Portuguese Christmas cake (“Bolo-rei”)

by Paula Casimiro
We are entering the bustle of preparations for Christmas. Bolo-rei (literally “King Cake” in English) is a traditional Portuguese cake that is a staple dessert in any home between Christmas and January 6 (Epiphany or Three Kings’ Day). The base for the recipe came from France during the 19th century when a bakery, named Confeitaria Nacional, first introduced the recipe in the country. In fact, Confeitaria Nacional is still a reference in Lisbon concerning this cake.

The cake itself is round with a large hole in the centre, resembling a crown covered with candied fruits and nuts. It is baked from a soft, white dough, with raisins, various nuts and candied fruits. Traditionally, also included a dried fava bean and tradition dictated that whoever found the fava bean in the cake had to pay for bolo-rei in the following year. More recent is the tradition of bolo-rainha (“Queen Cake” in English), which differs from its consort by excluding the candied fruits.

If you want to try this recipe just pay attention to the various resting periods, making it a simple but somewhat time-consuming one. For those who may want to make something less traditional I thought you could do these small individual cakes, like muffins. If, like me, you want to remain faithful to tradition, follow the same recipe and give the cake the traditional ring-shaped format as explained below. This cake is excellent, with a soft dough and a pleasant aroma of Port wine and brandy. For the bolo-rainha, replace the candied fruit with an equal amount of nuts.

See you soon and enjoy preparing your Christmas.

Portuguese Christmas cake (“Bolo-rei”)

This Bolo-rei has a fluffy dough with a nice aroma to Port wine and brandy. To make a bolo-rainha replace the candied fruit with an equal amount of nuts. Adapted from a Maria de Lurdes Modesto’s recipe.

6 muffins or 1 cake with approx. 600g

Prep time:

Cook time:


  • 10g fresh yeast
  • 30g all-purpose flour
  • 25ml lukewarm milk
  • 25ml Port wine
  • 25ml brandy
  • 40g raisins
  • 40g butter, at room temperature
  • 40g sugar
  • Fine zest of 1/4 lemon
  • Fine zest of 1/4 orange
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (see how to make homemade vanilla extract)
  • 1 egg
  • 160g all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 50g candied fruit cut into small pieces
  • 50g coarsely chopped nuts (hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, pine nuts)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Candied fruits and nuts to decorate
  • 1 tablespoon jelly or jam, diluted with a little water
  • Powdered sugar for dusting



  1. In a bowl, dissolve the yeast in the milk and add the flour, stirring until it is smooth. Cover with cling film and leave to rest in place with mild temperature for about 15 to 20 minutes or until doubles in volume and bubbles appear on the surface. Meanwhile, mix the raisins with the Port wine and leave to macerate.
  2. Beat the butter with the sugar, lemon and orange zest and vanilla until creamy and pale. Add the egg and beat well. Attach the dough hook in the mixer and add this mixture to the first dough already fermented, kneading at average speed. Add the sifted flour with the salt until it is fully incorporated. Add raisins, wine and brandy and continue to beat at medium speed for about 20-25 minutes or until the dough is elastic (you may need to add a little more flour if the dough is too moisty). Add candied fruits and nuts and beat just until they are mixed uniformly throughout the dough.
  3. Remove the dough from the mixer and form a ball, sprinkling it lightly with flour. Put the dough in a floured bowl and cover with cling film. Let it rise in a place with mild temperature for about 1h30, or until the dough doubles in volume.
  4. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead it slightly to draw out the air that has formed during fermentation. Put muffin paper cases on a muffin tray and distribute the dough among them (to make the traditional round cake, form a roll with the dough and give it a circular shape, uniting both ends. Put it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and place a glass in the middle, that you need to remove before baking). Cover with a clean kitchen towel and allow to rise again at mild temperate for about 1h30, or until they have doubled in volume.
  5. Preheat the oven to 180° C. Brush the cakes with the beaten egg yolk. Put some candied fruits and dried fruits on the surface and bake for 25 minutes in the preheated oven, or until golden brown.
  6. Remove from the oven and brush the cakes with jelly diluted with a little water to give some shine. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.



I would love to hear from you on this article, in particular, or on the blog, in general. You can use the comments box at the end of each post or send me an e-mail through the contact page. You can also follow the blog on Instagram and Pinterest and, if you would like to receive the new articles delivered directly to your inbox, you may subscribe the newsletter at the end of this page.

See you soon.

Leave a Comment

This website uses cookies Accept Find out more

paula casimiro photography chocolate pie

Let’s keep in touch. Get an e-mail whenever there is a new article

No, thank you