In many regions of Germany and German speaking countries, one of the highlights of Epiphany on January 6th - Three Kings Day, is the once a year treat of a piece of Dreikönigskuchen. A cake baked in honor of the Heilige Drei Könige, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar.
As part of the end of Christmas celebrations, Dreikönigskuchen is eaten at any time during the day, and enjoyed as a tradition not only because it's delicious but has a tiny figure of the "Christ Child", or a dried bean, tucking away inside. Whoever finds it in their portion is a "King" or "Queen" for at least the next hours.
This not only means being awarded the crown decorating the cake, but usually being excused from doing any chores at least until the next day. For most children this is a far better prize than being awarded a shiny crown.
Traditionally a Dreikönigskuchen is divided by the number of people present plus one, with the extra piece left for those who can not be there for whatever reason. In former times this was then given to a person in need, either someone in the street outside or who had knocked on the door of the home.
A "Three King's Cake" is easily made with any sweet yeast bread dough, but here is a traditional German recipe to try.
2 cups + 3 tbsp flour
1.4 oz fresh yeast
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp lukewarm milk
7 tbsp melted butter or good quality margarine
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp finely chopped lemon zest
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
2 eggs, 1 beaten whole, 1 separated - the egg white and egg yolk lightly beaten separately
1/2 cup raisins, soaked in rum
1 cup mixed chopped dried citrus fruit
A dried bean sized plastic figure, or a dried white bean
Decoration - optional
2 tbsp powdered icing sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup halved red candied cherries or
1/2 cup sliced almonds
Place 3/4 of flour into a bowl, in the center make a hole to which add yeast and mix with a pinch of sugar and some of the lukewarm milk.
Dust the mixture with flour to prevent a skin forming, cover and allow to rise in a warm place for 15 minutes.
Then add to mixture, melted butter, salt, lemon zest, ground cardamom, one whole lightly beaten egg, one lightly beaten egg white, together with the remaining milk and flour. Knead dough until smooth.
When the dough begins to form a ball, stir in rum soaked raisins, mixed dried fruit and plastic figure or bean.
Now to shape it into a "Crown"
Form the dough into a cylinder. Divide into 5 equal parts and form 2 balls from four of these, and larger ball with the remaining piece.
Grease a spring form pan.
Place dough balls into the pan, with the large ball in the center.
Cover the pan, leave in warm place and allow yeast mixture to rise.
Brush dough with the beaten egg yolk and place in preheated oven (350 degrees F) for approximately 30 minutes. (Some remove the circular form from the spring form pan at this stage, which means the cake spreads out more while cooking).
Allow the cake to cool completely before removing it from the baking tin.
To make the optional glace icing decoration, combine the powdered sugar and lemon juice to a thin but not too liquid coating consistency.
Using brush or knife cover the cake with the icing, and you can then decorate with the halved candied cherries. But many people find these are too sweet, so follow the German speaking area of Switzerland where almond slices are added.
A golden or silver cardboard or foil crown, to be placed upon the head of whoever finds the "Christkind", or bean, in their portion of the Dreikönigskuchen making them "King For The Day", is fitted around the large ball in the middle of the iced and decorated circle, and the "Three Kings Cake" is ready to be served.
Guten Appetit!..........And enjoy your Dreikönigskuchen
Photo of Three Kings Cake by schweizer-illustrierte.ch