Monday, December 31, 2007

Vassilopita: Greek New Year's Cake



Vasilopita (Βασιλόπιτα) is a traditional New Year's Day bread or cake in Greece and many other areas in eastern Europe and the Balkans which contains a hidden coin or trinket which gives good luck to the receiver. It is made of a variety of doughs, depending on regional and family tradition, including tsoureki.
It is associated with Saint Basil's day, January 1, in most of Greece, but in some regions, the traditions surrounding a cake with a hidden coin are attached to Epiphany or to Christmas.
In other areas of the Balkans, the tradition of cake with a hidden coin during winter holidays exists, but is not associated with Saint Basil at all. Hasluck (1927) documents the practice among Ukrainians (a pirog is cut); Romanians; Serbs ("chesnitza", eaten on Christmas); Albanians ("pitta", eaten by both Christians and Muslims); Bulgarians (pogatcha, Novogodichna banitsa (for New Year's), Svity Vasileva bogatcha); etc


Recipe


INGREDIENTS:
3/4 cup of butter
1 1/2 cups of sugar
6 eggs
4 tablespoons of brandy
grated peel of 2 oranges
4 cups of self-rising flour
3/4 cup of evaporated milk
1 coin wrapped in foil
confectioner's sugar (optional)
grated coconut (optional)
marmelade (optional)


PREPARATION:

Bring all ingredients to room temperature, and preheat the oven to 390F (200C).
Cream the butter in a mixing bowl. Beating continuously, add in order:
the sugar, very slowly
the eggs one at a time
the brandy
Still beating, sprinkle in the grated orange peel to distribute evenly throughout the batter.

Add milk, then flour, a small amount at a time.
Flour a round 12" to 13" diameter tapsi (baking pan with 2-3" sides) and pour in the batter.
The cake will bake for a total of about 45 minutes, but halfway through, when it has started to set, insert the coin carefully into the dough, pushing it down just below the surface. (Inserting the coin when the cake is slightly firmed will prevent it from sinking to the bottom.) Insert it anywhere except the exact center of the cake.
Continue baking until done. Allow to cool for 5 minutes. Place a large plate over the top of the tapsi and invert it so the cake comes out on the plate. Take a second plate (for serving) and put it over the cake, inverting to get the cake right side up.
Allow the Vassilopita to cool for 4 hours before serving.


Topping & Decorations
(See photo) Sift confectioner's sugar to cover (decorations optional).
Coat lightly with marmelade and sprinkle with grated coconut (decorations optional).

Traditions of Cutting the Vassilopita

Each family has its own tradition for cutting the Vassilopita, however they all have one thing in common: the wish for good fortune in the new year. Traditionally, pieces are cut ceremoniously by the head of the household and allocated to the church (Holy Trinity and Virgin Mary), then the head of the household (male), his wife, their children (oldest to youngest), other family members by degree of relatedness, then guests. The coin or small medallion (flouri, pronounced floo-REE) is a tradition symbolizing an extra measure of good fortune for whoever gets the piece where it has been hidden during baking, and this can cause serious confrontation if ownership of the coin is disputed.
Therefore:

when inserting the coin, insert parallel to the way a knife will cut so it will remain in one piece;
when making the first cut, declare loudly who gets the pieces on either side of the knife so there are no disputes;
if a coin does end up between two pieces, the piece that has the larger part gets the coin.

Καλή Χρονιά! Happy New Year!

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