Zambolis apartments

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Monday, 31 December 2007

Vasilopita (Βασιλόπιτα)

Vasilopita is a New Year's tradition in Greece; it extends to many other regions of the former Asia Minor. It signifies good luck in the household, and a slice of the cake is dedicated to each member of the household, as well as to the house itself, any guests present, God and other saints. The luckiest person is the one to find a coin hidden in the pie. It is placed in the batter of the cake before it goes into the oven. The translation of 'Vasilopita' is 'St Basil's cake (or pie)'. This loose translation characterises its form: it is made using either baking powder, which gives it the taste of a cake, or yeast, which turns it into a sweet kind of bread. In Crete, we tend to call the yeast version 'Christopsomo' (meaning 'Christ's bread'), while the cakey kind is use as Vasilopita. Another tradition with vasilopita is that it is baked in a round tin, the kind we usually use for a roast, called a 'tapsi'. The same kind of tapsi was used to make ladenia.

Here's what Anna Varvais has to say about the vasilopita tradition: "The Vasilopita is a Greek New Year's Bread. It is made in honor of a beautiful act of charity by St. Basil to the poor and needy of his flock. In order to insure that the needy would have money for life's necessities, and knowing that the needy were also proud people, St. Basil had the ladies of his church bake sweet bread with coins baked into them. In this way he could give them money without demeaning them at all. It is therefore traditional to bake a coin into the Vasilopita (St. Basil's Bread). The one who receives the coin is considered to be especially blessed for the year."

My web search for a recipe yielded only a few reliable sources. I chose a recipe from an Australian television network, as I found that it had been added to the web only a month ago; there are many Greeks living in Australia, and I wouldn't be surprised if there had been a special program devoted to the subject of Christmas feasts for the recipe to have been added so recently. Another feature I liked about it is that it called for the use of 3 oranges, and as we are orange producers ourselves, I could include local ingredients. The recipe below comes straight from ABC Brisbane. My changes are stipulated in italics.

You need:
175 grams butter
1 1/2 cups caster sugar (I used plain crystallised sugar)
1 teaspoon vanilla powder (in Greece, this is sold in small vials as vanilla sugar)
4 eggs (separated)
3 3/4 cups SR Flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (bi-carb soda)
1/2 cup brandy
Rind from 1 large orange
Juice of 3 oranges
Blanched almonds (I didn't have any in the house, so I used a tube of prepared icing)
A 1-euro coin, wrapped in aluminium foil
Baking/cake dish approx 33cm x 23cm, approx 4-5cm deep - greased and floured. (I used a tapsi, the kind used often for the Sunday roast, and a piece of baking paper - it worked beautifully!)

vasilopita 2009The method: Beat butter and sugar together until light and creamy. Add egg yolks and beat well. Add orange rind and beat well. Combine brandy, orange juice and baking soda together. Add brandy mixture to creamed butter and sugar mixture. Mix it in well. Beat egg whites until stiff. Alternately fold egg whites and flour into cake mixture. Throw the foil-wrapped coin into the mixture. Pour the batter into a prepared cake tray. Bake at 180 deg for approx 3/4 hour to 1 hour. The cake is ready when a knife inserted in the cake comes out clean. When the cake had cooled down a little, I wrote the year 2008 in white icing.


new year's lunch dessertHere's the same vasilopita, decorated with icing sugar, almonds and chocolate drops.The regular version of vasilopita gets a little tiring from one year to the next. For the year 2011, I decided to make portion-controlled vasilopita cupcakes - only one has the φλουρί. They need less baking time than the cake - no more than 25-30 minutes in a moderate oven; they made quite an impact in my Cretan kitchen. For 2012, because Greece has had a very bad year luck-wise, I created an everyone's-a-winner vasilopita - most people having a piece from here will be lucky. For 2013, I used marzipan to make a clock on the top of the cake, from an idea I got in a shop window in Hania.

Photo: this year, everyone's a winnerPhoto: ΚΑΛΗ ΧΡΟΝΙΑ!

... and there it is again, for 2014.

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Clean Monday
Ash Thursday
25 March
Red eggs for Greek Easter
Fasting and Great Lent

Apple cake
Banana cake
Simple cake
Carrot cake muffins
Chocolate muffins

Chocolate cake
Walnut cake


  1. Beautiful cake, but what really caught my attention was that you are an orange-producer. You really can't know how envious I am!

  2. Most people in Hania are involved in some way with either orange or olive production. We have about 500 orange trees in six different fields, making it very difficult to devote enough time to each one. As for our olive trees, my husband’s main field of 200 trees burnt down through an electricity (the famous DEH) malfunction, and we were compensated for the loss of the trees. They have just picked up in growth, and are now producing enough olives to keep us going with table olives, but not really enough to make our supply’s worth of olive oil.

  3. Six fields would make it hard - does your husband work it with a tractor? That's tragedy about your olive trees. Why do so many tragedies have DEH associated with them. You're lucky the trees weren't totatally destroyed.

  4. nice list of recipes... i was hoping to see hohlious (sp?) (snails...not saligaria!)
    i would go crazy for them when my yiayia made them... the last time i was in greece was in '05 and she said there werent many out there lately... we are from a bit out of hania... a small seaside town called almirida (though its gotten full of french and germans and hotels over the last 20 years)...anyways i look forward to going thru the list you have here...

  5. hello minotaur - my recipe for hohlious is under SNAILS!!! guess i should have put it in greek!

  6. oops! i'm a boofo i just found the snails yiahni!
    boy, we used to smuggle sacks of those to america back in the day!

    i was first looking for the name "hohlious"...which the mainlanders never seem to have heard of... "snails" for them are the smaller "saligaria" you'd find in your yard that they think islanders must be crazy for eating.

  7. i can imagine your relatives smuggling them into america - along with vlita seeds (like my relatives!)