Traditionally for Greeks, winter festivities are celebrated at New Year rather than Christmas. People get together to exchange presents, eat, drink, sing and dance. Part of our tradition is the cutting of the Vasilopitta, or King/Basil cake. This is a moist sponge cake made with walnuts or almonds and orange and a bit like a Christmas pudding, it has a coin hidden inside which is said to bring the finder good luck for the rest of the year. In our family we always count up all those present and add portions for the house, the poor man and Jesus. Once we have counted up the number needed, we portion the cake up to make sure it is all eaten up (and the lucky coin can be found). We start with the oldest and work our way down, wrapping each slice in a napkin to keep the suspense going. Once everyone has a slice we open our napkins to find out who the lucky one will be in the coming year.

There are many ways to make a Vasilopitta, I often adapt my basic sponge recipe by simply adding the grated zest or an orange and some chopped walnuts. I also like to decorate mine by dusting icing sugar and cocoa through a doily with the coming year cut out. Today we though we would share Tessa Kiros's (www.tessakiros.com) gorgeous recipe from her fantastic book, Food From Many Greek Kitchens...

1 coin - cleaned in bicarbonate of soda and double wrapped in foil

450g plain flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

Pinch of salt

200g unsalted butter at room temperature 

300g caster sugar

4 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon grated orange zest

1 tablespoon grates lemon zest

4 tablespoons brandy

185ml milk

50g blanched almonds finely chopped

Icing sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Grease a 28cm springform baking tin. Sift the flour and baking powder and a pinch of salt into a bowl. 

Beat together the butter and sugar in a large bowl until creamy. Add the eggs one at a time to the sugar and butter mixture, beating each one I well. Beat in the vanilla and orange and lemon zest. Fold in the dry ingredients alternately with the milk and the brandy, then fold in the almonds. Scrape the mixture into the tin, level it out and then drop in the coin, trying to keep it upright. Bake the cake in the oven for 50 to 60 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 5 minutes before turning out on a wire rack to cool completely.

#vasilopitta #newyearscake #tessakiros #greekfood

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