Vasilopita is a traditional Greek cake with a coin inside made for New Year’s Eve. This recipe is flavored with vanilla, orange zest, cinnamon and finely ground hazelnuts.
The most famous Greek traditional cakes are probably Fanouropita and Vasilopita. Fanouropita is made for St. Fanourios day and Vasilopita is made for New Year’s Eve.
There are a lot of recipes for Greek Vasilopita which is made for New Year’s Eve and in most cases it is a cake or a round sweet bread like Tsoureki or challah. In other parts of Greece the traditional Vasilopita is a savory pie with phyllo dough and minced meat filling something like this Greek minced meat pie.
Today, most recipes are sweet, but it’s safe to say that the key factors to name any recipe a Vasilopita is that it has to have a hidden coin inside and it has to be cut on New Year’s Eve, just when the clock hits 12.
Do you have a favorite Vasilopita recipe or do you like to try new things every year?
I usually make a cake for Vasilopita because it’s easier and quicker than a sweet bread. Most of these cake recipes are flavored with aromatics that are closely related with the holidays such as cinnamon, cloves and orange zest. You can also use a few tablespoons brandy or cognac and add raisins and ground nuts (in Greek tradition nuts and raisins symbolize prosperity and abundance).
Except the recipe at the end of this post, another favorite cake I like to make as a Vasilopita is this Xmas scented cake with fluffy vanilla buttercream which has a soft, velvety crumb and a fluffy vanilla icing that pairs beautifully with the rest of the flavors.
The recipe you’re reading right now is made with a different method which gives you a very fluffy and airy sponge cake. The only thing you have to take extra care of, is to use warm eggs and beat them thoroughly until they are tripled in volume. This is what makes the cake extra light and fluffy.
For this Vasilopita you’ll need:
- White sugar
- Cake flour (or all-purpose flour)
- Hazelnuts (or other nuts)
- Baking powder
- Vanilla extract
- Orange zest (or lemon zest)
- Ground cinnamon
How to make Vasilopita
This recipe follows the whipped eggs method or the hot milk cake method. For this method the eggs should be warm. I like to take them out of the fridge the previous day and before starting the recipe I warm them up by placing them inside a bowl with very warm water. You can also break them in the bowl of your mixer and warm them over a bain-marie stirring constantly.
The steps for this method are:
- Beat the eggs until frothy and gradually add the sugar. Continue beating until the eggs triple in volume and the mixture resembles thick shaving foam.
- Finely ground the nuts with some of the flour. Then combine with the rest of the flour, the baking powder and the salt and mix well.
- Sift the flour mixture over the whipped eggs and fold gently using a spatula. Folding carefully ensures that the batter don’t deflate much.
- Incorporate the butter: melt the butter with the milk and mix it in a separate bowl with about one fourth of the cake batter (just eyeball it). Then, pour this mixture over the whipped eggs and flour mixture and gently fold with a spatula.
- Bake the cake, unmold and let it cool on a rack.
- Place a coin inside the Vasilopita and decorate it with icing sugar and whatever ornaments you like.
What is the purpose of Vasilopita?
Vasilopita is a Greek word which means “Basil-pie” or “Vassilis pie” and it reffers to St. Basil who is celebrated by the Orthodox Church on January 1st each year. That’s why Vasilopita is always served on New Year’s Eve and gets cut when the clock hits 24:00.
The coin for Vasilopita
Vasilopita has a lucky coin hidden inside (it’s called “flouri” in Greek), and according to tradition, the one who gets it will be lucky all year long. The coin can be anything, from a penny to a Sovereign. There are also special coins sold in Greece each year for this purpose.
Many recipes add the coin to the batter before it gets baked, but it usually ends up flat at the bottom, and when you cut the pieces the coin can get between two slices creating confusion on who should get it.
I prefer to add it after I bake the cake because it is cleaner this way and also I can place it vertically so that when the cake is cut the chances to end up between two slices are less.
How to cut Vasilopita
When it’s time to cut Vasilopita, the host of the house will take a knife and score a cross on the surface of the cake. This has a religious meaning but it also helps to cut even pieces.
The first piece is for Christ, the second for Virgin Mary and the third for the household (don’t worry, you can eat those pieces the next day!). After those three pieces, the forth piece is for the host, the fifth for the hostess and the rest will follow by the oldest relatives to the youngest. If a close family member is away they are also included. Pets, being family members, are also included in our household!
