Friday, 1 January 2016

Vasilopita, or New Year's Cake, or Saint Basil's cake


I have always equated New Year's Eve with the opportunity to find the Φλουρί (coin) in the Vasilopita. For those who aren’t of Greek decent, a Vasilopita—literally, the pie of Saint Basil—is a special cake we make only for New Year's Eve. The Vasilopita can take the form of a bread or a cake (I prefer the latter), and always contains a foil-wrapped coin. The person who finds the coin in their piece, is said to be blessed with good luck for a year—you are then supposed to keep the coin in a safe place for the entire year.

I’m not all too familiar with the actual historical background of Saint Basil, or why/how the Vasilopita came to be, so I won’t pretend to know for your sake. If you are interested in the story I’m sure Google with have the answers.

For years my family has always bought the Vasilopita bread, which as I said before, I’m not too fond of. So for this year, I decided to make my own Vasilopita cake. Although there are plenty of recipes online for the Vasilopita —and I even asked friends and family for their own recipes—I wasn’t too happy with any of them. As a result, I came up with my own—inspired by at least 6 different recipes.

Just a few quick notes on the actual recipe: I decided to use self-rising flour instead of plain flour + baking soda + baking powder, just because it is easier, and I had plenty lying around. I also used yoghurt (or you can use sour cream), because I like how moist it makes the consistency of cakes (I learned this the hard way, back when I was testing out cupcakes/muffins recipes). A few recipes also had the addition of Brandy, but since I didn’t have any—and I definitely wasn’t going to go out to buy some—I decided to exclude it. I also separated the eggs and whipped the egg whites, to make my cake fluffier/lighter. Lastly, Orange zest and Orange juice are staples in Greek baking, so there’s that.

Vasilopita (cake)

188g Butter, softened
1.5 cups Sugar
3 Eggs, separated
1 Orange, zest of
¼ cup of Orange Juice (or the juice of the orange you already used for zest)
100g Plain Yoghurt (I used Fage, but you can also use sour cream)
1 tsp Vanilla
375g Self-rising Flour, sifted
Salt, just a pinch

1. Preheat your oven to 180C. Thoroughly butter a spring-form cake tin (9 inch)*
2. Prepare all your ingredients. Sift your flour, separated your eggs, spoon out your yoghurt, etc. Place the egg whites in the bowl (making sure no yolk or water is present) sprinkle a pinch of salt, and start to whisk. Whisk until you have glossy peaks.
3. Cream your butter and sugar. Then add your egg yolks, one at a time. When your mixture is incorporated add the Orange Juice, Orange Zest, Yoghurt and Vanilla Extract. Mix just until incorporated and do not overmix (or it will make your cake stodgy)
4. Time to incorporate your flour and egg whites. You will do this in stages, taking turns to add each ingredient. Using a spatula, first add a bit of flour. Mix. Then fold** in a bit of the egg whites. Mix. Continue this way until everything is combined, and DO NOT OVERMIX.
5. Pour your batter into your tin. Take a small coin, I used a 5p coin, cover it in aluminium foil, and place it in your batter. Some people prefer to place the coin in through the bottom, after it has baked—so that the coin doesn't sink to the bottom. Mine didn’t, despite the frantic batter transfer, so to each his own. (I think traditionally, you are suppose to say a prayer before you place the coin in the Cake- I completely forgot to do that, so there's that)
the first tin that I used-didn't have a chance to take a pic of the second one because I was rushing
6. Place your cake into the oven and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until your tester/toothpick comes out clean. When it is ready, let cool for 5 minutes in tin, and then remove it from the tin and place on a wire rack to finish cooling.
7. Decorations. Some people make some really fancy decorations on their cakes. I, however, chose to just have a simple layer of powdered sugar, without dusting on 2016 (I'm artistically challenged). Feel free to include your own decorations. (I have some examples of the Vasilopitas friends/family made below)  Enjoy!

*Like I said, this was my own recipe, and the first time making it—so, of course there were a few hiccups along the way. I initially used a standard cake tin, pouring the batter right to the rim. Big mistake: the cake basically exploded and leaked in the oven in the first 10 mins of baking (I completely forgot about the self-rising flour—silly mistake, I know). Luckily I acted quickly and re-spooned all of the batter in my taller spring-form tin (the one I usually use for cheesecakes) and all was salvaged. Cake still looked, and tasted amazing by the end of it. Phew

**If you are unfamiliar with how to fold in egg whites to a mixture, I suggest you look at youtube. The only way I can explain it, is to basically spoon from the bottom to the top in a circular motion (that probably doesn’t make sense, which is why I suggest looking at youtube)

My friend's Dad made this one, and I think it's one of the prettiest I've seen. Absolutely beautiful!
My aunt made this one, and I really love how simple and clean 2016 is

and there is the coin, which I unfortunately did not win. Maybe next year!

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