Showing posts with label Driekoningenbrood (Dutch Three Kings Bread). Show all posts
Showing posts with label Driekoningenbrood (Dutch Three Kings Bread). Show all posts


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 blissful family gatherings with food and drink, music and singing. The city of Tilburg still organizes Driekoningen celebrations every year. The celebration was added to the Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2012.

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! 

Another source, a 1935 issue of a monthly magazine for housewives, references the old tradition, already rare by then, that the bread was cut in thirds by the man of the house: one third for the church, one third for the neighbor who was not able to purchase this costly bread, and one third for his own household.

Nowadays, pockets of predominantly Catholic areas such as North 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. If a parent or adult gets the king's bean, they are expected to treat the rest of the family - double joy! 

4 cups (600 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar
1 teaspoon (6 grams) salt
Zest of one lemon
2 teaspoons (15 grams) active dry yeast
3/4 cup (175 ml) milk, warm
1/4 cup (80 grams) almond paste
2 eggs
1 stick (100 grams) butter, melted
2 uncooked white beans
1 uncooked black, red or pinto bean
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 tablespoon powdered sugar

Optional: 1/2 cup (75 grams) raisins or mixed peel

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 eggs to the dough. Knead together, then add the melted butter. Knead the dough for a good five to eight minutes or until it's smooth and flexible - add one more tablespoon milk at a time if you feel it's too dry. Set aside in an oiled bowl, covered and let it rise for an hour or until doubled in size.

Carefully punch down the dough, spread raisins over the top if used and knead them in carefully, then shape the dough 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/190C. When the bread is ready to be baked, slash the top of the dough once top to bottom, and once right to left. Then slash each quarter section once more, creating 8 sections. As the bread bakes, the tips of each section will rise up and create the shape of a crown. Bake the bread for about thirty minutes or until done (>185F internal temperature). 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 prefer to not cut the star shape in the bread, you can also cut out a star or crown shape out of paper and dust the bread with powdered sugar after it's cooled.