Manuel Téllez has muscle memory when it comes to baking Roscas de Reyes, a Mexican cake traditionally eaten on Three Kings Day; along with his family, he makes 24 pieces every half an hour.
The Téllez family owns Maroches Bakery, a Mexican shop in Bishop Arts that every year sells home-style Roscas de Reyes, similar to a Kings' cake, for the traditional Catholic holiday of the Three Kings Day, which falls on January 6. Orders start trickling in since September, he said.
In the kitchen of bakery Manuel, 39, picks up a tray of dough that has been set aside for 30 minutes in order to rise and cuts it into smaller portions that he will shape into foot-long ovals.
Maroches Bakery operates as a family production line: In the front of the shop his daughters Andrea, 16, and Valeria, 20, who are out from school on winter break help out by cutting and foiling the boards where the roscas will be packaged. Meanwhile his daughter Mikhaella, 14, is with her grandfather Jorge, 64, making deliveries.
"I never imagined that I would live off a tradition that I learned at home (Aguascalientes, Mexico) during my childhood," says Manuel's mother Graciela Téllez as she decorates the top of the cake with green and red strips of dried papaya peel.
A Mexican tradition
Some more traditional than others, the Mexican treat is easier to find than ever before. In Dallas, the colorful and fluffy sweet bread roscas are items to be spotted are grocery stores such as Fiesta, Whole Foods, and Kroger.
The Rosca de Reyes is a tradition of the Catholic church in Spanish-speaking countries. On Epiphany Day, Jan. 6, the cake represents the journey of Mary and Joseph as they sought refuge after King Herod ordered for all male infants two years old and under to be murdered as he searched for the King of Kings, according to the Christian Bible.
In Mexico, the rosca is prepared with white flour, leavening, and eggs, and is decorated with dried and crystallized fruit that represents the offering that the Wise Men brought to baby Jesus. Inside the bread there are 3 to 4 figs or small baby figurines representing the hiding of Baby Jesus during his persecution. The circular shape of the cake symbolizes the eternal love of Jesus Christ.
The tradition follows with cutting the cake; those who get the fig or baby figurine in their slice of cake are to host the celebration of the blessing of candles, La Candelaria or Candlemas, on Feb. 2.
As complex as this tradition is in Mexico, this is a derivative of Roman tradition.
"It is almost like a grammar mistake to say that the rosca is Mexican; it is Mexican style," said Manuel, the baker, who says every country has a variation of the cake, for example, in Europe, it can even be sprinkled or dipped in wine.
The Téllez family arrived in Dallas more than 25 years ago; back then Graciela sold country-style boots at the flea market. She says that it was almost impossible to find a place selling roscas.
"We started baking and selling one or two, but we noticed they were selling quickly, so we started making more," Graciela recalled.
This is how the family integrated their roscas to their baking skills and their business bloomed.
During the end-of-year holidays, the Téllez family worked daily from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. to complete their placed orders. The roscas range from $14 to $18.
Graciela and Manuel have witnessed what they call a "domino effect" of the growth in popularity of the Roscas de Reyes in the Dallas area. In the past, the family had to ask their relatives back in Mexico to supply the ingredients to decorate the roscas. But soon Texas companies started selling the ingredients, realizing that their consumer base demanded new ingredients.
National grocery chains such as Whole Foods, Fiesta, and Kroger also started stocking their bakery aisles with roscas ranging from $12 to $18 that come in a variety of sizes.
"Kroger is very diverse with the product we offer, especially to our Hispanic customers", said The Kroger Co. spokesperson Ignacio Gonzalez.
According to Manuel, his wide clientele seeks a fresh and legitimate product.
"If (the Rosca) looks perfect, it is not handmade," he said pointing to the counter, where every little imperfection makes each rosca unique.
Montserrat Velázquez, a housewife and native from the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí, makes sure to get her rosca from Maroches Bakery every year after her relatives recommended the place.
"It's always the hot chocolate and the rosca," said Velázquez, who has celebrated Three Kings Day with her mother, father, and brothers since she was a child.
Now Montserrat feels it's important to pass along this tradition to her one-year-old daughter Fátima.
"What my parents taught me brought me through the right path, and I believe that those same things can take my daughter to where I am now," she said.