Bolo Rei, the King’s Cake is a traditional Portuguese sweet bread, with nuts and crystallized (candied) fruit, eaten at Christmas time and especially on 6 January, Kings’ Day. One of the explanations for the tradition of placing a broad bean and a coin (or small trinket) in the Bolo Rei comes from a legend regarding the Three Kings as they followed the Star of Bethlehem on their way to greet baby Jesus.
The Kings could not agree amongst themselves which would be the first to give their gift to Jesus. On their travels they met a baker who gave them a loaf of bread with a broad bean hidden inside it. He told them that the one who ended up with the slice of bread with the bean should give baby Jesus the present first and they accepted this idea as a means of resolving their dispute. Therefore, the Portuguese place a broad bean in the King’s Cake around Christmas time. At family gatherings, especially on 6 January, whoever ends up with the bean, is expected to buy the Bolo Rei for the following year. This can be seem as unlucky really, so the trinket is there to balance the situation – whoever wins the coin or trinket is said to be blessed with good luck. This recipe is not difficult to make but it is very time consuming, so give yourself plenty of time when you attempt it. When it is a few days old, slices of Bolo Rei are excellent toasted with a little butter for breakfast or tea time