Rosca de Reyes: Three Kings Cake a sweet tradition for Taos family business

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My Mexican friends boast that their Christmas season lasts for almost a month.

Celebrations start on Dec. 12, the feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe. They continue with Las Posadas, a nine-day re-enactment of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, from Dec. 16 to Dec. 24.

But after Christmas Day, the party goes on. On Dec. 28, they celebrate “los santos inocentes” (the innocent saints) in memory of the babies killed by King Herod. Despite its tragic origins, this is actually a fun holiday, full of pranks and mischief – very much like April Fools’ Day.

Then comes Three Kings Day or Epiphany Day on Jan. 6, when children get their holiday presents. They put their shoes outside their bedroom the night before to find them filled with toys and sweets the next morning – or coal if they have misbehaved.

On that day, friends and relatives also gather to share the “Rosca de Reyes,” a sweet, oval-shaped cake decorated with candy or dried fruit. Rosca de Reyes means “Three Kings Cake.” The colorful dried fruits are symbols of the gifts brought by the three wise men.

It is often served with hot Mexican chocolate, the famous champurrado.

A small plastic figurine is usually hidden inside the rosca. It’s a representation of baby Jesus, but most people would rather avoid it. Whoever gets the figurine when the cake is sliced should pay for the tamalada (tamale feast) on El Día de la Candelaria or Candlemas, which is Feb. 2.

A rosca may have two or three figurines inside so the tamalada doesn’t have to be paid by just one person.

“Still, you know how people are,” said Maria Estela Sanchez. “Some would go ahead and eat the thingy to avoid paying for the tamales.”

Sanchez knows everything about Rosca de Reyes. Rosita’s Mexican Store, the shop and bakery that she and her husband own, is the only place in town where you can buy a rosca.

The baker

Miguel Sustaita is the store’s baker. A native of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, he came to Taos six years ago and made it his home.

Sustaita was a baker in Mexico for more than 30 years and says he is very happy to share his beloved traditions with his Taos neighbors and friends.

“Rosca de Reyes is one of our most popular products, though we only make it once a year,” he said.

He also makes sweet empanadas, marranitos (gingerbread), moños (turnovers) and many other kinds of bread.

His partner is Celina Maestas, a native Taoseña.

“But she doesn’t seem to like the Rosca de Reyes very much,” Sustaita admitted.

La familia

Juan Jose Sanchez and Maria Estela Sanchez opened Rosita’s in 1997.

“We will be celebrating our 20th anniversary this year,” Maria Estela Sanchez said. “Time flies.”

They work there every day with their son, Pedro Sanchez. They also have another son who is now in Albuquerque and a daughter who lives in town.

The family spent 17 years in Sacramento, California, but many of their relatives had already settled in Taos and they eventually followed them. Thanks to their efforts, the corner lot across from Ace Hardware has become a bustling business spot. Maria Estela Sanchez’s brothers own Guadalajara Grill and the adjacent car wash.

The store

Rosita’s is a tienda de abarrotes, a Mexican-style store where people can buy anything from canned items to freshly baked sweets and bread. Among the store’s antojitos (snacks) are chile Popsicles, peanut bars, chocolate bars, roasted pumpkin seeds and marzipan. They also make corn and flour tortillas every day.

The paletas (ice cream fruit bars) come in all sorts of flavors — mango, coconut, pineapple and rice pudding.

The store sells beef, chicken, sausage, bacon and ham. When Juan Jose Sanchez is behind the meat counter, he makes sure that his clients know the different Mexican-style cuts that are available, like ranchera and milanesa.

Last but not least, Rosita’s is the best place in town to get Mexican piñatas in all shapes, colors and sizes.

Masa for tamales, aquí

They also sell masa for tamales, which makes it easier to prepare them at home.

“If you get the baby Jesus in the Rosca de Reyes, don’t eat it,” Maria Estela Sanchez said, laughing. “Come here to buy your masa for tamales and they will taste yummy and homemade.”

Rosca de Reyes

Ingredients

• ½ cup warm water

• 4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

• 1 cup white granulated sugar

• 1 envelope dry active yeast

• 1½ sticks butter

• 1 large egg, beaten

• 1 tablespoon whole milk

• 3 large eggs

• 3 large egg yolks

• 2 tablespoons whole milk

• ¼ teaspoon salt

• ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

• 1 ½ teaspoon orange extract

• Zest of 2 medium oranges

• Dried fruit

• A plastic baby or little doll

Ingredients for paste

• 1 large egg yolk

• ¾ cup all-purpose flour

• 6 tablespoons margarine

• ½ cup powdered sugar

Procedure

• Combine the water and yeast in a bowl. Allow it to bloom for about 10 minutes. Add ½ cup of flour and let it sit for 30 minutes.

• Mix the sugar and butter, then beat in the eggs.

• Mix the milk, salt, cinnamon, extracts and zest. Beat in for about a minute and add it to the sugar, butter and eggs until everything is well mixed.

• Add the the remaining flour. Add in the yeast and mix everything.

• Place the dough in a buttered container and allow to rise in a warm place. It will double in an hour or so.

• Make the paste: Mix egg yolk, flour, margarine and sugar until creamy. Mold into shapes or roll out shapes with a rolling pin.

• Roll the dough into a ball. Poke a hole in the center and insert little doll.

• Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

• Whisk together an egg and milk. Before decorating the Rosca de Reyes, brush it with the egg wash.

• Decorate the bread with the dried fruit.

• Bake for 10 minutes at 375, rotate the bread, then reduce the temperature to 350 and allow to bake for another 10 minutes.

• Allow to cool, serve and enjoy.

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