One summer, while visiting my grandparents in Walenstadt, I was given a Swiss comic book about the day to day adventures of a typical, yet blustery, Swiss man, Papa Moll. My German was poor, so I couldn't read any of it, but the illustrations were entertaining all the same.
Each page had eight panels that told a single story, with rhyming verse below. However, there was one page that I just never understood.
From what I recall (and I'm going purely by memory here), the family was together at the table eating a beautiful round bread. Papa Moll looked consternated. Then the family dog, Tschips was shown in his own panel coughing up something which appeared to be a pointy, white statuette. Papa Moll looked consternated. Finally, much to Papa Moll's chagrin, the dog was presented with a crown.
Now I know that it must have been the sixth of January, Epiphany, when Swiss families eat Dreikönigskuchen. This holiday celebrates the three kings finally reaching Bethlehem, so a small plastic king figurine (or whole almond, if you are baking it at home) is baked into the bread. Whoever finds it is king for the day.
There are lots of recipes out there, but the simplest one, from Betty Bossi (with some slight adjustments), is best.
100 g raisins
1 tea bag
500 g flour
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
20 g fresh yeast or 8 g dried yeast
300 ml milk, lukewarm
60 g butter, soft
the zest of a lemon
the zest of an orange
1 whole almond
slivered or sliced almonds and pearl sugar to decorate
Make the dough
First, plump your raisins. Put them in a small bowl with the tea bag and and pour boiling water to cover. Let sit while you prepare the other ingredients, or you can do this the night before.
In a stand mixer with a dough hook, mix together the flour, salt, sugar, and yeast. Add the milk, zests, butter, and raisins, and mix on medium speed until it forms a smooth, stretchy dough—about ten minutes. Alternatively, knead by hand for about 20-25 minutes.
Let rise until doubled, about 2 hours.
Form the bread
Split off eight, 80 g portions of dough and roll each into a ball. Make sure to press an almond (or a plastic king figurine, if you have one) into the bottom of one of the balls, then pinch the dough together around it so it is sealed in the ball.
Use the rest of the dough to form a bigger ball, place this on a parchment covered baking sheet, then place the eight little balls in a circle around it.
Let this rest for 30 minutes.
When you are ready to bake
Preheat your oven to 180 C / 350 F / gas mark 4.
Whisk the egg and brush it evenly over the bread. Sprinkle with slivered or sliced almonds and pearl sugar.
Bake for 30 minutes.
Whoever finds the almond in their piece is king for the day!
For something more adult, plump your raisins in rum or cognac. Let them sit overnight for best results.
Supermarket and bakery Dreikönigskuchen generally come with a paper crown. For an authentic experience, make your own and force the king to wear it for the whole day.