Nigel Slater, guardian.co.uk, Updated: April 19, 2013 14:33 IST
Still in the holiday spirit? Why not celebrate Epiphany with a spin on a fruity traditional Spanish cake?
I am constantly on the look-out for celebrations - personal, public, local or borrowed from other cultures - if only as an excuse to bake a cake. Epiphany, the celebration of the coming of the magi bringing gifts to the baby Jesus, is not exactly on my calendar, but it will do. Today both France and Spain celebrate the event with a special piece of baking. I see every reason to join in.
The galette des rois, baked in France, Switzerland and Belgium, is a layer of frangipane trapped inside puff pastry and is good when it is fresh from the oven, but the cake that caught my eye this year was the Spanish roscón (or rosca) de reyes, that is also eaten in Cyprus, Greece and Latin America - a glittering confection of an enriched bread dough with icing or glacé fruits, it is not a something to set aside for a wet winter's afternoon. Each should contain a tiny gift, such as a bean or a plastic Jesus, but I drew the line at that. I did, however, whip up a spiced cream to go with it.
The method, or at least my version of the traditional, was unorthodox and a little unsettling. The yeasted dough is beaten into a cream of butter, sugar and eggs using the flat paddle attachment of a food mixer. It is something you might normally do by hand, but this method works - though you have to forgo the messy, up-to-your-elbows fun of doing it on a work surface. Take your pick.
Some form of decoration is essential. A trickle of white icing is simplest, slipping in shiny rivulets down the sides of the cake, but a bejewelled effect is more in keeping with the occasion. To hammer home the idea of the round bun as a crown, a setting of sweetmeats is both appropriate and a necessary partner to the plain dough.
Whole crystallised fruits, figs, clementines, plums and apricots, cut in half or sliced as you wish, will give a jewelled look to your cake, albeit at a price - maybe there are some left from Christmas. If not, slices of preserved orange and the large yellow citron will work, too. Angelica, that like-it or loathe-it candied herb, is another possibility. Glacé cherries are a bit of a last resort, if only on the grounds of good taste. The heavily sugared fruits, rather than burn as you might expect, lend a subtle fragrance to the plain cake as it bakes.
I refer to this as a plain cake, though the texture is rather similar to a brioche, but more open. There is a richness, too, from the sugar and the eggs. It is rather wonderful for breakfast.
As a final act of heresy, I served my roscón with a spiced cream. Seeds of cardamom and vanilla were used to flavour golden caster sugar and scented not only the cream but the cake, too. And I mixed the softly whipped double cream with an almost equal amount of mascarpone to give a supremely luxurious accompaniment. A celebration in any language.