Long before we started blogging, Highlander gave Islander the cookbook “Cooking with the Saints” as a Christmas gift. Vasilopita was the very first recipe she made in the new year and for the Feast Day of St. Basil. Now we can blog about the traditional Greek cake that we bake for a simple new year’s celebration at home.
According to the author, Ernst Schuegraf, “different recipes (for Vasilopita) exist, (but) they all include the hiding of a silver coin in the cake, which is supposed to bring luck to the person who finds it. The head of the family slices the cake and distributes the pieces in a very precise order. The first piece is for St. Basil, the second one for Christ, the third one for the oldest member of the family and on down to the youngest.”
The hiding of the coin represents Baby Jesus hiding from King Herod. Different cultures make cakes with hidden coins, beans or trinkets around this time of the year. Include Vasilopita in your recipe repetoire during the 12 days of Christmas, which come to a close on Epiphany (January 6), and celebrate the new year and the Feast Day of St. Basil with this special cake.
(Adapted from Cooking with the Saints by Ernst Schuegraf)
For the cake
- ½ cup (1 stick) butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 ½ cups flour
- 3 eggs
- ½ cup milk
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¾ tablespoon lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1/3 cup nuts, chopped (we used walnuts)
- 2 tablespoons sugar
Line an 8-inch round pan with waxed paper. Lightly grease the bottom and sides with cooking spray or vegetable oil. Set aside. In a large bowl, cream the butter with the sugar. Add the flour and mix until it resembles coarse crumbs. Beat in the eggs one at a time until well incorporated.
In a measuring cup, pour the milk then stir in the baking powder. Add this to the flour mixture and blend until smooth. In another small cup or shot glass, mix the lemon juice with the baking soda (it will be fizzy). Add this to the cake batter.
Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan. Place a clean coin (optional) in the batter. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the topping by mixing the chopped nuts and sugar. When the 20-minute baking time is up, remove the cake from the oven and sprinkle the topping over the cake. Return to the oven and continue to bake for 20-30 minutes until the cake is done. Remove from the oven and cool completely. Remove from the pan and transfer to a cake plate or serving platter.
- If there is a coin hidden in the cake, let others know about the symbolism—and safety!—before they eat their slice. We usually wrap a silver dollar in waxed paper or foil before including it in the cake batter.
- The cake may be decorated with numbers representing the new year.
- Serve Lakror as the main dish, followed by Vasilopita for dessert, for a full meal on the Feast Day of St. Basil. The recipe for Lakror is included in an earlier blog post.
- The Feast Day of St. Basil is observed on January 1 in the Eastern Orthodox Church; January 2 in the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran churches; January 15 in the Coptic Christian and Ethiopian Orthodox churches; January 30 in the Byzantine Rite; and June 14 in the Episcopal Church.
- Bake a galette des rois (3 Kings Cake) a few days later with a hidden bean (instead of a coin) to celebrate Epiphany.