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Bolo Rei a Portuguese holiday tradition fit for a king

Bolo Rei, or King's Cake, is a Portuguese holiday tradition. Fit for a king, this sweet bready cake is covered in nuts and candied fruit.

The origin of the cake king goes back to the Romans. They had the habit of electing the king of the feast by drawing lots with beans – the winner was called the king of the fava. The Catholic Church took the game and linked it to the Epiphany between December 25 and January 6. The last day was the Day of Kings and symbolized by a fava in a cake.

Today’s Bolo Rei first appeared at the court of Louis XIV in France for New Year's and King's Day parties.

Bolo Rei came to Portugal in the nineteenth century as a bready cake in the shape of a crown made of lèveda dough. The first place where Bolo Rei was sold in Portugal was the Confeitaria Nacional in Lisbon around 1870. The recipe came from Paris, and the cake spread like a wildfire. The name survived the proclamation of the Republic in 1910, although some called it a President’s Cake…

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Round with a large hole in the center, it is made of a soft white dough mixed with raisins, nuts and candied fruits. Traditionally, inside the cake were also a dried bean and a small coin, usually made of metal. The fava gave to those who received it in a slice the right to pay the next king cake, and the coin gave luck to anyone who found it. It is said that there were still those who put small riddles in the cakes, whose reward would be half a pound of gold, or even the gold coins themselves, as a gift to those who bought the cake.

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