U.S. Bakeries Grab A Slice Of A Latin American Tradition: 3 Kings Cake : The Salt In some Latin American countries, Three Kings Day — Jan. 6 — is a bigger deal than Christmas. As the U.S. Latino population grows, so does interest in the holiday's signature cake, rosca de reyes.
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U.S. Bakeries Grab A Slice Of A Latin American Tradition: 3 Kings Cake

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U.S. Bakeries Grab A Slice Of A Latin American Tradition: 3 Kings Cake

U.S. Bakeries Grab A Slice Of A Latin American Tradition: 3 Kings Cake

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/575737940/575876646" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Tomorrow is Three Kings Day. It's an occasion celebrated by many Christians and especially among Latinos.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Aside from the religious symbolism, there's food. Many Latinos enjoy a hot drink and a traditional cake called rosca de reyes. Bakers in Los Angeles today unveil what's reportedly the city's biggest rosca ever.

INSKEEP: But you don't need to go to LA. You can find the cakes in just about any metro area. And NPR's Ashley Westerman found one in hers.

ASHLEY WESTERMAN, BYLINE: In the back of La Mexicana Bakery and Taqueria in Alexandria, Va., the giant oven is roaring.

CARLOS BENITEZ: Let me show you - in the oven already.

WESTERMAN: And when bakery owner Carlos Benitez opens it...

BENITEZ: OK.

WESTERMAN: Wow.

Dozens of huge roscas de reyes, or Three Kings Day cakes, can be seen going round and round on the oven carousel. Uncooked, the roscas are pale-yellow, doughy ovals. But the more they bake, the more they shine - literally. The cake is decorated with green and red candied cherries, figs, plums and glittery bands made of sugary, colorful paste.

BENITEZ: OK. These are the medial ones.

WESTERMAN: This is one of the busiest times of the year for Benitez. He's been making roscas since he opened in 2002.

BENITEZ: So we're going to make it all this week.

WESTERMAN: Baked inside are little, plastic figurines representing the baby Jesus.

BENITEZ: The person who got the piece, got the little Jesus inside - they're supposed to throw a party at the 2 of February, a tamales party.

WESTERMAN: Benitez walks me through how he makes the dough. First, he combines the yeast and flour. Then he adds lots of margarine, sugar, salt orange peel, orange juice, anise extract for aroma and eggs.

BENITEZ: It's ready. So start mixing.

WESTERMAN: The ingredients are mixed until the dough is no longer wet or sticky. Then it's unloaded onto a table and kneaded, then rolled into the shape of an oval to represent a crown. After proofing for a couple hours, it's decorated. These are the jewels of the crown. And then it's baked.

Pati Jinich is a chef and the host of the PBS show "Pati's Mexican Table."

PATI JINICH: Everybody in Mexico eats roscas growing up. It's a huge deal.

WESTERMAN: She says the love of roscas goes well beyond Mexico.

JINICH: All of the Latin American countries that were conquered by the Old World inherited this tradition.

WESTERMAN: And over the years, she's seen the tradition grow here in the U.S. along with the Latino population.

TONY SALAZAR: We see about 20 percent increase year to year for the last five years consistently.

WESTERMAN: Tony Salazar is chef at Porto's, one of the most famous bakeries in the Los Angeles area. They're one of the bakeries behind the 24-by-2-and-a-half-foot rosca de reyes being unveiled today in LA. Salazar says the first time they sold roscas in the 1970s, they only sold 10. This year, they're planning to sell over 5,000. He says other bakeries around the LA area are experiencing the same thing.

SALAZAR: We really are so happy that the popularity is growing. The people who don't celebrate Three Kings Day will come and buy it. It's so good, and they enjoy it.

WESTERMAN: Back at La Mexicana Bakery and Taqueria outside Washington, D.C., Carlos Benitez says he's expecting to sell almost 300 roscas de reyes this year. And it's not just families placing orders. He says more companies and schools are ordering them, too. Benitez says this means the tradition is reaching people outside the Latino community.

BENITEZ: I feel so happy that people don't lose their traditions. I think that diversity of the cultures make this country great.

WESTERMAN: Ashley Westerman, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MEXICAN INSTITUTE OF SOUND'S "JALALE")

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