Rosca de Reyes (with a French twist)

The classic Latin American King’s Cake, with a filling of almond paste more typical of the French version Galettes des Roi. Traditionally served on Epiphany (Three Kings Day), January 6, with a small token — a bean or Baby Jesus — hidden inside. In Mexico, whoever finds the token is tasked with providing tamales for the Candlemas dinner on February 2. 

Rosca de Reyes

1/4 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees °F)
1 envelope active dry yeast or 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast*
1/4 cup warm milk (105 to 115 degrees °F)
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 to 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, beaten, room temperature

1 cup almond flour (almonds finely ground)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (room temperature) plus 2 tablespoons butter (melted)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 red bean or small plastic baby figurine

1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 to 2 tablespoons milk (or water)
Sugar sprinkles (optional)

For the dough: Warm the water and sprinkle in the yeast, stirring until it dissolves. (If you are using instant yeast, there is no need to dissolve—aka proof—it. Just stir the yeast into the first cup of flour that is added to the warm ingredients.) Stir in the warm milk, butter, sugar and salt; mix well. Add 1 cup of the flour (and the instant yeast, if using) and blend well. Stir in the eggs and 2 cups of flour. Beat in enough of the remaining flour to make a soft and tacky dough.

Lightly flour a flat work surface and turn out the dough. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes, adding more flour if the dough sticks. (You may also knead the dough in a stand mixer with a dough hook, adding flour by the tablespoon until the dough cleans the sides of  the bowl and does not stick to your fingers.) Put in a large greased bowl, turning to grease all sides. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

For the filling: Combine almond flour and powdered sugar. Cut in butter, mixing until evenly distributed. Sprinkle almond flavoring over the mixture, stirring to incorporate. Mixture will be very loose.

Punch the dough down and transfer to a lightly floured work surface; roll into a 24-by-9-inch rectangle. Brush with the melted butter, leaving about 1/2 inch around the edges dry. Evenly and thickly sprinkle the almond and sugar mixture over the buttered dough. Beginning at the long end, roll up tightly (away from you), softly stretching as you go, as for cinnamon rolls or jellyrolls. Pinch the seam to seal. Even out the thickness by softly pushing center toward the edges. Transfer to a greased baking sheet, seam side down, and join the ends, pinching them together to form one ring.

If using a bean or baby, push it into the underside of the dough to hide it. Pinch to close the hole. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, 30 to 40 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cool on a wire rack.

For the icing: In a small bowl whisk the sugar, almond extract and milk until smooth. Drizzle over the top of the cake. Sprinkle with fancy sugar, if you like.

* A note on instant yeast:  instant yeast requires no proofing. However, it is important to add it, with the flour, to a warm medium (about 100 degrees). This means the eggs need to be at room temperature, and the liquid ingredients at just above body temperature.

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