The origins of Vasilopita
Vasilopita or Βασιλόπιτα we have all grown up with so what is the meaning of Vasilopita? Traditionally it is served on New Years Day in Greece and contains a hidden coin which is said to give good luck to the receiver.
On New Year’s Day families cut the vasilopita to bless the house and bring good luck for the new year. A piece of cake is sliced for each family member and the also the house. The person who receives the coin is said to be blessed with good luck for the year.
While this tradition may have its origins in ancient times, in modern times it is associated with Agio Vasili or St Basil.
According to one story St Basil asked the citizens of Caesarea to raise a ransom payment to stop a siege being raised on the city. The citizens gave whatever they had and the siege was called off without the ransom payment being made. St Basil then had the job of returning ransom payments but as he did not know who paid what. So he baked all the ransom in to loaves of bread and returned them to the citizens. Legend says each citizen received their exact contribution.
Regardless of the exact origin this a brilliant tradition which helps define the Greek culture and at Pedia Greek School we teach our students about this and many other traditions. Also, to help you celebrate New Years we attach a simple recipe for Vasilopita:
- 375g butter (13 ounces)
- 3 cups sugar
- 6 eggs (divided into yolks and whites)
- a pinch of salt
- zest of 2 oranges
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 200g yogurt, strained (7 ounces)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 750g self-rising flour, sifted (26.5 ounces)
- 3 cups icing sugar
- 3 tbsps hot water or milk
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- To prepare this vasilopita recipe, start by dividing the eggs into yolks and whites. Place the egg whites in the bowl of the electric mixer, along with a pinch of salt. Make sure your egg whites, bowl and whisk attachments are clean and free of any water. Whisk the egg whites until the mixture is very thick and glossy and a long trailing peak forms when the whisk is lifted (meringues). Place the mixture in a bowl and set aside.
- Use the electric mixer, to mix the butter and sugar, for about 20 minutes, until the butter is creamy and fluffy, like whipped cream. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, whilst mixing, allowing time for each one to be absorbed, before adding another. Pour in the orange juice, the vanilla extract, the orange zest, the yogurt and mix to combine. Add 1/3 of the sifted flour and blend, using a maryse spatula. Add 1/3 of the meringues and blend with light circular movements from the bottom up. Repeat with the rest of the flour and meringue (adding 1/3 of the flour and 1/3 meringue and then the remaining flour and meringue).
- To bake the vasilopita, preheat the oven to 200C (both top and bottom heating elements on). Butter the bottom and sides of a round non-sticking cake tin (approx.32cm diameter) and pour in the mixture. Place the cake tin in the preheated oven, on the lower rack, turn the heat down to 175C and bake for 50-60 minutes, until nicely coloured and cooked through. Check if the vasilopita is ready, by sticking in the middle of the cake a wooden skewer or toothpick. If it comes out clean, then the cake is ready.
- Let the vasilopita cool down (otherwise it will break) and invert the pan on a plate. Wrap a coin with aluminium foil and stick it in the cake. Invert the vasilopita on a serving platter.
- Prepare the glaze for the vasilopita. In a large bowl add all the ingredients and blend with a spatula to combine, until the glaze is smooth and glossy. Add a little bit more hot water, if needed (the glaze should be like a thin cream). Top the vasilopita with the glaze and even out with a spatula. Don’t forget to carve the number of the year on top of the glaze! Enjoy!