1.11.2015

King Cakes Everywhere... including Mexico!

A stack of sadly dry vegan king cakes
at Whole Foods Broad Street
Three cheers for Carnival time - there's king cake everywhere!  Some stores even began selling it *before* King's Day (January 6th), an unforgivable transgression.  But nevermind that.  Most king cakes are made with milk and eggs, but there is plenty of vegan king cake out there for us, and it's delicious!  Breads on Oak's vegan king cakes shine this year, and I'm looking forward to trying the offerings from Shake Sugary, The Peacebaker, and Girls Gone Vegan.  (You can skip the Whole Foods cakes unless in dire need; they are once again dry bread with sugar on top.  But it's really pretty sugar tho?  They're edible if you microwave them for about 20 seconds to soften them up...)

An interesting note on king cake: we're not the only people who eat it!  January 6th is King's Day because it is twelve days after the birth of the baby Jesus (or the date on which we've chosen to celebrate his birth, anyway).  Twelve days is how long it reportedly took the "three kings" or "three wise men," Balthazar, Melchior, and Gaspar, to arrive in Jeruselem following the bright star that appeared at the birth of the Christ.  Their arrival, then, is king's day, also known as the Epiphany which means "manifestation of a divine being."  Because the significance of the celebration springs from Catholic traditions, it's unsurprising that other cities of strong Catholic culture also celebrate the day.  And with Catholics, a celebration ALWAYS means food.

Rosca de Reyes - picture from http://instagram.com/andivert/
Such is the case with this Mexican king cake, shared recently by my friend Andrea.  Their "Rosca de Reyes" is more of a bread, and is delicately flavored with orange blossom water.  It's topped with various combinations of dried fruits and sugar.  It is eaten only for King's Day, not through the entire Carnival season.  Like our king cakes, there are less traditional versions of the rosca available with a variety of fillings.  And like ours, they're usually not vegan!  The one pictured was special-ordered from a vegan-friendly bakery in Tijuana.

The rosca does contain a baby, and whoever gets it must buy tamales for people on February 2nd, a day of celebration called Candlemas.  The day marks the midway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox; we celebrate it as Groundhog's Day.  It was also the first day of the year in the Aztec calendar.  The tamales specifically are nod to traditions of pre-Columbian days and are an offering to Aztec gods for a good harvest.  Depending on the social circle, the baby recipient might have a party with the same people the cake was cut with on Candlemas and serve tamales.

Regardless of what religion you adhere to or whether you believe these bits of history and folklore, what can't be denied is that king cakes have an interesting and storied history and are a pleasure to eat!

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