In many places around the world, special foods are believed to bring good luck to the coming year. In Greece that food is Vasilópita, or Saint Vasilio’s, or Basil’s, pie. More a cake or bread than a pie, Vasilópita is the centerpiece of the New Year’s table throughout Greece and indeed much of eastern Europe and the Balkans.
Within the Vasilópita is hidden a coin. At midnight, the sign of the cross is etched with a knife onto the cake’s surface and then it is cut and served from eldest to youngest. (Often the first slice is set aside for St. Basil.) The cutting of the Vasilópita is said to bless the house; the receiver of the coin hidden within is not only that much richer, but also destined to have good fortune in the New Year.
The type of dough used to make Vasilópita varies widely from region to region and household to household. In some places it is a yeast dough made with little to no sugar; in others it is a quick bread and is quite sweet. In some regions, pumpkin is an ingredient. In others, yogurt. Some recipes call for mastic.
My friend Patra makes a delicious Vasilópita. It is sweet, and with good reason: She says the sugar she adds symbolizes the hope that the New Year will be filled with sweetness and joy.
Καλή χρονιά or Happy New Year to you! May 2012 be filled with both sweetness and joy…and much good fortune.
- 1 cup butter
- 2 ½ cups sugar
- 7 eggs
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup almonds, crushed
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
- 3 cups flour
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 cup slivered, blanched almonds
- 2-3 tablespoon sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 12” round baking pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until it is light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add extracts, crushed almonds, and orange zest.
In a separate bowl, sift together flour, salt and baking powder. Alternating with the milk, gradually incorporate the flour mixture into the batter.
Spread batter into pan and tuck a coin (thinly wrapped in aluminum foil) into the batter until it is completely covered. Sprinkle with sugar and decorate with blanched almonds.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes until it is golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. (If it browns too quickly, cover with aluminum foil.) Cool on a rack before removing from the pan.