It’s not Holiday Season in the Book Blogging World until the Advent Tour starts! Last year I sang an ode of cod and I’ll continue to stick to food, if that’s ok with you.

I’m sharing the day with Amy, AngelCharlotte and Chris, so hop on over to their side of the blogosphere once you’re done here.

Let me introduce you to another compulsory part of every Christmas side-table in Portugal: the Bolo Rei (King Cake). We eat it throughout the holiday season, until about Kings Day (6 January).

It’s doughnut-shaped, and full of dried fruit, inside and out. It symbolizes the crowns of the Three Wise Men: full of jewels! Apart from the fruit, there are two surprises inside: the feared fava bean and the “brinde” or gift. If you get the slice with the bean you must buy next year’s Bolo Rei, but the gift means good luck, although today they’re all but extinct.

When I was a kid, the gifts were tiny metal figurines that I religiously collected. Back then they were only wrapped in a piece of paper before being inserted in the cake dough, but now the world is a much more dangerous place.

Over the years food safety regulations increased to a point where some bakeries started giving the gift separately, so that you could put it in the cake at your own risk. Now gifts are completely outlawed.


Anywhoo, in my innocence I thought there was nothing more originally Portuguese than Bolo Rei, so you can imagine my surprise when my boyfriend, hearing of my plans for this post, tells me that it’s actually a French tradition. A bit of Googling confirms: it was probably invented during the reign of King Louis XIV, but was banned during the French Revolution, only to be back under a more revolution-appropriate name – gâteau des san-cullottes (cake of those without knee-breeches), the name for the radical militants of the lower classes.

The recipe was only brought to Portugal from Paris at the end of the 19th century.

So yes, the origin might be French, but surely we now took over as its symbolic owners, especially when so many cities across the country bake huge Bolo Rei for the whole community, and after the Guinness Book of Records awarded Matosinhos with the prize for biggest Bolo Rei in the world (2.500 Kg, 17 meters, thank you very much).

Recently there have been variations on the Bolo Rei (apricot, chocolate), but I’m a purist. Just because they’re shaped like a Bolo Rei, sold during the time of Bolo Rei and called Bolo Rei, it doesn’t make them a Bolo Rei!

Happy Holidays everyone!