“With or without cream?” It’s one of the phrases most often repeated by Madrileños at this time of year. Although, as times are changing so fast, perhaps we should add: “With truffles, strawberry, chocolate?”
After New Year’s Eve has passed, and with it, festive treats like polvorones (a powdery shortbread) and turrón (nougat), the Roscón de Reyes (a ring-shaped cake traditionally eaten to celebrate the Epiphany) takes pride of place in bakery windows everywhere, although strictly speaking it should really be eaten on 6 January. Not to worry! Scores of bakeries devote themselves almost entirely to roscones throughout the month, and some even do so all year round. Some historians trace the origins of this tasty treat to the Roman Saturnalia. In Spain, the earliest mention of it is from the 14th century in the Kingdom of Navarre, where a bean was already being cooked into the now traditional cake. The boy who found it in his piece was named King of Kings for the day…. Nowadays, if you get the bean, you’re supposed to pay for the roscón, while if you find a figurine it means you’ll have good luck!
Quality ingredients (flour, milk, butter, sugar, eggs, orange blossom water), fermentation and the passion of Madrid’s bakers, who go nearly without sleep during the holiday season in the rush to fill their orders, make the difference in the 21st century. When choosing a roscón, our first tip may not be obvious to everyone: it must be artisan. Madrid bakeries where you’ll find classic roscones include Antigua Pastelería del Pozo, where they’re very spongy and decorated only with sugar and ground almonds, and Horno de San Onofre, where they come with a range of fillings. Last year the award for best roscón went to Moulin Chocolat. Its magnificent flavour and texture are the result of slow fermentation and the use of natural orange blossom water distilled in Seville. Other solid options include El Horno de Babette, whose roscones are closer to bread than cake, and Panadario, where they’re made with very lightly flavoured brioche dough.
Those with a sweet tooth are in luck this year. The Madrid Association of Artisan Confectionery Entrepreneurs (ASEMPAS) has designed a special itinerary with participating establishments all over the city, all of which are endorsed by its Seal of Quality. You’ll find the full list on its website (www.asempas.com)… Let the inspiration begin! It includes classic patisseries like El Riojano, where they’re very faithful to the traditional recipe we all grew up with, the chain Mallorca, whose roscones are particularly moist, Viena Capellanes, where they’re topped with candied fruit, La Mallorquina, where they’re one hundred percent traditional, and Lhardy, which has been making them with loving care for 180 years. But there are all sorts of places worth discovering, like Villagarcía, where they’re made with or without sugar, La Oriental, which specialises in gluten-free offerings, Adolfo Lazcano, always a sure bet, and Manacor, which makes them with butter, fresh eggs, Marcona almonds and real orange zest. Happy eating!