The air was warm Friday inside the packed bakery of Supermarket Acapulco Tropical. Customers at the Bradenton business peered inside boxes containing a special pastry traditionally eaten to celebrate Epiphany, or Three Kings’ Day. In Spanish, they’re called Rosca de Reyes (Kings’ Ring).
“It’s actually a really big tradition in a lot of the Central American countries, and also in Europe. They know about Three Kings’ bread but it’s very different,” said Joey Leyva, whose family owns Acapulco Tropical. “The way we do it is the Mexican way. We have little baby Jesuses that actually come inside the roscas.”
Each cake contains several of those figurines and, according to Leyva, tradition dictates that the person who finds one first is expected to host a potluck gathering of family and friends on Candlemas (in Spanish, Día de la Candelaria), a Catholic holiday celebrated annually Feb. 2. In Mexico, where the tradition is very popular, hot chocolate accompany the Three Kings’ Day pastries.
“The Three Kings bring a gift to baby Jesus, and that’s what it symbolizes,” Leyva said.
Workers in the back of the bakery were busy making fresh cakes, placing strips of candied fruit and blobs of pink and yellow sugar paste on dough before placing them on a tray to bake. The large the cake, the more figurines it has.
It’s actually a really big tradition in a lot of the Central American countries, and also in Europe. The way we do it is the Mexican way. We have little baby Jesuses that actually come inside the roscas.
Joey Leyva, owner of Acapulco Tropical
Leyva said a total of 1,200 Three Kings’ Day cakes were baked this year.
Valeria Dominguez, 56, said she’s been coming to the bakery every year for cake to celebrate Three Kings’ Day.
“It’s a tradition for Mexicans after Jesus’ birth and Christmas and all that,” she said in Spanish. “It’s what we practice.”
Dominguez hardly skipped a beat when asked what she likes most about the tradition.
“Because we’re with family all over again,” she said.
Raised in Mexico, Leyva herself grew up looking forward to eating Rosca de Reyes.
“It’s fun. I came here when I was 8 years old but I went back (to Mexico) when I was 14 and came back when I was 17, so you wake up when you’re a kid and first it’s like Santa Claus. You get your gifts,” Leyva said. “And then at night, you gather with the whole family and you do the roscas (tradition).”
The business owner has already introduced the pastry to her husband, who is Cuban and had never heard of it.
“Don’t let your family lose that tradition because it’s something that you should keep throughout the year,” she said. “That’s why we encourage our customers — take it for your kids.”