Three Kings Day, or Epiphany, is traditionally celebrated on January 6th. It's supposedly the day that the three Magi, Balthasar, Melchior and Caspar, guided by a star, presented their gifts to Christ in the manger.

Driekoningen is not a very traditional or widespread holiday in the Netherlands anymore but it used to be one of the most celebrated ones, akin to Sinterklaas. The famous painter Jan Steen reflected this festive holiday in numerous works: scenes of blissfull family gatherings with food and drink, music and singing. 

Jan Steen, Driekoningenfeest (1662),
Oil on canvas, 131 x 164.5 cm.,
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
 Captain Alonso Vazquez noted the tradition in his writings of 1614,
" On the day of Three Kings, and the night before, they (i.e. the Dutch) crown someone in their household as king, by luck, and they obey him and serve him as such, and when he drinks they encourage him and praise him in loud voices, and from Christmas Eve to Three Kings, a period which they call Thirteen Evenings, they place in remembrance  thirteen burning candles, of white wax, on the window sill, in a single line behind the curtains, to remember the thirteen nights from Christmas to Three Kings, and each night they will get together and party and get drunk." Well, that's lovely. No wonder the Calvinistic movement in the 17th and 18th century forbade to host or participate in such festivities. No fun!

Nowadays, pockets of predominantly Catholic areas such as Brabant and Limburg do still celebrate it, albeit in a more moderate form. Children will dress up as magi and will, illuminated by a burning star-shaped lantern, go door-to-door and sing songs in hope to rake in the candy.

On the eve of Driekoningen, January 5th, or early morning on the 6th, Driekoningenbrood is served. It's a sweet bread, flavored with almond paste and lemon zest, that holds a small surprise: hidden in the bread are three uncooked beans. Two are white beans and one is dark, to represent the three Magi. Whomever gets the slice with the dark bean will be "king" for a day, being allowed to set the pace for the day, or at least decide what's going to be for dinner. No mention of drinking is made.

4 cups of all-purpose flour
1/4 cup of sugar
2 teaspoons of active dry yeast
1/3 cup of milk, warm
1 teaspoon of salt
Zest of one lemon
1 stick of butter, melted
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup of almond paste
Two white beans
One black, red or pinto bean
1 tablespoon of melted butter
1 tablespoon of powdered sugar

Mix the flour, sugar, salt and lemon zest. Dissolve the yeast in the warm milk and proof, then add to the flour mix. Break pea-sized pieces off the almond paste and add with the egg yolks to the dough. Knead, then add the melted butter. Knead the dough for a good five to eight minutes or until it's smooth and flexible. Set aside in an oiled bowl, covered and let it rise for an hour or until doubled in size.

Carefully punch down the dough and shape into a round. From the bottom, stick the three beans in the dough, each at a fair distance from each other. Place the round dough on a baking sheet or in a round baking pan, cover the dough, rise for 45 minutes or about 2/3s in size.

In the meantime, heat the oven to 375F. When the bread is ready to be baked, cut a star shape in the top of the dough with scissors, to resemble a crown. Bake the bread for about forty minutes or until done. Note that, because of the high sugar content, the bread may brown prematurely and might acquire a bitter taste: tent the bread with aluminum foil during the last ten to fifteen minutes to avoid any burning.

Brush the bread with melted butter when it comes out of the oven, let it cool and dust richly with powdered sugar. Slice in pieces and serve with hot chocolate and coffee: make sure you check to see if you have the dark bean!

If you want to leave the bread whole, you can also cut out a star or crown shape out of paper and dust the bread with powdered sugar after it's cooled.


  1. Thank you very much for your blog, tips, recipes and a real dutch taste :)
    I have family in Maastricht and as a kid I spent many summer weeks in Holland, so I had very many ocasions to try dutch food but I never cooked dutch way. Some time ago I found this cuisine very interesting and I started to look for the recipes. Now I make worstebroodjes for Christmas and Oliebollen, and also limburgse konijn. Thanks to you I made bitterballen and I will bake ontbijtcook :)
    You do a great job! Keep doing!

  2. Leuk ook voor Nederlanders om de typisch Nederlandse recepten op een rijtje te zien en zo onze eetgewoontes te bestuderen met mooie foto's.


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