Ring in the New Year with this easy, yummy, mildly spiced traditional Greek cake! It is the highlight of the New Year’s celebration among Greeks all around the world!
What is Vasilopita?
Vasilopita (pronounced va-see-LO-pee-ta) is a traditional Greek New Year’s cake commemorating St. Basil. The name Basil in Greek is Vasili, hence the name Vasilopita, which means Basil’s cake/bread.
In Greece, there are two kinds of Vasilopita: a cake and a brioche-style bread. Recipes and decorations vary from region to region. A coin is hidden inside the Vasilopita and whoever finds the coin in their slice is said to have good luck for the entire year!
Why is there a coin hidden inside?
St. Basil is believed to have started this tradition over 1500 years ago when he hid coins and jewelry in breads to give to the poor. This is why some Orthodox Christians exchange Christmas gifts on January 1 instead of December 25. You can read more about St. Basil here: https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2019/01/01/100003-saint-basil-the-great-archbishop-of-caesarea-in-cappadocia
What are some of the customs associated with Vasilopita?
In Greece, eating Vasilopita is not just for families. Businesses, clubs, and associations also serve Vasilopita, where members or employees who find the hidden coin inside their slice are usually given money or a gift.
Some families serve it right after midnight on New Year’s Eve, while others serve it on New Year’s Day.
In my family, we always have it on New Year’s Day, with a big family dinner. When it comes time for dessert, you’ll always find Melomakarona and Kourabiedes on the table, but the center of attention is the Vasilopita, where it is cut to bless the house for the New Year.
What you’ll need:
Butter: I always use unsalted butter.
Flour & baking powder: I often use self-rising flour for convenience, but you can use all-purpose flour, too.
Spices: I use a combination of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.
Fruit: Some orange zest and orange juice.
Alcohol: Cognac or Brandy.
Nuts: Chopped walnuts.
Sugar & salt: I use granulated sugar, powdered sugar and a pinch of salt.
Eggs: I use organic.
Vanilla: Some vanilla essence/extract.
Milk: I use skimmed milk, but you can use any kind of milk.
Coin & aluminum foil: A clean coin wrapped in aluminum foil.
White chocolate & food coloring: I used white chocolate mixed with some gel food coloring to write the year on the top of the cake, but this is optional.
How do you add the coin?
There are two ways to add the coin. One way is to wrap a coin with aluminum foil and put it in the batter before baking the cake. The other way is to insert the foil wrapped coin into the bottom AFTER the cake is baked.
I prefer adding the coin after the cake is baked because if you put the coin in the batter before baking, it will drop to the bottom of the pan. But if you insert the coin after the Vasilopita is baked, you ensure that it will be well-hidden inside and no one will be able to find it by looking at the bottom of their slice!
How do you decorate the Vasilopita?
For this Vasilopita cake you could just dust with powdered sugar, or you could write the year on top of the powdered sugar using melted chocolate, sliced almonds or even pomegranate seeds. You could also cover it with melted white chocolate.
I wish you all a joyous 2020 full of love, happiness and prosperity!
Happy New Year!
Please let me know how this Vasilopita turned out for you in the comments! I would love to hear from you!
Vasilopita - Greek New Year's Cake
For the Cake
- 250 g (1 cup/ 8 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 cups (400 g /14 oz) granulated sugar
- 3 eggs, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract/essence
- 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
- ¼ cup (55 ml/ 2 fl oz) cognac or brandy
- 1 cup (250 ml / 8 fl oz) milk
- 500 g (4 ¼ cups/ 18.2 oz) self-rising flour*
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 ½ cups (200 g/ 7 oz) finely chopped walnuts
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground clove
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- a pinch of salt
- a clean coin wrapped in aluminum foil
For the Topping
- about 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- some pomegranate seeds (optional)
- 100 g (4 oz) white chocolate, melted (optional)
- 1-2 teaspoons light vegetable oil (optional)
- some red gel food coloring (optional)
- Make the topping first. Add some vegetable oil to the melted chocolate and stir. Then add some red food coloring and mix. Add more oil if the chocolate gets too thick.
- Put the melted chocolate in a piping bag or your container of choice and write the year on
some wax paper. Set it aside and allow it to dry completely.
- Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F).
- Grease and line a 26 cm (10 in) round pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, walnuts, spices and salt together. Set aside.
- In another bowl, cream the butter with a hand mixer for about 1-2 minutes on low speed.
- Add the sugar, and the orange zest to the butter and beat until creamy, about 3 minutes, scraping the bowl frequently.
- Then add the vanilla and the eggs, one at a time, beating on medium speed for about a minute after each addition. Scrape the sides of the bowl a few times until everything is well incorporated.
- Add the dry ingredients, the orange juice, the cognac/brandy, and the milk alternately to the butter mixture, beating on high speed until thoroughly combined. If you want, add the foil wrapped coin to the batter now, otherwise insert it after the cake is baked.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45 – 50 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick in the middle comes out clean.
- When the cake is done, take it out of the oven and allow it to cool completely.
- Remove the cake from the pan, flip it over and remove the parchment paper. Add the foil wrapped coin now if you didn’t put it in the batter.
- Place the cake on a plate and dust it with powdered sugar. Decorate with pomegranate seeds.
- Gently remove the chocolate decorations from the parchment paper and place on the cake.