(Photo: Confeitaria Nacional)
Bolo Rei, Portugal
In many cultures, the king cake (or Twelfth Night cake) reigns supreme as a holiday dessert. In Portugal, it's called the bolo rei and has become a national institution. Made to resemble a crown, the rich, sweet brioche-style bread is formed into a circle and then adorned with nuts and crystallized fruits (to represent the gifts of the Magi). Traditionally hidden inside were two treasures: a small trinket said to render its finder lucky and a dried fava bean, which ultimately determined who had to bake (or buy) the cake the following year. Typically eaten on January 6 to honor the Epiphany, when the Three Wise Men visited the baby Jesus 12 days after his birth, the bolo rei is now enjoyed throughout the holiday season. Originating in France, it was brought to Portugal in the 19th century by the son of the founder of Confeitaria Nacional, a certified supplier to the Portuguese monarchy. Talk about it being fit for a king.
Where to Find It: In Lisbon's Praca da Figueira, Confeitaria Nacional has been making the bolo rei using a secret family recipe for six generations. While you can buy it whole, I recommend ordering the cake by the slice and lingering in the timeless cafe with its elegant old counters and mirrored ceilings that reflect its glorious pastries. While the bolo rei was sold exclusively by Confeitaria Nacional in the late 1800s, it's now available in other pastelarias throughout the country.