Three Kings Day celebrates the return of light with beignets, bread pudding

Three Kings Day celebrates the return of light with beignets, bread pudding

Wednesday is the 12th Christmas day for most Christians, who count Christmas Day as the first. It’s Holy Trinity Eve, the night before the season’s final celebration.

If you examine these dates, you will find the roots of the rituals in both pagan and medieval traditions. The best known is probably Fools Feast, a raucous and irreverent party in early January, which was eventually widely banned. Dig a little deeper and you will see what connects them all: light.

By the end of the first week of January, it is clear that there is more daylight than just a few weeks earlier. Depending on where you are, there may be as much as 2 to 3 minutes more sunlight each day until the summer solstice where the process reverses.

Epiphany also means a moment of personal insight and enlightenment. “Seeing the light” refers to personal insight, not actual lighting.

Holy Trinity has been my family’s favorite winter vacation for decades. It is our day with gifts, casual breakfast and an ample dinner. Here in Sonoma County, it’s mostly a quiet vacation. Some local bakeries make a traditional royal cake, and a few have búche de Noël, which represents Christmas in France and Germany, where a huge firewood was lit on Christmas Day and remained lit through Holy Trinity.

In other parts of the country, especially New Orleans, Holy Trinity kings mark the start of the carnival, with royal cakes everywhere, live music and the season’s first parades. The whole city seems to be a part of the celebration.

This year, due to COVID-19, my casual breakfast will likely take place at the Parish Cafe in Healdsburg.

I do not expect a parade. The return of light, in all its meanings, is enough.

Beignets are donuts without holes, often square and sometimes round. They are similar to Hawaii’s malasadas and are perhaps the most famous food in New Orleans. The ones served at Sognecafeen are classic, but you can easily make them at home.


Make about 1 dozen

1 cup universal flour

1 tbsp baking powder

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

¾ cups whole milk

1 tablespoon corn oil plus about 4 cups for frying

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 large egg

Powdered sugar, for wiping, in a sieve or sieve

Put flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a medium bowl and stir well with a fork.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, 1 tbsp corn oil, vanilla and egg. Stir the mixture into the dry ingredients until there are no visible traces of dry flour; do not overmix. The dough should be quite thick.

Place a large brown paper grocery bag next to the stove.

Heat the oil for frying in a Dutch oven or other large pan until it reaches 375 degrees (use a candy thermometer to measure the temperature). Then toss large tablespoons of the dough in the hot oil, being careful not to overfill the pan. Boil for 2 minutes, turn and cook for 2 more minutes until golden brown all over. While the beignets are boiling, keep the temperature of the oil between 350 and 360 degrees.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked beignets to the paper bag to drip off. Immediately shake the sugar over the beignets and continue to cook the remaining dough until it is all used up.

Enjoy hot, preferably with café au lait next door.

Both sweet and savory bread puddings are delicious, especially in the winter. While it’s not traditional to use sourdough bread, I think it adds a compelling flavor and texture and makes it our own. This is my favorite cute version.

Sweet sourdough bread pudding with lemon whiskey sauce

Serves 6 to 8

2 teaspoons butter, at room temperature

3 large eggs

1 cup cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated

White pepper in a mill

4 ounces (¼ cup) butter, melted

2 cups whole milk

½ cup raisins

½ cup pecan pieces, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped

5 dl sourdough bread, crust on, grated into small pieces

Lemon Whiskey Sauce (recipe follows)

Rub the inside of a square glass dish with the butter and set it aside.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs vigorously for about 5 minutes until very frothy and bubbly. Whisk in sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add several rounds of pepper, pour in the melted butter and mix well. Whisk in the milk and turn in the raisins and pecans.

Put the bread in the butter-greased dish and pour the egg mixture over. Turn thoroughly and set aside, covered, for 45 minutes so that the bread absorbs as much liquid as possible. Use a flat spatula or wide spoon to press the bread into the liquid now and then.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Bake the pudding for 35 minutes. Increase the heat to 425 degrees and bake until the pudding is golden brown, about 15 minutes more. Take out of the oven and let rest while making lemon whiskey sauce.

For serving, cut the pudding into large slices, place each wedge in a soup plate, spoon sauce over each serving and enjoy immediately.

Lemon Whiskey Sauce

Make about 1 cup

1 stick butter

¾ cup brown sugar, packaged

¼ tsp vanilla extract

Generous pinch of kosher salt

Grated peel of 1 lemon

Juice of 1 lemon

3 tablespoons whiskey, bourbon, scotch or brandy

1 large egg yolk, whipped

Fill the bottom half of a double boiler with water, set it over medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low so that the water simmers.

Put the butter in the top half of the double boiler and put it over the boiling water until it is melted. Whisk in the brown sugar, vanilla and salt. Add the lemon zest, half of the lemon juice and the whiskey while stirring until the mixture is smooth. Slowly whisk in the egg yolk. Taste the sauce and add the remaining lemon juice if it is too sweet.

Remove from heat, put lid on and keep warm until serving.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date. Send her an email at

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