; The crystallized and dry fruits, represent myrrh; And the aroma of the cake symbolizes the incense.
Rounded, with a hole in the center, it is made of a soft white mass, where dry fruits and candied fruits are joined. Traditionally, inside the cake was a dry bean and a small surprise, usually made out of metal or ceramic, and whoever got it had the duty to pay the following year’s cake, and the surprise worked as a lucky charm to anyone who found it. Unfortunately, for safety reasons, the European Union has banned the cake from being sold with these articles.
But where did this tradition come from?
Contrary to popular belief, the tradition arose in France, at the time of Louis XIV, for the New Year and the Three Kings Day. However, with the French Revolution in 1789, the delicacy was banned because of its name. Fortunately, and as the business was profitable, the confectioners continued to make it under the name of gâteau des sans-cullottes.
In Portugal, the first pastry to sell and make the Bolo Rei was the National Confectionery in Lisbon around the year 1870, a cake made from a recipe brought from Paris. But with the proclamation of the Republic, on October 5, 1910, the worst times came for the King Cake endangering its existence, because of the word “king,” symbol of the supreme power that had been overthrown. The cake had to disappear or find another designation .
Confectioners continued to manufacture it changing its name and today, as time got by, the cake regained its original name.
And despite the prohibition of the fava and the charm, it remains one of the most present sweets throughout the Christmas season.
We can truly say: there’s no Christmas table that does not have a Bolo Rei!