Bolo Rei Christmas Cake | Portugal Visitor

Portuguese Culture: Bolo Rei

Bolo Rei (King Cake) with fruit and nuts

Christmas (Natal) in Portugal would not be complete without Bolo Rei, (King Cake), a rich,
though light, fruit cake in the shape of a wreath. Its name alludes to the three wise men who visited Jesus after his birth.

Round in shape, with a large hole in the center, resembling a crown, Bolo Rei usually contains nuts, plus dried and candied fruit.

Often the cake contains a dried broad bean (fava bean) and tradition has it that whoever finds the bean should pay for the cake the following year.

The cake is usually eaten over the Christmas and New Year Period as well as during Epiphany. Many households still bake their own Bolo Rei but increasingly they are ordered in from a specialist cake shop.


Supposedly the origins of the cake go back to Roman times and the feast of Saturnalia, which the Catholic Church later incorporated into Christmas.

The cake first appeared in France and came to Portugal in the 19th century made by a French confectioner in Lisbon. Other patisseries in the capital began to make the cake which gave rise to different versions. Bolo Rainha (Queen Cake) for example traditionally has nuts rather than fruit.

With the proclamation of the Portuguese republic in 1910, the cake began to be called bolo nacional, bolo de Natal or bolo de Ano Novo to avoid using the word Rei or king. These names, however, didn’t stick.

Bolo Rei.
Bolo Rei (King Cake)
Goods From Japan delivered to your home or business.
Goods From Japan delivered to your home or business
Christmas (Natal) in Portugal.
Christmas (Natal) in Portugal


Bolo Rei are light more like a sweetbread than a heavy English Christmas Cake.

Ingredients usually include eggs, lemon zest, icing sugar, warm milk, yeast, Port wine, butter, a sprinkle of salt, mixed nuts and candied or dried fruit such as figs or raisins.

Once the dough and fruits mix has risen, bake in the oven for around 35-45 minutes.

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