A Vasilopita is a Greek cake made specifically for New Year’s celebrations. Despite being a relatively simple and accessible cake to bake at home, it is unlikely to be a cake many non-Greek families have attempted to bake before. However, there really is no better way to ring in any occasion than with a cake. So, let us celebrate the New Year in a belated fashion and get baking!
This traditional Greek cake is baked on New Year’s to celebrate the life of Saint Basil. He is remembered by the Greek people as a figure who came with gifts for children, the poor and the underprivileged. The specific legend of Saint Basil that ties into the tradition of the Vasilopita is that of the tax collectors and jewels. The legend states that tax collectors once taxed the people so heavily, that people were even pressured to hand over their jewellery and personal artefacts. Saint Basil was not a supporter of these proceedings and forced the tax collectors to give him the jewellery that had been taken from the people.
However, he was then faced with a difficult problem. He was unable to determine which item had belonged to whom. His innovative solution was to bake cakes with the jewellery hidden inside of them, which would then be distributed among the populace. This was his clever and creative way of redistributing the riches amongst the people.
This legend has slightly different variations depending on the source. For example, the jewels are sometimes said to have been baked into bread instead of cake. But one thing remains the same: on the first day of the New Year, the Vasilopita is baked with a coin inside. If one is fortunate enough to hit the coin when slicing the cake they are said to have been gifted good luck and blessings for the whole year. Given that the last few years have been challenging for us all, celebrating the start of 2022 with a lucky and scrumptious cake is surely the best way to do it.
Below are two variations of the recipe for Vasilopita. The first recipe will create a cake textured result, whereas the second produces a more bread-based version. Both will undoubtedly lead to a delicious result and satisfied consumers! The cake is designed to be fairly mild, but if you are a fan of stronger flavours then you could add more lemon juice or orange zest. If you feel like mixing it up a little more, I recommend a pinch of cinnamon just to give it a touch more winter warmth.
- 400g all purpose flour
- 300g butter
- 255g sugar
- 4 eggs
- 90ml milk
- 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon of orange zest
- Powdered sugar
- A lucky charm! This is usually a coin wrapped in foil.
- Preheat the oven to 320*F/160*C for 50 minutes.
- Use a mixer to combine the butter, sugar and milk.
- Continue mixing. As you are doing this, add the eggs, milk, baking powder, vanilla and orange zest.
- Mix until all added ingredients have been well combined.
- Add the flour and mix for approximately three minutes.
- Oil a cake tin and pour the cake mix inside.
- Place in your lucky charm!
- Bake for 50 minutes.
- Add the powdered sugar to create whatever design you choose!
: Retrieved from Bowl of Delicious.
This is a recipe for two loaves of Vasilopita. If you would prefer to make only one loaf, simply halve the ingredients.
- 2 packages active dry yeast or 4 1/2 teaspoons.
- 500ml warmed milk
- 96g sugar plus one separate teaspoon of sugar
- 875g all purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon of kosher salt
- 4 plus 1 eggs beaten
- Zest of one large orange
- Sesame seeds
- Dissolve the yeast in 250ml milk with one teaspoon sugar. Leave to double in volume for 10-20mins.
- Stir together the flour, salt and the 96g of sugar in a mixing bowl.
- Make a well in the centre.
- When the yeast mix has finished doubling, pour it into the well.
- Then pour the olive oil, 4 beaten eggs, the rest of the milk, and the orange zest into the well.
- Mix with a wooden spoon until the dough is smooth.
- Put the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead for about ten minutes.
- Place in an oiled bowl, turning to coat the top and the other surfaces. Cover and allow it to rise in a warm place for 1-2 hours or until it has doubled in size.
- Knock the dough down and divide into two portions. Knead each for a few minutes and place in two well-oiled 9-inch circular tins. Let them rise until doubled in size for about one hour in a warm place.
- Use a sharp knife to carve decorative designs onto the top of each loaf.
- Using a pastry brush, brush the top of each loaf with the remaining beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
- Bake at 190*c/170*c fan for ten minutes then turn the temperature down to 175*C/155*C fan and bake for thirty minutes or until the tops of the loaves are a deep chestnut brown colour.
- When finished baking, allow the loaves to cool for at least ten minutes before removing from the pan. After removing, cool them completely on a rack. At this point, you can insert a clean coin into the bottom of the loaf using a toothpick or a skinny knife to push it in.
- Serve and enjoy!