Rosca de reyes (Kings cake)

Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Yields Serves 24 (Makes 2 cakes)
Rosca de reyes (Kings cake)
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the yeast with the water and a tablespoon of the flour. Set aside until the yeast begins to bubble.


When the yeast is bubbly, add 2 eggs, the egg yolks, sugar, salt, butter, lemon zest and orange flower water. Using a hand mixer or the paddle attachment for a stand mixer, beat the mixture until the ingredients are thoroughly combined.


With the mixer running, begin to add the flour, a spoonful at a time. Continue adding flour until you have a soft, smooth dough; you may not use all of the flour. Form the dough into a ball. Place it in a large, greased bowl and cover with a damp cloth or loosely with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place until it is doubled in size, 1 to 2 hours.


Punch the dough down and re-form a ball. Re-cover the dough and set aside again until doubled in size, another 1 to 2 hours.


Divide the risen dough into 2 pieces. Form each piece into a ball, and punch a hole in the center of the ball (this can be done with the handle of a wooden spoon). Gently stretch the hole, widening the dough into the shape of a wreath. Keep stretching the dough to widen the circle (alternate between the 2 pieces of dough, giving one time to relax as you work on the other half). Continue until each round is 8 to 10 inches in diameter, and the hole in the center is at least 4 inches in diameter. Insert 1 small plastic doll at a random location in each round.


Place the rounds on a floured piece of parchment paper set on a baking sheet. Loosely cover each wreath with a greased piece of plastic wrap, and set aside until almost doubled in size, about 1 hour. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.


Whisk the remaining egg with 1 to 2 tablespoons water to make an egg wash. Remove the plastic wrap and brush each round with the wash, then decorate each round in alternating stripes of candied orange and acitron, along with stripes of sugar.


Place the baking sheets in the oven and bake until the cakes are lightly browned and a toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Rotate the cakes halfway through baking for even cooking.

Orange flower (or orange blossom) water can be found at select well-stocked markets, as well as at cooking and baking supply stores and select Latin and Middle Eastern markets. Acitron (candied cactus) can be found at select Mexican and Latin markets. Plastic dolls for the cakes can be found at select Latin markets and baking supply stores. The cake photographed was garnished with powdered sugar, though regular sugar can be used (colored sugars, such as pink, red or yellow are commonly used for garnish).

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