If we talk about French influence in the city of Porto, the most famous dish of the city quickly comes to mind. The francesinha was born in the city in 1934, but it was not the first delicacy to take its inspiration in France to delight Porto's stomachs. Even in the 19th century, the king of cakes was already being served throughout the city. When Epiphany approaches, we bow down to the bolo-rei (Portuguese Christmas cake).

In 1774, Jean-Baptiste Greuze painted “Le Gâteau des rois” [The Kings Cake], a painting depicting an ancient French tradition linked to the Epiphany, a Christian holiday marking the Adoration of Jesus, the day when the Magi arrived in Bethlehem. At the centre of family harmony, a kind of puff pastry pancake, the cake baked for the first time in France in the time of Louis XIV, and which would be the ancestor of the bolo-rei we know today.

And no detail is without its symbolism, whether or not the cake represented the gifts that the Three Wise Men have given to Baby Jesus: the gold comes in the shape of a crown, the myrrh is the dried and crystallised fruit, and the incense comes from the exhaled aroma by the sweet.

Legend has it that, in the 18th century, Louis XV's cook put a gold coin in the cake in order to surprise the king, the joke became a tradition and today it is a sign of luck. Adopted by the people, the dried broad bean was included, which “forces” whoever bites it to pay for next year's bolo-rei.

But it seems that the bolo-rei already pleased the Romans who, during banquets, promoted the election of the "king of the feast" according to the one who got the broad bean, crowning him "the king of the broad bean".

The dessert we know today would have arrived in Portugal in 1870, by Balthazar Castanheiro Júnior, heir of Lisbon's Confeitaria Nacional, and the creativity of the pastry chef Gregório.

According to Guido de Monterey, in “O Porto 2”, quoting the newspaper “O Correio do Porto”, “the chronicles say that, in Porto, the traditional bolo-rei was introduced” by the then Confeitaria Portugueza (later Confeitaria Cascais), thanks to its owner, Francisco Júlio Cascais, who also went to France to get a recipe.

There is no certainty about the dates, 1887, 88 or even 90, but the name was quite unanimous: Bolo-Rei à Parisiense. This fermented dough with crystallised fruits, raisins and dried fruits was initially only sold on the eve of Epiphany.

With a gift or broad bean, the cake pleased the people of Porto's taste buds and is now made almost at any time of the year by the many patisseries in the city, although some require placing orders. There are traditions that you won't want to miss out. Just as the original name that has not been lost.

Due to the establishment of the Republic, in 1910, like in France, during the revolution, the sweet was called Christmas Cake, New Year Cake, President Cake, National Cake or even Arriaga Cake, in honour of the first elected President of the Portuguese Republic. But they aren’t used anymore.

Do you feel like trying this delicacy? Here are some suggestions where Bolo-rei can be savoured all year round: Confeitaria Petúlia, Confeitaria Tavi, Padaria Ribeiro and Confeitaria do Bolhão.

  • Câmara Municipal do Porto

    Last updated 2022-12-06

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