On the 12th day of Christmas, 12 drummers drumming probably aren’t headed your way (unless your true love is in a particularly spunky marching band). But if you celebrate the Epiphany on Sunday — the 12th day after Christmas that marks the three wise men’s arrival after the birth of Jesus — you’ll get something better: cake.
According to Mexican tradition, the Epiphany is celebrated with rosca de reyes, a ringed cake with a baby figurine baked into the batter, topped with fruit in the colors of the Mexican flag. Tradition dictates that whoever finds the baby must bring tamales to the Feb. 2 celebration of Dia de la Candelaria, or Candlemas Day. In very large roscas, multiple babies are hidden in the cake, resulting in more tamales and a bigger party. Rosca was featured in our December cover story about holiday foods from afar.
“After Christmas . . .immediately you were looking forward to the celebration of the Epiphany,” says Elsa Borja, deputy director of the Mexican Cultural Institute, who buys her rosca at La Flor de Puebla Baker Cafe ($10-$40) when she’s in Washington for the holiday. “I remember keeping those little babies each time I got them. You would not get rid of them, you would keep them in a little box.”
You don’t have to be from Latin America to celebrate on Jan. 6 with cake. Evonne Benitez, whose parents own La Mexicana Bakery in Alexandria, says that different demographics have been requesting the cake. “They've found out about it and thought it was fun, and they're curious as to what is this rosca. We've started getting new customers,” she said. La Mexicana’s roscas are $35-$45.
Spaniards celebrate Epiphany with the cake too, but instead, a baby and a fava bean are baked into the batter. The person who finds the baby is crowned king for a day, and the person who gets the fava bean pays for the cake. Jose Andres's Jaleo is taking orders for this variety of the cake, which is a whipped cream-filled brioche topped with candied cherries, orange peel, candied melon and pearl sugar ($25).
You can also celebrate the Epiphany at the restaurant’s Bethesda location, where “parents and their children are invited to the restaurant for a chance to meet the three wise men, Balthasar, Gaspar and Melchior,” according to the restaurant’s Web site. Instead of gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, they’ll be giving kids a complimentary slice of rosca.