​A crown for a king

As soon as the first Christmas decorations hit the Portuguese shops you’re bound to see it in most cafés, pastry shops and supermarkets: bolo rei (“king cake”).

Bolo rei has a soft texture (similar to brioche) and it’s filled with candied fruits and walnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, sultanas, and almonds. The top is decorated with brightly coloured candied fruits and lumps of sugar to give the appearance of precious stones on a crown. When it’s well made it’s delicious!

Although this cake is a fairly recent import, it conquered a place at the table of most Portuguese families around this time of the year. Originally a French recipe (galette des rois), first produced in Portugal in the late 19th century by Confeitaria Nacional (in Lisbon), there are several variants available today. The most famous one is bolo rainha (“queen cake”), which is like bolo rei but without the candied fruits. Then there’s the variant with fios de ovos, the one with chocolate, the one with red fruits and… When does it stop being bolo rei, anyway?!

Until the mid 1990’s bolo rei came with two extras: a dried fava bean and a small metal trinket. If your slice had the fava bean, that meant you’d have to pay for next year’s bolo rei; if you got the prize, well, so much the better for you (only kids usually cared about it, obviously). Apparently, there were cases of people choking or breaking teeth with these things, so they became strictly forbidden.

Wondering what to do with day old bolo rei? Check out this post!



  1. Thanks for reminding me about this cake!
    I learned about it last year and said I would bake it this year (but totally forgot). Those photos just make me want to try it 😀

    That’s interesting the bit about the fava bean and trinket. In France, in the ‘galettes des rois’, that’s still included in. It’s usually a figurine made of porcelain. I find it a bit sad that this tradition got left out in Portugal. It was so much fun as a kid to get them 🙂

  2. I love Bolo Rei and this post reminded me I need to order mine from the Portuguese Bakery.
    And whatever remains after Christmas I use it as toast with lashes of butter, yummi!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.