It is rare to see a Christmas table in Portugal without its king cake, a crown of brioche dough decorated with candied fruits, introduced to the Iberian country by a French pastry chef at the end of the 19th century.
The recipe for “bolo-rei” (“king-cake” in Portuguese) was brought by a pastry chef named Grégoire, recruited in Toulouse in 1875 by the head of the “Confeitaria Nacional”, a nominal pastry shop located in the heart of Lisbon, near the square rosio.
Since then, it has become a specialty of the season, and the National Bread and Pastry Producers Association awards an annual award to the best “bul ry” in the country.
The winner in 2022 is a small bakery in the popular area of Damaya, located in the municipality of Amadora, on the northwestern outskirts of the Portuguese capital.
“It’s a somewhat far-fetched place, but the most elegant of establishments isn’t always the best,” Helio Esteves, pastry chef at the family’s establishment Padaria da Nei, told AFP.
“Not everyone goes to Rossio to buy their bolo-rei, so you can find it on every street corner,” because it is “the best-selling cake during the Christmas period,” he adds, during which dough is served topped with dried fruits and candied fruits forming its crown.
“Here we try to work in the most traditional way possible, to recapture the flavors and aromas that come to us from ancient times,” explains the 28-year-old pastry chef, who has already won the award for best “Pastel de nata “in 2021”, a small pie on puff pastry and one One of the most famous pastries in Portugal.
Food critic Fatima Mora told AFP that the king cake was already present throughout Europe in the Middle Ages but almost disappeared before it was reintroduced in France, during the reign of Louis XIV.
“+bolo-rei+ has the colors of Christmas in its fruit. Red, green, and orange are so pretty colors that they make a perfect centerpiece” for family gatherings at the end of the year.
Despite its name, this crown of kings is eaten especially at Christmas, and not for Epiphany, which is not celebrated in Portugal as often as in neighboring Spain.