There are many different variations to the New Year’s Bread or Vasilopita (vah-see-LO-pee-tah), depending on regions and family traditions. My mother uses her mother’s recipe to make the most delicious sweet and flavorful bread. (It’s even more delicious toasted with a little butter!)
On the first day of the year, families traditionally cut the Vasilopita to bless the house, family members, and to bring good luck to the New Year. Some families do this at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Some wait until the next day. Most Greek Orthodox parishes continue this tradition into the month of January when parishioners are invited to attend a luncheon one Sunday after Divine Liturgy. At the luncheon many cakes and breads are blessed and cut and distributed to the parish members.
When the Vasilopita is prepared, a coin is baked into the cake or bread. There are many different variations, but in my childhood home the Vasilopita is cut by the senior member of the family and distributed as follows: The first portion is cut for Jesus. The next piece is cut for the house, and then to each member in attendance from oldest to youngest. Some families cut a slice for the Virgin Mary, for St. Basil, for their Church, or for the poor. According to tradition, the individual who receives the piece of cake or bread with the coin is considered blessed for the New Year.
According to the website Vasilopita.com “This age old tradition commenced in the fourth century, when Saint Basil the Great, who was a bishop, wanted to distribute money to the poor in his Diocese. He wanted to preserve their dignity, so as not to look like charity, he commissioned some women to bake sweetened bread, in which he arranged to place gold coins. Thus the families in cutting the bread to nourish themselves, were pleasantly surprised to find the coins.”
This is my version of the Vasilopita Cake. Similar to a pound cake my Vasilopita is sweetened and flavored with lemon and orange rind.
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ½ cups white sugar
Rind of one lemon
Rind of one orange
5 large eggs, separated
¾ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
Coin, cleaned and wrapped in foil
Colored sanding sugar for decorating
Numbered cookie cutters
In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until very smooth and white. Add rind and combine. Slowly combine egg yokes and vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine flour and baking powder. Add half of the flour mixture into the butter mixture slowly. Add the milk and combine, then add the remaining flour mixture.
In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff. Fold the egg whites into the cake mixture. Pour the mixture into a greased 9” round pan. Carefully push the foil wrapped coin into the cake.
Bake at 350° for 35-40 minutes until the center of the cake springs back when touched. Cool in pan for about 10 minutes, then remove and place on a wire rack to cool completely.
Once the cake is cooled, place on a platter or plate.
Brush the middle of the cake with a little honey.
Place the numbered cookie cutters onto the middle of the cake.Using your fingers, carefully sprinkle the colored sanding sugar into the cookie cutter to create the numbers. Allow to set for a few minutes before carefully lifting the cookie cutters off. Dust the edges with powdered sugar.
©2014 by Alexandra Salidas Roll, Figs & Feta, LLC.
Recipe and photos by Alexandra Salidas Roll of Figs & Feta, LLC. Please do not reprint this recipe without permission. If you would like to feature this recipe on your blog or site, please rewrite the method of preparation and link your post to this one as the original source. Thank you!