The Feast of Epiphany was celebrated grandly in the Netherlands in the 17th century by both Catholics and Protestants. Jan Steen created several versions depicting the Three Kings during this time. According to tradition, one of the revelers was declared 'king' by finding a bean in a specially baked cake or through a lottery. Two white and one brown bean were hidden for Caspar, Melchior, or Balthasar. Other roles were assigned using playing cards or king's letters.
The scene takes place around the peak of the evening when the 'king' takes his first sip. The revelers are already engaged in drinking; the lid of his jug is open. A violinist plays music, and the jester adds a cheerful note. Jan Steen chose to depict the youngest child as the king, adorned with a decorated paper crown, proudly holding the honor cup. A print with an owl and a drawn monkey hangs above the head of the 'drinking king' designated by fate. The owl, unable to see during the day, symbolizes human folly. Meanwhile, the chained monkey symbolizes the person who willingly lives trapped in sin. A girl has lifted her dress to jump over three burning candles symbolizing the three kings. Through the door come the star singers who wandered with the traditional star, believed to have led the three kings to Christ according to the Bible. Freshly baked waffles and Three Kings' bread are, of course, consumed.
Recipe for Three Kings' Bread:
- 500 g flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 50 g sugar
- zest of one lemon
- 1.5 deciliters milk
- 40 g yeast
- 125 g butter
- 2 eggs
- 75 g almond paste
- powdered sugar
- Sift the flour with salt into a bowl and mix in sugar and lemon zest.
- Warm the milk and dissolve the yeast in it.
- Melt the butter in a pan and let it cool.
- Make a well in the flour, add milk, butter, and egg yolks, knead into a smooth dough.
- Let the dough rise, covered with a damp cloth, for 1 hour.
- Knead almond paste into the dough, form a ball, insert one or three beans/almonds, let it rise again.
- Bake for about 45 minutes, then brush with butter and sprinkle with powdered sugar.
- Optionally, decorate with a golden star.