In older times, the coin was often a valuable one, such as a gold sovereign. New Year’s Day is also Saint Basil’s Feast Day on the Greek Orthodox calendar - Greeks also refer to their Santa Claus figure as St Basil. The vasilopita is cut and served to family members based on age or rank, with the most senior members receiving the first pieces, followed by each family member according to age.
A vasilopita is a traditional Greek cake or bread prepared and enjoyed to celebrate the New Year. Hidden inside the cake is a gold coin wrapped in foil and the family member who is fortunate enough to receive the coin in their slice is said to have good luck for the rest of the year.
- 250 g unsalted butter, softened
- 220 g (1 cup) sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract or 1 small packet of vanilla powder (available from Mediterranean delicatessens)
- 3 eggs
- 450 g (3 cups) plain flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- pinch of salt
- 250 ml (1 cup) freshly squeezed orange juice (about 3-4 oranges)
- icing sugar and chopped or flaked almonds, to decorate (optional)
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Cooling time: 20 minutes
Preheat the oven to 175˚C. Line and lightly grease a 25 cm round cake tin.
Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar and vanilla together in a mixing bowl until pale, light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.
Sift flour, baking powder and salt together then add to mix alternately with orange juice, finishing with flour.
Make sure all the ingredients are incorporated well and form a thick cake batter, but be careful not to over mix or the vasilopita will lose its light, fluffy texture.
Pour half the cake batter into the greased tin. Now for the fun part. Wrap a gold coin in foil ($2 usually works best as it is smaller) and drop it into the cake tin. Cover with the remaining cake batter and spread evenly with a knife or spatula. This will ensure you don’t know where the lucky coin is hidden once it’s baked! Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
Allow the cake to sit and cool. The cake should be warm when you remove it from the tin but not hot to the touch. Place a large flat plate on top of the cake tin and flip so the cake falls upside down onto the plate.
You can decorate the vasilopita anyway you like but it is customary to dust the cake with icing sugar and chopped or flaked almonds. Usually the cake is decorated with the numbers of the new year, which can be written on with cake frosting/icing, or made by cutting out paper in the shape of the numbers, placing the paper cut-outs onto the cake, and then dusting with icing sugar. You can also use flaked or chopped almonds to write out the numbers too if you prefer.
Read more about the tradition of St Basil's cake here.
Photography by china squirrel.