Vasilopita is a New Year's tradition in Greece; it extends to many other regions of the former Asia Minor. It signifies good luck in the household, and a slice of the cake is dedicated to each member of the household, as well as to the house itself, any guests present, God and other saints. The luckiest person is the one to find a coin hidden in the pie. It is placed in the batter of the cake before it goes into the oven. The translation of 'Vasilopita' is 'St Basil's cake (or pie)'. This loose translation characterises its form: it is made using either baking powder, which gives it the taste of a cake, or yeast, which turns it into a sweet kind of bread. In Crete, we tend to call the yeast version 'Christopsomo' (meaning 'Christ's bread'), while the cakey kind is use as Vasilopita. Another tradition with vasilopita is that it is baked in a round tin, the kind we usually use for a roast, called a 'tapsi'. The same kind of tapsi was used to make ladenia.
Here's what Anna Varvais has to say about the vasilopita tradition: "The Vasilopita is a Greek New Year's Bread. It is made in honor of a beautiful act of charity by St. Basil to the poor and needy of his flock. In order to insure that the needy would have money for life's necessities, and knowing that the needy were also proud people, St. Basil had the ladies of his church bake sweet bread with coins baked into them. In this way he could give them money without demeaning them at all. It is therefore traditional to bake a coin into the Vasilopita (St. Basil's Bread). The one who receives the coin is considered to be especially blessed for the year."
My web search for a recipe yielded only a few reliable sources. I chose a recipe from an Australian television network, as I found that it had been added to the web only a month ago; there are many Greeks living in Australia, and I wouldn't be surprised if there had been a special program devoted to the subject of Christmas feasts for the recipe to have been added so recently. Another feature I liked about it is that it called for the use of 3 oranges, and as we are orange producers ourselves, I could include local ingredients. The recipe below comes straight from ABC Brisbane. My changes are stipulated in italics.
175 grams butter
1 1/2 cups caster sugar (I used plain crystallised sugar)
1 teaspoon vanilla powder (in Greece, this is sold in small vials as vanilla sugar)
4 eggs (separated)
3 3/4 cups SR Flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (bi-carb soda)
1/2 cup brandy
Rind from 1 large orange
Juice of 3 oranges
Blanched almonds (I didn't have any in the house, so I used a tube of prepared icing)
A 1-euro coin, wrapped in aluminium foil
Baking/cake dish approx 33cm x 23cm, approx 4-5cm deep - greased and floured. (I used a tapsi, the kind used often for the Sunday roast, and a piece of baking paper - it worked beautifully!)
The method: Beat butter and sugar together until light and creamy. Add egg yolks and beat well. Add orange rind and beat well. Combine brandy, orange juice and baking soda together. Add brandy mixture to creamed butter and sugar mixture. Mix it in well. Beat egg whites until stiff. Alternately fold egg whites and flour into cake mixture. Throw the foil-wrapped coin into the mixture. Pour the batter into a prepared cake tray. Bake at 180 deg for approx 3/4 hour to 1 hour. The cake is ready when a knife inserted in the cake comes out clean. When the cake had cooled down a little, I wrote the year 2008 in white icing.
Here's the same vasilopita, decorated with icing sugar, almonds and chocolate drops.The regular version of vasilopita gets a little tiring from one year to the next. For the year 2011, I decided to make portion-controlled vasilopita cupcakes - only one has the φλουρί. They need less baking time than the cake - no more than 25-30 minutes in a moderate oven; they made quite an impact in my Cretan kitchen. For 2012, because Greece has had a very bad year luck-wise, I created an everyone's-a-winner vasilopita - most people having a piece from here will be lucky. For 2013, I used marzipan to make a clock on the top of the cake, from an idea I got in a shop window in Hania.
... and there it is again, for 2014.
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