Baking/ Christmas/ Dessert/ European/ Recipes

Bolo Rei – Portuguese Christmas Kings Cake

06/10/2020 (Last Updated: 15/10/2020)

A lightly spiced, fluffy Christmas cake filled with fruit and nuts. A speciality in Portugal, Bolo Rei or Portuguese Kings Cake, is super easy to bake at home, so get ready to make your Kings Cake “crown” this holiday season!

Bolo Rei or Kings Cake on a wooden block ready for Christmas.

Why We Love This

Bolo Rei is about as Christmas-y as you can get in a recipe, from the smells of the port-infused fruit to the glace cherries on top.  We love that it also tastes as good as it looks. It’s definitely a standout on the table on Christmas day – looking just like an edible wreath!

The great thing about Kings Cake is the lightness of the cake, it’s not heavy like a traditional English fruit or Christmas cake, it’s more on the side of a sweet bread with delicate spiced flavour.

A slice of traditional Christmas fruit cake in Portugal.

What is Bolo Rei? 

Bolo Rei or Portuguese Christmas Fruit Cake is, as the name states, a popular cake made during the holiday season. The cake is most popular between Christmas Day (December 25th) and in the new year on Kings Day (January 6th) in Portugal. 

A fun fact about Bolo Rei is traditionally there were two other things included within the cake – a fava bean (or broad bean) and a small prize (usually a toy). If you got the fava bean inside your slice of cake, it meant you had to supply the Bolo Rei at Christmas the following year. The small prize was usually a toy a child could ‘find’ within their slice. This is similar to the English tradition of hiding money in Christmas pudding to find.

What You’ll Need

  • Warm Milk – This helps to activate the yeast and speed up the rising process.
  • Yeast – We used Active Dry Yeast for this recipe, you’ll find it at most supermarkets.
  • Eggs – Straight from the fridge or room temperature is fine.
  • Lemon Zest – Can substitute with lime or orange in a pinch.
  • Port Wine – Any port is fine, you can also use dry sherry, frangelico or cointreau.
  • Candied or Dried Fruit – This is sometimes referred to as crystallized fruit. Pick and mix your favourite fruits to add – popular ones are sultanas, orange, mango and apricot.
  • Mixed Nuts – Anything from pine nuts, walnuts, cashews or peanuts will work here.
A close up of Bolo Rei - Portuguese Christmas Fruit Cake.

How to make Portuguese Christmas Cake:

  1. Place the chopped candied fruit and raisins in a bowl with the port to infuse.
  2. Mix the yeast with warm milk and let rest in a warm place for 5-10 minutes until slightly frothy on top.
  3. In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, lemon zest, butter, whole eggs and salt. Then pour in the yeast mixture and knead together. Once mixed, add in the port and fruits mixture and the chopped nuts. Knead together until well combined.
  1. Mould the dough to be rounded or in a ball shape within the bowl, scraping down the edges and slightly sprinkle with flour before covering it over with cling wrap and a cloth.
  2. Allow to rise to double the size. This should take around 1.5 hours, depending on your climate.
  1. Line a baking tray with paper and a light sprinkling of flour. Place the dough onto the tray, forming a ring or “crown”, without handling the dough too much. Place a cup or dish in the centre to keep the ring from closing up.
  2. Allow to rise for another 30min – 1 hour. Pre-heat oven to 180°c. Baste with egg yolk mixture and garnish with remaining nuts, dried fruit slices and icing sugar. Pop in the oven and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, and you’re done!

Wandercook’s Tips

  • Place a bowl or cup in the middle ring to prevent the hole from closing while baking.
  • Sprinkle extra icing sugar over a slice when serving to make it look extra special and add just a little extra sweetness with every bite.

FAQs

What’s the difference between Portuguese Kings Cake and Queens Cake?

The biggest difference is on the topping. Kings Cake (Bolo Rei) is layered on top with dried fruit and nuts, while Queens Cake (Bolo Rainha) omits the fruit (and sometimes the nuts too!). 
While Kings Cake is the more popular recipe on the table during the holiday season, the lesser known Queens Cake is starting to rise in popularity due to the fact a lot of people don’t like the fruit on top of the cake.

Can Portuguese Christmas Kings Cake be made in advance?

You can make this one or two days in advance (especially if you wanted to have it on Christmas Day). The best way to store the cake is in a sealed container to keep the cake from drying out.
If it does feel a little dry, pop it in the microwave for 10 seconds a slice or 30-45 seconds for the whole cake.

Can you freeze Portuguese Christmas Kings Cake?

Yes! Once it’s cooked and cooled, if you won’t eat it in the next 3-4 days, pop it in the freezer and store for 2-3 months. When you’re ready to thaw it out, just pop it in the oven for 10 minutes on 180°C (350°F).

Variations & Substitutes

  • Leave off the fruit on top of the cake and you’ve just made Bolo Rainha or Portuguese Queens Cake.
  • Customise the flavour by substituting different fruit and nuts to suit your taste.
  • Substitute port with any other spiced liquor such as brandy, sherry, frangelico or cointreau.
A full 'crown' of a Portuguese Christmas Kings Cake on a wooden block.

