13 January 2012

All Gold Bolo Rei

This Bolo Rei is missing its traditional jewels.  Candied fruits in neon colors are not bedecking the top, and piles of chopped dried fruit are not baked into the dough.

It is more like a simple gold crown for the king.  A lack of ostentation.  A Portuguese King Cake which has been subjected to austerity measures.

But this cake is not a socio-economic political statement.  It is merely a matter of taste-- MY taste.  In the past few years of tasting bolo rei in Portugal, I have found the visual impact of the fruit entirely cancelled out by its off-putting taste and slimy shiny texture.  Meh.

This year I decided to attempt a makeunder on this Lisbon holiday staple.  The result was a golden, crusty, simple, sweet treat that made for many a happy winter breakfast.

Bolo Rei, or King Cake, is not a Mardi Gras treat in Portugal as it is in New Orleans. The Dia de Reis, or Kings' Day, is the night of January 5 into the morning of January 6.  It is known in English as Epiphany or Twelfth Night: the visit from the Magi to the newborn Jesus.

In any case, in Portugal the cake rather outshines the holiday itself.  It is sold throughout the whole holiday season, from November through mid-January.  Some families bury small trinkets or fava beans in the cake, and whoever finds it in their slice has to make (or buy) the bolo rei for the next year.

There are plenty of jokes to make about the overwrought versions of this cake and the lack of attention they get on the dessert table.  BB likes to say we should just recycle the things from year to year.  On the other hand, I love the soft eggy dough.  I love the sweet-but-not-sweet flavor, somewhere between a bread and a cake.  I love that it toasts in slices with hundreds of nooks and crannies for the butter to slide into.  I love that it lasts for about a week before losing its luster.

And so, here is a simple bolo rei celebrating everything I love about this cake and nothing I don't.  Some sultanas, some slivered almonds, some honey, some almond liqueur.  A deep golden crust that tempts me more than any candied fruit could.

Viva o Rei!  Long live the King!

All Gold Bolo Rei
makes one 10-inch ring cake
adapted from The Food of Portugal

1 package active dry yeast
1/2 cup sugar
4 cups sifted all-purpose flour, divided
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1/3 cup sultanas
1/3 cup slivered almonds
1/3 cup amêndoa amarga, Cointreau, or other sweet liqueur
6 tablespoons of unsalted butter
grated rind of one orange
grated rind of one lemon
2 large eggs
1/4 cup lukewarm milk
Glaze: 1 large egg yolk whisked with 2 tablespoons water
Topping: 1/4 cup slivered almonds, 2 tbsp raw sugar and 1/4 cup honey

1. In a large warm bowl, combine the yeast, 1 tablespoon of the sugar, and 1/2 cup of flour, pressing out all lumps.  Pour in the lukewarm water and whisk until smooth.  Cover with a dry cloth and set in a warm spot for about 30 minutes until spongy, light, and doubled in bulk.
2. While the sponge is rising, macerate the sultanas and the almonds in the liqueur.
3. Cream together the butter, orange and lemon rinds, and remaining sugar until it is light.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and when light yellow and airy add the milk.
4. When the sponge is done rising, stir it down and add it to the butter-egg-milk mixture along with 1/2 cup of flour.  Mix until smooth. Add the macerated raisins and almonds and the liqueur.  Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition.  The final dough will be sticky and too soft to knead at this point.
5. Scoop the dough into a well-oiled bowl and pat the surface with oiled hands.  Cover with a dry cloth and set in a warm spot to rise until doubled in bulk (about 1 hour).
6. When it has risen, punch the dough down and knead it 30 to 40 times on a well-floured surface.  Shape it into a chunky rope about 22 inches long.  Bend into a circle and knead the ends together well.
7. Ease the ring onto a silpat lined baking sheet.  Brush the ring with the egg and water mixture, trying to keep the glaze on the top of the dough.  (If you don't use silpat, then the eggs will act like glue and it will be very hard to remove the loaf after it is cooked.)  Sprinkle with the almonds and raw sugar, and cover with a dry cloth to let rise for about 45 minutes.
8. As the dough has its final rise, preheat the oven to 400F (200C).  Glaze the top of the loaves again with the egg mixture.
9. Bake the loaf uncovered for 20 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 350F (160C).  Bake for 10-15 minutes longer, until deeply golden.  Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.  Drizzle the honey over the center crack on the top of the loaf, around and around until it is all soaked in.
10. When cool enough to eat, cut into wedges and enjoy.  After a few days, it is still excellent when cut into slices and toasted, then covered with butter.

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