Dreikönigskuchen – Three Kings’ Cake

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Dreikönigskuchen is a traditional bread served on Epiphany Day in Switzerland and some parts of Germany. Epiphany is celebrated on the 6th of January and has different meanings, depending on the country. In eastern countries, this celebration is associated with the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. In western countries, on the other hand, Epiphany celebrates the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child, therefore the name of the cake: Three Kings’ Cake.

In Germany, depending on the region, you may get the Swiss version of the cake, a rather sweet bread in which an almond or big pea is hidden. Whoever finds the almond or the pea, will be the king of the day. A more popular version is King Cake (Königskuchen), which is a cake made from sand batter to which dried fruits are added. Where I live, there’s another version made for Epiphany: King Cake Rhineland style, which also contains puff pastry.

Three Kings’ Cake is also associated with Star Singers (Sternsinger in German): a group of children (can also be adults but it’s not that common), visit the homes of the people who want to receive them. They recite a poem and collect donations for the church which will be later used to fund different causes supported by the church. They write a blessing on the door, like this, for example, 20*C+M+B+21 (there are some local variations to this way of writing). In older times, this was written with chalk above the door, nowadays a sticker is placed. The initials come from a Latin saying: Christus mansionem benedicat, which means Christ bless this house (Christus segne dieses Haus in German). Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, there were no Star Singers this year but people received a written blessing and a sticker in their mailbox. There was also information about a cause the church is supporting for people who would like to contribute to.
Three Kings' Cake - Dreikönigskuchen: Epiphany (6th of January) - Star Singers (Sternsinger in German) - data-srcset= 20*C+M+B+21 => Christus mansionem benedicat / Christ bless this house / Christus segne dieses Haus”>

This year I went for a simple bread from yeast dough which everyone loved. This is so easy to make and perfect not only for Epiphany but also for any other Sunday. Be King of the day you choose! Check out at the bottom some tips on how to adapt the recipe for different occasions.

Ingredients for one Three King’s Cake yeast dough:

  • 500g all-purpose or bread flour (I use Type 550 in Germany)
  • 200g lukewarm milk
  • 30g fresh yeast
  • 60g caster sugar (4 tbsp)
  • 100g butter (room temperature)
  • 1 egg or 30gr milk (2 tbsp)
  • 5g salt (1 tsp)
  • 1 sachet vanilla sugar
  • peel of half a lemon

For the egg wash:

  • 1 egg
  • a pinch of salt

For the topping:

  • pearl sugar (Hagelzucker) or almond flakes

The instructions on how to make this bread (I call it bread because it tastes more like sweet bread than a cake) are like the ones for Yeast Dough (Hefeteig). You can check out the link to the recipe which provides not only instructions but also pictures.

  1. Mix the flour with the salt.
  2. Make a hole in the middle and add the yeast.
  3. Add half of the sugar (30g or 2 tbsp).
  4. Add the lukewarm milk.
  5. Cover the milk with the flour from the sides. You can use a spoon.
  6. Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and let it proof for 10-15 minutes.
  7. When the time has passed you should see that the yeast is starting to rise and bubble.
  8. Add the remaining sugar, egg, butter, lemon peel, and vanilla sugar to the bowl and start kneading it. You can use your hands or a mixing bowl. The dough is done when it has a smooth surface and can be easily removed from the sides of the bowl. Depending on the mixing machine, you may need to knead it by hand at the end to get a uniform dough. I like mixing my dough by hand for 1-2 minutes in the end so that I can get a proper feeling for the dough and knead it until it’s ready, regardless of the time.
  9. Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and let it rise until it doubles in volume. It usually takes about 45min – 1h at room temperature.
  10. When it doubles in volume, cut 8 pieces about 90g each (or 9 pieces about 80g each) and the remaining dough will be used for the bigger piece in the middle. You can also adjust the number of pieces depending on the number of family members. I made mine with 7 pieces about 100g each and an extra one as a reward for my hard work in the kitchen. 😀
    Yeast rolls for Dreikönigskuchen - Three Kings' Cake before being shaped and baked
  11. Roll the pieces to give them a nice form and put the small dough balls around the bigger one on a tray covered with baking paper. They should look like a flower or a crown.
    Yeast rolls shaped into a flower or crown for Dreikönigskuchen - Three Kings' Cake before being baked
  12. Let them proof again for about 20-30 min before baking.
    Yeast rolls shaped into a flower or a crown for Dreikönigskuchen - Three Kings' Cake, proofed and ready to be baked
  13. Meanwhile, preheat the oven at 200°C/392°F (no ventilation).
  14. Beat the egg for the egg wash with a pinch of salt.
  15. Apply the egg wash on top of the flower.
  16. Sprinkle pearl sugar or almond flakes on top.
    Yeast rolls shaped into a flower or a crown for Dreikönigskuchen - Three Kings' Cake, proofed, with egg wash and pearl sugar on top, ready to be baked
  17. Bake for about 30 minutes. In the last 8-10 minutes, cover the flower with another baking paper if it starts to brown too much on top.
  18. Before taking it out of the oven, stab a toothpick in the middle to check if it’s baked. If it comes out clean, it’s done.
Dreikönigskuchen - Three Kings' Cake right of the oven (freshly baked)
Dreikönigskuchen – Three Kings’ Cake right from the oven (freshly baked)

This recipe is just in the middle: not too sweet nor salty, aromatic thanks to the vanilla and lemon peel. You can eat this bread as it is or spread honey, nutella (nougat cream), or jam. You can also eat it with butter, cheese slices or cold cuts.

Dreikönigskuchen - Three Kings' Cake freshly baked
Dreikönigskuchen – Three Kings’ Cake freshly baked

Tips on how to modify the dough for better fit depending on how you plan on eating it:

  • If you plan on eating it as it is, you may want to add raisins (soaked in rum, apple juice, or water), dried cranberries, or chocolate chips. About 50-100g should be enough. You can also add an extra tablespoon of sugar to the dough.
  • If you want to eat it with cheese and cold cuts, you may want to skip the vanilla and lemon peel. You may want to remove the remaining added sugar (2 tablespoons of sugar) so it’s not too sweet.
Dreikönigskuchen - Three Kings' Cake - fluffy cake freshly baked
Dreikönigskuchen – Three Kings’ Cake – fluffy cake freshly baked

I made the main flower of the Three Kings’ Cake with pearl sugar on top and my little reward with almond flakes.

Dreikönigskuchen - Three Kings' Cake: extra piece for the hardworking person in the kitchen :D
Dreikönigskuchen – Three Kings’ Cake: extra piece for the hardworking person in the kitchen 😀

Even though the light is bad, you can still see how fluffy is inside!

Dreikönigskuchen - Three Kings' Cake freshly baked: a section of the extra piece
Dreikönigskuchen – Three Kings’ Cake freshly baked: a section of the extra piece