Keep in mind that every guest deserves a piece of Vasilopita so if you have a lot of people invited at your dinner table you should calculate the servings in advance. The recipe at the end of this post will serve 8 (or even 10 people). You can double the recipe for more servings or make two cakes (whether or not you have to put a coin to both cakes is debatable).
Vasilopita is also cut in businesses, boards and clubs, usually until the end of January or early February. The employ or club member who gets the coin usually is gifted some paid days off work or some kind of gift.
Traditionally, Vasilopita is sprinkled with icing sugar for a snowy effect and gets decorated with small Christmas ornaments. It is custom to write the year on the surface either with glaze, icing sugar, cocoa powder or nuts. You can also use sugar paste or melted chocolate.
Most of the times I like to decorate it with chocolate trees made with white chocolate and matcha green tea. The matcha tea goes so well with the white chocolate that’s almost my favorite part of the Vasilopita!
- 1 1/2 cups (190 grams) cake flour or all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup (30 grams) roasted hazelnuts
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- a pinch of salt
- 4 large eggs (220 grams)
- 1 cup 200 grams sugar
- 1/2 cup minus 1 tablespoon (90 grams) butter
- 1/4 cup (60 grams) milk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon orange zest
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 7 oz (200 grams) white chocolate, chopped
- 1 tablespoon matcha green tea
- 6 wooden skewers
- Icing sugar for decoration
- one 8-inch (20 cm) diameter and 3-inch (7 cm) deep round cake pan (if your pan is not deep enough, grease it only and line the sides and bottom with baking paper just as you see in the video)
Warm the eggs: transfer the eggs (with the shells) to a mixing bowl and fill it with very warm (but not hot) water. Let them there while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C) and grease and flour your cake pan.
Ground the nuts: Transfer the hazelnuts and some of the flour to a food processor and process until you can no longer see any bits of the hazelnuts. Then combine with the rest of the flour, the baking powder and the salt and mix well.
Whip the eggs: Take the eggs out of the water, discard the water and wipe the bowl. Break the eggs in the bowl and beat them with an electric mixer until frothy. Gradually add the sugar and continue beating until tripled in volume. The mixture should resemble thick shaving foam.
Melt the butter: While you whip the eggs, transfer the butter and the milk to a small pot and heat until the butter melts and the mixture is steamy.
Fold the flour: Sift the flour mixture over the whipped eggs in two additions and fold gently using a spatula after each addition. Folding ensures that the batter don't deflate much.
Incorporate the butter: Transfer the milk and melted butter to a separate bowl and mix it with about one fourth of the cake batter (just eyeball it). Then, pour this mixture over the whipped eggs and flour mixture and gently fold with a spatula.
Bake: Transfer the batter to the pan and bake for 60-65 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean (if you use a wider pan check the cake at 55 minutes). Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, unmold on a rack and let it cool completely.
Hide the coin: Invert the cake, make an insition with a knife and hide a coin (wrapped with foil) inside the cake. Reinvert the cake on a serving plate.
Melt the chocolate: Transfer the two thirds of the white chocolate to a bowl and melt in the microwaves or over a bain-marie. Gradually add the rest of the chocolate and stir until melted. Add the matcha and mix well.
Make the chocolate trees: Transfer the chocolate to a piping bag or a food safe bag and let it cool slightly. Place the wooden skewers on a piece of baking paper, cut the end of the piping bag and pipe the chocolate trees. Their shape will form easilly if you just pipe 3 triangles the one under the other. Let the chocolate set and harden (best to put it in the fridge).
Decorate: Cover the surface of the Vasilopita with icing sugar and write the number of the New Year with nuts, cocoa powder or melted chocolate. Place some chocolate trees on top and serve. Happy New Year!
- If you don’t want any nuts, replace the hazelnuts with 3 tablespoons cornstarch or flour.
- Another recipe I often make as a Vasilopita is this velvety Xmas cake with vanilla buttercream.
- Αdd 2 teaspoons orange zest if you prefer the orange to be the strongest flavor from the rest of the aromatics.
For 12 servings: multiply this recipe x1.5 (6 eggs, 1.5 cups sugar, etc.) and use a 10-inch diameter, 3-inch deep round pan.
For 16 servings: multiply this recipe x2 (8 eggs, 2 cups sugar, etc.) and use a 12-inch diameter, 3-inch deep round pan.
For 16 servings and more I suggest using a stand mixer with a large bowl.
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