Bolo Rei (Portuguese King Cake)


kings cake 0587

Bolo Rei (Portuguese King Cake)

Saturnalia was an ancient Roman festival held in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture and time, typically celebrated around the winter solstice, which falls in late December. It was a time of great revelry and merriment.
The connection between King's Cake and Saturnalia is rooted in the practice of choosing a "king" or "queen" for the day through a random and somewhat festive process. During Saturnalia, it was common for the Romans to elect a "King of Saturnalia," often a slave or lower-class citizen, who would temporarily have the privileges and authority of a king. This reversal of social roles and the idea of temporary kingship during Saturnalia may have influenced the tradition of the King's Cake and the concept of finding a hidden figurine to determine a "king" or "queen."
Portuguese Bolo Rei has its origins in the 19th century when Portugal was experiencing a wave of cultural and culinary transformations. This cake made its debut during the holiday season, particularly on Christmas and the Epiphany, marking a festive, symbolic treat.
The cake itself is a marvel. Picture a ring-shaped bread, soft and slightly sweet, often crowned with a regal array of candied fruits and nuts. The crown-like toppings pay homage to the Three Wise Men, and each element represents a unique flavor journey, much like the voyage those wise men embarked upon.
Now, a key feature of Bolo Rei is the surprise it holds within. Hidden inside the cake is a fava bean and a small figurine, typically representing a king. The lucky person who discovers the figurine is said to have good luck in the coming year, while the finder of the fava bean is responsible for buying the next Bolo Rei, keeping the tradition alive.
This cake, in its delicious complexity, stands as a testament to Portugal's cultural heritage. So, when you savor a slice of Bolo Rei, you're not just indulging in a sweet treat; you're partaking in a piece of history, a taste of tradition, and a touch of Portuguese royalty.
Rate this recipe!
Course Dessert
Cuisine Portuguese
Servings 12 servings


  • 8 cups flour 1000g
  • 1 cup sugar 200g
  • 6 eggs
  • 3 sticks butter 340g
  • 1 cup milk 240g warm about (105-110 F)
  • tbsp dry active yeast 15g
  • cup port wine 60g
  • 4 teaspoons salt 15g
  • ½ cup toasted pine nuts 70g
  • ½ cup toasted pecan nuts 70g
  • 1 cup raisins 170g
  • ½ cup a variety of diced Candied fruit 135g optional

For decorating the top of the cake

  • candied oranges
  • candied cherries
  • variety of candied fruit
  • nice whole nuts (not chopped)
  • 3 tbsp apricot, peach, or pear jelly


  • in a pan, add a little bit of oil, a pinch of salt; over low heat, toast, pine nuts and pecans. Continue stirring over low heat being careful not to burn the nuts. When the pine nuts have turned a golden brown color, they are done. Save to add into the dough. (you can use a variety of different nuts in this recipe)
    nuts kings jpeg cakeIMG 5065
  • Butter the bundt pan with about 1 -1/2 tablespoons of butter.
    bundt pan
  • Combine the warm milk and a pinch of sugar with the yeast. Let it hydrate for about 10 minutes.
  • Add the flour, salt, sugar and port wine to a mixing bowl along with the milk, yeast mixture
  • Separate the egg whites from the egg yolks
  • At this time, only add the egg whites to the flour mixture in the bowl.
  • Knead/mix at slow speed to combine the ingredients. Knead the dough for about 3-5 minutes.
  • Continue mixing / kneading at low speed at low speed while adding in one egg yolk at a time. Allow each yolk to fully incorporate into the dough before adding the next egg yolk.
  • Next, continuing to mixing / kneading the dough while adding in about 1 tablespoon of butter. Let the butter fully incorporate into the dough before adding another tablespoon of butter. Continue adding the butter until it has all been mixed into the dough.
    butter kings jpeg cakeIMG 5064
  • Add the toasted nuts and raisins to the dough, continue mixing just enough to incorporate the nuts and raisins. (optional: at this time you could add an additional half cup of diced candied fruit)
  • Using a rubber spatula, add the dough to the bundt pan. Fill the Bundt pan about 70% full. (if you have extra dough, you can cook it in a separate ramekin or cake pan)
  • Allowed to proof / ferment for 1-1/2 to 2 hours. (This is assuming the temperature in your kitchen is about 75F° (24 C). If your kitchen is cooler, it might take 2 1/2 to 3 hours.)
  • preheat your oven to 375°F or 190°C
  • Bake the cake at 375°F, (190°C) 40-50 minutes. (If you have an instant read digital thermometer, the cake is done when the internal temperature gets to 185-190°F (87°C)
  • Allow the cake to cool off for 15 to 20 minutes

Decorate the cake

  • Mix the jam/jelly with equal parts water. Briefly warm up the mixture in the microwave. Brush the cake with the mixture to make it look shiny.
    brush 5 8
  • Traditionally, this cake is usually decorated very extravagantly with a large variety of candied fruit, nuts, sometimes powdered sugar. So feel free to let your artistic side shine and decorate the cake that is appealing to your taste.
    kings cake TN


Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!


Portuguese / Keto / Seafood / Vegetarian / Breakfast / Dinner

Michael holding plate of pesto crab cakes

Hello, I'm Michael!

I aspire to share recipes that you and your family can enjoy while also learning about cooking fundamentals along the way. I attended the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, CA and now enjoy cooking as a hobby.

Link to shop Michael's Kitchen Essentials