Create your own Christmas Day feast with these dishes:

★ Did you make this recipe? Please leave a comment and star rating below!

Close up of wreath baked Christmas cake.

Bolo Rei (Portuguese Christmas Kings Cake)

A lightly spiced, fluffy Christmas cake filled with fruit and nuts. A speciality in Portugal, Bolo Rei or Portuguese Kings Cake, is super easy to bake at home, so get ready to make your Kings Cake "crown" this holiday season!
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Resting Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 25 minutes
Course: Christmas, Dessert
Cuisine: Portuguese
Servings: 1 Cake
Calories: 3544kcal
Author: Wandercooks
Cost: $10

Ingredients

Garnish

Instructions

  • Place the chopped candied fruit and raisins in a bowl with the port to infuse.
  • Mix the yeast with warm milk and let rest in a warm place for 5-10 minutes until slightly frothy on top.
  • In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, lemon zest, butter, whole eggs and salt. Then pour in the yeast mixture and knead together.
  • Once mixed, add in the port and fruits mixture and the chopped nuts. Knead together until well combined.
  • Mould the dough to be rounded or in a ball shape within the bowl, scraping down the edges and slightly sprinkle with flour before covering it over with cling wrap and a cloth. Allow to rise to double the size. This should take around 1.5 hours, depending on your climate.
  • Line a baking tray with paper and a light sprinkling of flour. Place the dough onto the tray, forming a ring or "crown", without handling the dough too much. Place a cup or dish in the centre to keep the ring from closing up. Allow to rise for another 30min – 1 hour.
  • Pre-heat oven to 180°c.
  • Baste with egg yolk mixture and garnish with remaining nuts, dried fruit slices and icing sugar.
  • Pop in the oven and bake for 35 to 45 minutes.
  • Optional: Brush the top with the jam and hot water mix to add a finishing shine before serving.

Recipe Notes

Tips to get this recipe just right:
  • The Wreath Shape: Place a bowl or cup in the middle ring to prevent the hole from closing while baking.
  • Presentation: Sprinkle extra icing sugar over a slice when serving to make it look extra special and add just a little extra sweetness with every bite.
  • Making in Advance: You can make this one or two days in advance (especially if you wanted to have it on Christmas Day). The best way to store the cake is in a sealed container to keep the cake from drying out. If it does feel a little dry, pop it in the microwave for 10 seconds a slice or 30-45 seconds for the whole cake.
  • Freezing: Once it’s cooked and cooled, if you won’t eat it in the next 3-4 days, pop it in the freezer and store for 2-3 months. When you’re ready to thaw it out, just pop it in the oven for 10 minutes on 180°C (350°F).
  • Variation 1: Leave off the fruit on top of the cake and you’ve just made Bolo Rainha or Portuguese Queens Cake.
  • Variation 2: Customise the flavour by using different fruit and nuts to suit your taste.
  • Substitute Port: Any other spiced liquor such as brandy, sherry, frangelico or cointreau.

Nutrition

Calories: 3544kcal | Carbohydrates: 517g | Protein: 81g | Fat: 123g | Saturated Fat: 51g | Cholesterol: 662mg | Sodium: 813mg | Potassium: 2245mg | Fiber: 32g | Sugar: 180g | Vitamin A: 2749IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 528mg | Iron: 26mg
Hey hey – Did you make this recipe?We’d love it if you could give a star rating below ★★★★★ and show us your creations on Instagram! Snap a pic and tag @wandercooks / #Wandercooks
Bolo Rei - Portuguese Christmas Kings Cake

10 Comments

  • Reply
    Emmeline
    11/12/2019 at 6:28 pm

    5 stars
    I’ve never heard of this cake before but it looks very interesting! Love learning about different Christmas foods around the world like this.

    • Reply
      Wandercooks
      12/12/2019 at 9:03 am

      Awesome Emmeline!

  • Reply
    Farah
    11/12/2019 at 4:42 pm

    5 stars
    How beautiful! Looks so much better than the traditional fruit cake loaf. I’ll try this out!

    • Reply
      Wandercooks
      12/12/2019 at 9:03 am

      So different, it’s a lot lighter than fruit cake which I like.

  • Reply
    Beth
    11/12/2019 at 4:32 pm

    5 stars
    What a fun, beautiful cake! I enjoyed learning a little about the tradition behind this recipe too!

    • Reply
      Wandercooks
      12/12/2019 at 9:02 am

      That’s great Beth, we enjoyed learning about the tradition too! 🙂

  • Reply
    Haley D. Williams
    11/12/2019 at 4:16 pm

    5 stars
    Love holiday desserts from around the world!

    • Reply
      Wandercooks
      12/12/2019 at 9:02 am

      Same, there’s always something new to cook. 🙂

  • Reply
    Cyndy
    11/12/2019 at 4:12 pm

    5 stars
    Wonderful idea and I love all of the detailed instructions that you have given. I can’t wait to make this cake!

    • Reply
      Wandercooks
      12/12/2019 at 9:05 am

      Happy to help Cyndy. Let us know how you go!

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