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One million 'tortells de Reis' cakes ready to celebrate epiphany

Centuries-long January 6 tradition not stopped by Covid but desserts sold are smaller this year due to cap on gatherings

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06 January 2022 11:46 AM

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ACN | Barcelona

The Three Kings have matched the Catalan children's expectations one more year and during the January 5 into January 6 night they magically delivered gifts to those who behaved in 2021.

Yet, some, especially grown-ups, were also looking forward to another moment: the lunch on January 6.

As customary, families have a 'tortell de Reis' cake to celebrate epiphany, and this year one million such treats were expected to be sold, matching 2019 figures.

Yet, Barcelona's pastry chefs association expected the 'tortells' to be smaller than usual due to the 10-person cap on gatherings in force and the canceled family meals due to the sixth wave of Covid-19.

The rising costs of electricity and some of the ingredients, along with inflation, have increased the price of such cakes between 2% and 3%, with the average price around €20 to €25, depending on the size.

Tortell de Reis: a dessert, but also a game

The 'tortell de Reis' is a round dessert similar to a sponge cake made of marzipan, with nuts and candied fruit on top. This classic version is the top seller this year, although more modern types are increasingly popular, including those stuffed with cream, or chocolate truffle.

More than a confection, it is also a game: inside each one is hidden a coin, or a king's figurine, which bestows on the person who finds it their own crown, and a bean, which then obligates the unlucky recipient to pay for the following year’s 'tortell'.

The tradition stems from the catholic custom to celebrate the Three Kings, or Magi, who, coming from the east, brought gold, frankincense, myrrh to Jesus two millennia ago to celebrate his birth.

Yet, its origin is also pagan, since ancient Romans used to hold winter festivities, where cakes with figures, dates, and honey were served.

In the third century AD, the bean was introduced as a symbol of prosperity and fertility, which downgraded its meaning to a negative connotation from the 18th century, when a cook wanted to surprise King Louis XV of France hiding a golden coin inside the cake – from then on, the most valued element became the coin, which at some point sometimes changed into a figurine. 

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  • Elies Miró, president of Barcelona's pastry chefs association, with baked 'tortells de Reis', on January 3, 2022 (by Lourdes Casademont)

  • Elies Miró, president of Barcelona's pastry chefs association, with baked 'tortells de Reis', on January 3, 2022 (by Lourdes Casademont)

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