January 6th marks the Feast of the Epiphany in the Christian tradition, and it is the last of the Twelve Days of Christmas.
In Spain, January 6th is the day that kids get their Christmas gifts, which are said to be delivered by the Los Reyes Magos (The Magi Kings) whom I grew up calling the Three Wise Men.
I think I first heard of this tradition when I studied abroad in Madrid, and since then I have always liked the idea of the Wise Men bringing the children their presents, just as they brought gifts to the infant Christ.
It just seems like it would be a much easier way to explain Christmas gifts to your children rather than having to connect the birth of the savior of the world to the story of a fat old man who lives at the North Pole surrounded by elves.
Beyond being just a far better reason to account for all those presents, Spain celebrates the arrival of the Reyes in some pretty cool ways, including parades to welcome the Magi to town, and baking a crown-shaped bread/fruitcake (similar to a brioche bread) called the Roscón de Reyes.
Since my family didn’t get a full twelve days of Christmas vacation, I tried my hand at making a Roscón de Reyes on Christmas Eve. We were staying the casa de mis suegros, and my father-in-law likes fruit cake, so I thought it might be a similar treat for him.
The Roscón de Reyes and My Ego the Riesgo
I began by reading recipes online in English, but for whatever reason these didn’t seem authentic enough for my swelling ego which had begun to envision writing about a delectable “living the Spanish life at home” triumph that would take Pinterest by storm. Before I knew it, I would have 800 zillion readers, and all my self-doubt would end because I would be a BLOGGER in big capital letters making money hand over fist, receiving the key to the city, and signing autographs and, and,—wait a minute?!
Clearly my poor father-in-law wasn’t my sole motivation here. Making matters worse, I have never even tasted a proper Roscón de Reyes so how would I even know the difference?
I finally settled on this Spanish recipe from PequeRecetas called Receta de Roscón de Reyes casero paso a paso/Step by Step Homemade Roscón de Reyes. Visit the site to see the gorgeous photo that sucked me in; I don’t have rights to post it here.
The budding blogging monster in my head thought not only would I bake this bread to perfection, but I would then post my English translation of the recipe to The Spain Inside, which would magically garner worldwide acclaim and soon I would be hanging out with Shakira. You know, the usual.
However, I made two grave errors. First, I barely bake in English, and when I do it is typically with the help of a Betty Crocker box. As such, I’m not terribly familiar with baking vocabulary in either language.
Second, all the measurements for the recipe were listed in metric weight units, and not in the admittedly inane yet comforting and familiar volume units such as cups, teaspoons and tablespoons. But my delusions of blogging grandeur kept me from being reasonable, so instead I went on the hunt for a kitchen scale, and I got down to snapping some pictures.
Roscón de Reyes Glory Will Be Mine!
One of the ingredients on the list was levadura fresca which translates to fresh yeast. “Fresh” yeast, I thought to myself. That must mean “active” yeast. So in the grocery store I picked up a few packets of dry active yeast. At no point did I consider checking a dictionary just to be sure. Nor did I consider who would buy inactive (a.ka. dead) yeast, for that matter. Nope, I was flying too high.
I began the step where I needed to proof my yeast. The recipe called for 25-30 grams. I was shocked when I realized the three packets I bought totaled only 21 grams altogether!
Wow, I’ve never used three packages of yeast in one recipe ever, I thought to myself. I checked the recipe and the packets again. Oh well, I’ll use the 21 grams I have and hope it turns out okay.
Proofing yeast means you activate the yeast early on to be sure that it isn’t dead. Once it puffs up, then you add the mixture in with your other dough ingredients, kneading it for awhile before setting it aside. Proofing is supposed to ensure that your bread rises, and all that work isn’t for naught.
After kneading my dough, I followed these directions.
La guardamos en un recipiente hermético o tapada con uno o dos paños húmedos durante un par de horas en un lugar cálido y sin corrientes. Después de un par de horas la masa debe haber crecido aproximadamente el doble.
