In many European countries Epiphany is celebrated as a National Holiday. Last year, I was blessed to be serving at Via Sacra in Italy where I learned about the magical Christian legend of La Befana, an important character in the Christmas festivities. The story of La Befana has been in Italian tradition since the XIII century. The legend tells that la Befana was approached by the Three Wise Men who asked her to lead them to the stable where the baby Jesus lay in a manger. La Befana was too busy sweeping her house, so she declined the offer to go with them. Soon she realized that she had made a mistake, so she gathered up a bag full of gifts and set off alone, flying on her broom in search of the baby Jesus. Though she followed the same star as the Magi, she was unable to find the stable. Undaunted, la Befana continues to travel the world to this day, searching every house for the Christ child, leaving gifts. On January 6, the first day of Epiphany, Italian children search their stockings for gifts from La Befana as a sign that they have been good that year.
Celebrate Epiphany with us by baking Dreikönigskuchen (A Cake for Three Kings) a specialty sweet roll found in bakeries all over Liechtenstein at this time of year!
Dreikönigskuchen (A Cake for Three Kings)
- In the bowl of a standing mixer, dissolve the yeast in the warm milk and add sugar – wait about 5 min until the yeast starts to work. Add the rest of the ingredients, starting with the liquids and going to solid, adding the flour last. Add the flour 1 cup at a time until the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl and it springs back to the touch. You may not need all the flour.
- Once a soft, smooth ball forms, set it aside to rise until doubled in bulk, about 2 1/2 hours. Be sure to cover it and place in a warm spot.
- Divide the dough into 8 Pieces, one a little larger than the rest.
- Roll each piece into a ball and arrange the 7 smaller balls around the slightly larger one on a sheet pan, forming a flower. Poke an almond into the bottom of one of the rolls. Let rise another 30 minutes, then brush with the egg wash.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 F. Prepare the glaze by mixing the apricot jelly with a tablespoon of hot water.
- Bake the rolls for 30-40 minutes, or until deep golden brown. Brush with several coats of apricot glaze and sprinkle with the coarse sugar. It’ll sparkle in the sunlight, like a beautiful jewel
- Next, add a real crown. You can make one out of a brown paper bag or, if you happen to have one of these laying around…
- Let a lucky someone find the almond and be royalty for the day! Serve it with a big cup of tea or coffee and … an epiphany or two.