Breakfast in Bed – Vasilopita
by Alison Hein.
In Greek, the word “pita” can mean pie, cake or scone, in addition to the popular flatbread we know and love. In this case let’s go with “cake”. When you add the term “Vasil” to its front, our cake becomes St. Basil’s Cake, traditionally served at the Greek New Year. There’s a story that goes along with the cake:
The city of Caesarea was under siege. St. Basil, the archbishop, called upon the townspeople to contribute their valuables to stop the siege. The people freely gave all their gold, silver, jewelry and coins, and when the enemy learned of this, he was so embarrassed he called off the siege. St. Basil wanted to return the unpaid ransom, but with no way of knowing the rightful owners, he baked everything into loaves of bread and distributed these evenly around the city. Miraculously, each resident was returned exactly what he or she had contributed.
The story changes with the region, as does the cake. Sometimes it is sweeter, or made with yeast. It may incorporate lemons, oranges, or apples. Usually it calls for “makhlepi”, crushed sour cherry pits that are difficult to find in these parts. The numeric year may be written on the top of the cake with nuts, cloves or icing. Almost always, a coin is wrapped in foil and inserted in the batter before baking – an extra blessing in the new year for the lucky recipient.
On New Year’s Day, the cake is cut and servings distributed, starting with the eldest member of the family down to the youngest. A slice may be cut for St. Basil, the church, the poor, etc. Or, a slice may be cut for a Greek New Year’s breakfast in bed.
Ευτυχισμένο το νέο έτος!
½ cup (1 stick) plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butte
½ cup sugar
1 orange (zested and juiced)
1 lemon (zested and juiced)
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup sesame seeds
Coin wrapped in foil
Preheat oven to 350°. Generously grease a large spring-form pan with the tablespoon of butter and set aside.
In a large bowl, mix together remaining stick of butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in two eggs, one at a time, until mixture is thick and glossy. Stir in the rind and juice of the orange and lemon.
In a small bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir into cake batter, a little at a time, until batter is thick and smooth. Pour cake batter into prepared pan. Insert coin wrapped in foil, if using. Use a spatula to smooth top. Lightly beat the remaining egg with one tablespoon of water and brush on top of cake. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top of cake.
Place in the oven and bake for about 45 minutes, until cake is golden brown and cooked through when tested with a toothpick.
Allow cake to cool completely before removing from pan and slicing.
Makes 1 small cake, about 8 to 10 slices