The 3 kings day or Epiphany Eve falls on the January 6 which is a public holiday in the German-speaking lands, when groups of young people called “Sternsinger” –Star singers travel from door to door. They are dressed as the three Wise Men, plus the leader carrying a star, usually of painted wood attached to a broom handle. Often these groups are four girls, or two boys and two girls for the benefit of singing their songs in four-part harmony, not necessarily three wise men at all. (They sing: “If the eve of Epiphany is bright and clear, it fortells a good wine year.”). The star singers will be offered treats at the homes they visit, but they also solicit donations for worthy causes. As a sign of gratitude, the young people then perform the traditional house blessing, by marking the year over the doorway with chalk. The special treat of the day is the Three Kings cake which may be a golden pastry ring filled with orange and spice representing gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Most often studded with citron, and baked as seven large buns in a round rather than square pan (picture), forming a crown. Or they may be made of typical rich Christmas bread dough with cardamom and pearl sugar in the same seven bun crown shape. These varieties are most typically purchased in supermarkets with the trinket, and gold paper crown included. In Germany as in other countries, the person who receives the piece or bun containing the trinket or whole almond/bean/small porcelain figurine becomes the king or queen for a day.
However in Eastern countries such as Iran, Israel this day is considered the first day of the New Year, when people look back once again to the old year and greet the new one with a modest feast in a festive atmosphere.
In Cyprus and in Greece the feast is colloquially called the “Phōta“- Light and customs revolve around the Great Blessing of the Waters. It marks the end of the traditional ban on sailing, as the tumultuous winter seas are cleansed of the mischief-prone the goblins that try to torment God-fearing Christians through the festive season. At this ceremony, a cross is thrown into the water, and the men clamour to retrieve it for good luck.
In Italy the word “Epiphania” was transformed into Befana, and on that day there is a great fair, when sigillaria of terracotta or baked pastry are being sold. (In popular folklore, Befana visits the children of parts of Italy on the eve of January 6 to fill their socks with candy and presents them if they had been good or a lump of coal or dark if they have been bad).
In Romania and Moldova, Epiphany is called Boboteaza, and the celebrations take on a unique tone. Following religious services, men participate in winter horse races. Before the race, the men line up with their horses before the priest who will bless them by sprinkling them with green branches that have been dipped into Epiphany holy water.
In parts of southern India, Epiphany is called the Three Kings Festival and is celebrated in front of the local church like a fair. Families come together and cook sweet rice porridge called Pongal. This day marks the close of the Advent and Christmas season and people remove the cribs and nativity sets at home.
Recipes for Epiphany from Iran and Israel
On 6th of January the Jews and the Arabs dress the table with lots of pomegranates, because the flowering pomegranate is the symbol of prosperity. Well after the great damask tablecloths are laid, the golden candles are lit they can start to prepare the menu, which contains a spicy vegetable terrine, followed the traditional cinnamon chicken ragu (with sesame seeds and with figs, mint tea and red wine yammy), but the highlight of the evening is undoubtedly when the 3 kings cake, is placed on the table with a crown on top.
Recipes: Vegetable terrine
Ingredients: 200 g spinach, 250 g broccoli, 1 onion, 2-3 tablespoons of olive, 150 g ground hazelnuts or almonds, 3 eggs, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, cayenne, nutmeg, cashew nuts, butter, blueberry jam, yoghurt 250 g
Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Cut the broccoli into bite-size pieces, wash the fresh spinach (or use the frozen one), and throw it into the boiling salted water. Cook the vegetables for 6-7 minutes. Then sieve them and make purée. Simmer the onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil, add the vegetables, along with the seeds. Beat the eggs and pour over the vegetables, then toss 6 tablespoons of bread crumbs on top. Season with salt and pepper, and also scatter the cayenne and nutmeg. Finally, sprinkle the coarsely crushed cashew nuts on it. Pour the vegetable mixture in the usual paté form, then place it in the oven, and cook in Bain Marie bath for 1 hour. When serving, stir in the yogurt the cranberry or blueberry jam and offer the vegetable slices with this.
Ingredients: 4 chicken breast (130 g / person), salt, pepper, 16 with cinnamon, 20 dried figs, 10 mini onion, 3 celery stalks, 3 tablespoons peanut oil, half teaspoon cumin, 1 tsp coriander 200 ml of dry red wine, 200 ml chicken stock, 2 tablespoons honey, 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds and fresh cilantro for garnish
Wash the chicken breasts and wipe dry with a kitchen paper. Salt and pepper, place one or two cinnamon stick in each chicken breast (on the middle) and roll them, if necessary tie them with a string. Cut the figs in half, chop the onion, and celery into fine slices. Heat the peanut oil in a pan simmer the chicken for 2-3 minutes on each side. Add the chopped onion, celery to chicken season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with cumin and coriander. Add the figs, then pour over the red wine and the chicken broth. Simmer everything together for 15 minutes without stirring. Then removed the chicken breasts and set aside, then add the honey to the juice (chicken’s) and sesame seeds. Return the fillets and bring to a boil everything together once more (on low heat). Serve with fresh cilantro.
Three kings cake
This is a kind of cake, with a trinket (usually a porcelain figurine) or a bean hidden inside. The person who gets the piece of cake with the trinket becomes “king” or “queen” for a day.
Ingredients: 125 gr butter 100 gr almonds, 40 gr pistachios, 125 g sugar, 2 eggs, 2 tablespoons of almond extract, 2 tablespoons orange flower water, 2 puff pastry or other ready to bake dough, 1 egg, 2 tablespoons milk, peanuts, pine nuts for garnish
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Mix the butter with the minced almonds and pistachios and sugar. Beat the eggs with the addition of bitter almond extract, and with the orange water. First roll the out and lay on the waxed paper, and then smear the cold almond cream and butter on it from the center to the edge (half-inch far). Then placed on top the cream and cover with the second dough. Mix the egg yolks with 2 tablespoons of milk then smear it on top of the cake. Before baking the cake sprinkle it with plenty of almonds, hazelnuts and pine nuts pieces, and then insert into the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes.