As 2015 comes to a close, I am so thankful to all who have taken an interest in this little blog over the last year. It is so wonderful to be able to share something I love to do with you and I wanted to say thank you to those reading in Australia, Greece, Cyprus and all over the world. What better way is there to say thank you than by offering up some baking goodness?
In Greek homes, when the New Year arrives, it is also the feast day of St Basil (Aghios Vassilios) and it is traditional to celebrate the day with a "vasilopita" - a bread or cake which has a foil wrapped
coin hidden inside. In this post, I am sharing with you the cake version - inspired by the flavours of the Ionian islands, with plenty of citrus and a little splash of brandy. On New Years day, the family gathers around the table and the head of the household will make a sign of the cross over the bread or cake and turn it three times - once for the Virgin Mary, once for Christ and once for the house. A piece of the bread or cake is sliced and passed to each person at the table - traditionally from oldest to youngest. It is said that whoever finds the coin, will have good luck and good fortune for the year ahead.
While growing up, I experienced a similar tradition - except that the lucky coin was placed in the Irish Christmas pudding. Although my grandmother and aunts went a few steps further and would also add, according to tradition, a tiny silver wishbone (for good luck), a silver thimble (for thrift), a gold ring (for marriage) and an anchor (for safe harbour). Great Aunty Pat would also keep topping up the pudding with a full bottle of Irish Whiskey - so there was a fair bit of good cheer for all on Christmas day, coin or no coin. Given how many trinkets were in those puddings, it remarkable nobody ever ended up choking. The approach to the Christmas pudding was tentative nibbling with a delicate fork - and the same approach is recommended for a vasilopita. In my vasilopita this year, I have placed a euro coin instead of an Australian coin - I am hoping the lucky family member to find it will not only have good fortune throughout the year but also a holiday to Greece.
Citrusy Ionian Style New Year Cake - Vasilopita (Βασιλόπιτα)
250g butter, softened, chopped
1 tbsp finely grated orange rind
1 tbsp finely grated lemon rind
1 tbsp Greek brandy
1 & 1/2 cups caster sugar
1 & 1/2 cups self-raising flour
1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
* one very well cleaned foil wrapped coin
1. Preheat the oven to 160°C. Grease a deep 20cm-round cake pan; line the base and side with baking paper.
2. In a large bowl, beat the butter, rind and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until just combined.
3. Fold in the sifted flours, juices and brandy in two batches. Eg. Slowly fold a in the self rasing flour bit a time at a time, then some of the juice, then some more self raising flour. Aim to start and finish with the flour. Spread half of the mixture into the prepared pan and then add the foil wrapped coin. Spread the rest of the mixture over the top.
4. Bake for about 1 hour 10 minutes. Stand the cake in the pan for 10 minutes before turning onto a wire rack to cool. Decorate with icing sugar and if you wish, you can add the the upcoming year in icing or whatever takes your choosing.
Slices of vasolopita are best served with some good quality brandy on ice, a vinsanto from Santorini, a sweet dessert wine from the Island of Samos or if you prefer an aromatic cup of thick Greek coffee.
Once again, lovely readers, I thank you for your support throughout 2015. I hope that 2016 brings you happiness and that in the year ahead the hearts and thoughts of all of people that share the world are filled with peace, tolerance and kindness.