“We store it (the dough) in a sealed or lidded container along with one or two moist cloths for a couple hours in a warm place without drafts. After a couple hours the dough will have grown to approximately double its size.”
Wait and See
So I covered my bad boy with a couple warm damp paper towels. Then put the lid on the bowl and left it on the kitchen counter. My apartment is usually 68 degrees, but mi suegra keeps her house at 72 degrees, so that is a warm place, right?
I returned two hours later to find my dough hadn’t doubled in size. It hadn’t done anything!
“How can this be?” I said to my husband in disbelief. “I triple checked the directions!” We searched the internet for causes, none of which made sense. I had seen the yeast proof fine with my own eyes! We tried warming the oven to a hundred degrees and putting the container in the oven for an hour, but no dice.
Somewhere during this time of abject sorrow and searching Google like a loca for all sorts of yeasty things, my translation popped into my head. Did I have the wrong yeast?
EHow held the key to my fateful mistake: Fresh yeast and dry active yeast are indeed very different things.
So can they be converted? Again, EHow, this time from its helpful article “How to Convert Fresh Yeast to Active Dry Yeast.”
“If you are working with weight measurements, multiply the amount of fresh yeast the recipe calls for by one-third — or divide by three — to obtain the active-dry yeast measurement.”
So that’s 8.30-10 grams of yeast I should have used. NOT TWENTY-ONE! Then I was even more mindboggled. If I used double the amount of yeast necessarily, why hadn’t my dough risen at all? Not even a little?
We suspected the dough hadn’t been kept warm enough, but that answer would have to wait. By this point it was early evening, and I left with my husband’s family to attend a Christmas Eve dinner.
Hell or High Water + Ego = Karma Tastes Like Play-Doh
When we returned home at 11:30pm, I decided I was making this damn roscón come hell or high water. After all, I still had plenty of dough, and even if the dough didn’t rise, it would probably still taste okay, right?
As I slid them in the oven I thought that the breads might turn out alright after all. Not great, but alright enough.
I started telling myself, Maybe you can change the focus of your post to be about accepting your flaws. And how despite how ugly your roscones turned out, they tasted good enough, and you can say there was fun in the trying.
As we approached 11:30pm, I finally took them out of the oven. My hopes were high, but alas, the roscones were as dense as bricks, and one was really burnt on bottom.
I tore off a bite of the lesser of my pathetic breads.
Did you ever taste Play-Doh as a child? It tasted like that. All salty and ridiculous.
The whole enterprise just felt ridiculous. Goodbye, blogging dreams of glory. Goodbye, Christmas morning treat for my father-in-law. Goodbye to any shred of dignity that remained.
Yet for whatever reason, I laughed. Instead of calling myself a stupid dummy and feeling like a huge failure, I showed them to my husband, who also had a laugh, and I tossed them in the trash. I was disappointed there would be no storyline of tasty redemption, but whatever. I had presents waiting for me the next day. Life wasn’t so bad.
If at First You Fracasar… Watch Other People Do It!
So here we are now at the Epiphany. All Twelve Days of Christmas had passed me by and I still hadn’t put the experience into words.
Perhaps this was dear sweet little baby Jesus’s way of putting my ego in its place, and telling me not to co-opt his birth by writing about it on the internet for the edification of my own ego.
I promise, Big J.C., my delusions of grandeur are gone. Point taken. Perhaps the only thing I salvaged from the experience was to make something of it, and better to write my misadventure than nothing at all!
However, for all of y’all (vosotros!) who are still interested in making a roscón of your own, here are some links to recipes in English which use our measurements and look decent.
I haven’t made any of them yet, although I am toying with the idea of trying again.
Someday, when I know I’ll be humble enough to handle it.
This one from King Arthur Flour looks very thorough and detailed. The first link is a blog about it with detailed instructions; the second link is the straight recipe. The recipe link also lets you toggle between volume measurements, ounces and grams.
This one from About.com’s Spanish food section looks fairly basic. Maybe I’ll start here next time!
The Bread Kitchen offers a recipe along with a video!
Happy Kings’ Day! Feliz Día de los Reyes!