An Edible Epiphany for Blue Monday

According to the unquenchable ray of sunshine that is the Daily Mail, today, 6 January, is officially the most depressing day of the year.

Christmas is over, the relentless joviality and feelings of goodwill have dissipated and the credit cards bills are flooding in. The weather is usually terrible (although today in London it has actually been quite pleasant), most people are back to work after the extended festive break and that diet or ill-advised New Year’s resolution is kicking in with a vengeance.

The DM calls it Blue Monday for the onslaught of debt, rain, depression and divorce that accompanies it like the four deadly horsemen of the apocalypse. According to the article, Blue Monday was originally identified in 2005 by Cliff Arnall, an academic who calculated the date by analysing weather conditions, debt levels, failed New Year’s resolutions and the number of days that had elapsed since the end of the festive holidays.

Experts have also deemed today ‘Divorce Monday’ because it is, apparently, the most popular day of the year for starting divorce proceedings. Cheery.

All this sounds far too much doom and gloom for me on what is, essentially, just a day in January. Although, strictly speaking, it isn’t just another day. It’s also Epiphany Day or, as it’s more commonly known, Twelfth Night, which is celebrated by Christians across Europe with that most saintly of creations: CAKE.

There seem to be two versions of Epiphany cake, a French one made with flaky pastry and frangipane called Gallettes des Rois and a Spanish Rosca de Reyes – a sort of sweet bread ring studded with fruit and nuts. Both are traditionally presented with a crown on top in a nod to what Twelfth Night symbolises: the day that the three kings visited the baby Jesus and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The cakes traditionally contained a dried pea or bean hidden in them and Twelfth Night law dictates that those who find them are decreed to be king and queen for the day.

Christopher Hirst has done a fantastic recipe for a French Epiphany Cake for The Telegraph, which you can follow here.

But I’ve always been more of a brioche kind of girl so here’s my hugely easy to do recipe for a festive Rosca de Reyes. Besides, even if you are feeling a bit down, what could be more therapeutic than pummelling some dough into submission followed by eating hot, buttery, fruity bread straight from the oven.

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Rosca de Reyes – Epiphany Cake
Traditionally, these cakes are bejewelled with glacé cherries and a golden paper crown like the ones you get with a kid’s meal at Burger King. I can’t stand glacé cherries so I decorated my royal bread with candied orange and lemon and a sprinkling of toasted, flaked almonds. I’ve also added the zest of half an orange and half a teaspoon each of ground ginger and cinnamon for that spicy, festive flavour.

Ingredients

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500g strong white bread flour

8g dried yeast

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp salt

75g caster sugar

75g soft butter

300ml milk

Zest of ½ an orange

Flaked, toasted almonds and thin slices of candied lemon and orange to decorate

Method

  • Put the flour, spice, yeast, sugar and salt into a large mixing bowl, taking care to put the salt and the yeast at different sides of the bowl as the salt will kill the yeast.
  • Warm the milk and add, a few glugs at a time to the dry ingredients with the soft butter and half the beaten egg.
  • Mix with your hands. The mixture will feel gloopy and wet at the start but if you keep working it you’ll feel the gluten building up as it stretches and becomes more like play doh.

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  • When the dough becomes elastic and is peeling cleanly from the side of the bowl then tip it onto a lightly floured surface and knead for around ten minutes. Try to resist the temptation to keep adding flour, this is an enriched dough and is inherently a little looser than traditional bread dough. If you’re unable to pummel the sticky mixture into submission at the start the use a stretch and push motion to work the dough.
  • When the dough is springy and you can stretch it without breaking it, chuck it back into the bowl and cover with a damp tea towel or greased Clingfilm and leave in a warm place until it has doubled in size. This should take about an hour.
  • When the dough has proved, add the orange zest and knead for a further five to 10 minutes before shaping. Roscon’s are usually, unsurprisingly, crown shaped, which you can create by separating the dough into equally-sized balls and attaching in a circle. If you like you can hide a dried bean or pea in one of the rolls in keeping with tradition. I prefer to put a square of chocolate in two of the rolls instead before covering with a damp cloth or greased Clingfilm to prove for another 30 minutes.

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  • Brush with the remaining egg and decorate with the orange, lemon and almonds and bake in a pre-heated oven for approximately 30 minutes at 170 degrees. If your bread is browning too quickly you can cover it with a foil for the rest of the baking time.

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  • When it is crisp, golden and sounds hollow when you knock the bottom, your Rosca de Reyes is ready. Cool on a wire rack and serve, crown optional, and remember, the two that discover the chocolate in their rolls are the king and queen for the rest of the day!
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