King cake – a story for the sweet tooth


Christmas season is here and it’s time for the Portuguese to eat a lot, specially many slices of ”bolo rei” (king cake). Let’s find out its story!

The tradition of eating king cake  is not only Portuguese and it has more than 2000 years of tradition. The legend tells that the cake represents the wise men’s offering to baby Jesus when he was born. The crust represents the gold, the crystallized and dried fruits symbolize myrrh and the cake’s flavor, the incense. Its round shape with a hole might represent the king’s crown. Its ingredients are simple: white and soft dough with many dried fruits,  raisins and at the end, the crystallized fruits for decoration. Many years ago, it was traditional to add inside the cake a broad bean and a small gift (normally made of metal). Meanwhile, the European Union set a law, forbidding the gift for security reasons. Those who find the broad bean have to buy a cake for the next year.

Contrarily to what many believe, the king’s cake appeared in France, during the kingdom of Louis XIV, for the New Year’s festivities and the Day of the Kings (Epiphany). With the French Revolution the king was forbidden because of its name. No king cake to everyone! Vive la Republiquegâteau des san-cullottes.
The Portuguese version of the king cake was created in Confeitaria Nacional in Lisbon, around 1870, and its recipe is influenced by the French version. Almost the same threat happened to this cake. After the Republic Revolution in 1910, the most radicals made an imposition: the cake must change its name because ”king” is the symbol of the defeated monarchy. If not, it would disappear! The pastry cooks changed its name, but it seems that it didn’t have the same effect. As time went by, eventually  it recovered its original name. We still continue to call this wonderful pastry king cake and it has a wife – the queen cake, perfect match if at home you have someone who doesn’t like the crystallized fruits.

These and other curiosities you can always hear during our friendly walking tours in Lisbon. Come and enjoy Lisbon with Fora da Rota Tours! True Travel, Real People!


Source: As Nossas Voltas