The Greek New Year Cake Vasilopita has been one of the most fascinating festive special preparations with centuries-old heritage. It can also be rightly called the cake with a coin. There are deep-rooted sentiments associated with it. It has a laid down way to bake, cut and eat. A slice of Vasilopita tells myriad tales
The celebration of New Year in Greece can't be imagined without a particular dish. The locals hold high sentiments for it and believe it to fetch good luck. We are talking about Vasilopita. Sounds exotic, right? It's a classic Greek New Year's dessert dedicated to St. Basil. The name Basil is Vasili in Greek. Thus, Vasilopita signifies Basil's cake or bread. Is that all that makes it so unique? Well, no. There is much more than what the eyes meet.
Vasilopita is literally summarised as "Sweet Basil Bread" in Greek. When preparing the Vasilopita, a penny is baked into the ingredients. In order to represent the unending sweetness and joy of life, sweet flavouring is added to the bread.
Traditions and sentiments
Before baking, the trinket is put into the dough. The cake is then split into slices for each family member and guest, with the recipients queuing up from oldest to youngest. Until everyone has received their piece, no one is permitted to look at their own slice. A specific prayer is performed when the cake is being sliced.
Order of recipients
The host of the house traditionally cuts the cake since there is a religious element to the celebration. It has to be cut three times in the sign of the cross. The first piece is dedicated to Christ, the second to the Virgin Mary, and the third to the house. The distribution order is then as follows: a piece for the hosts, next the eldest members, and finally the youngest.
The cake with a hidden coin, Image Source: manos_dimitroulis@Instagram
Why a coin
This custom is said to have begun around 1500 years ago with St. Basil. The legend says to stop a siege, he requested the locals to give away all their gold and hand it over as a ransom to the enemy. Apparently, the enemy was mortified by this act, withdrew the invasion, and denied the ransom. Now to return the collected gold, St. Basil was puzzled. Hence he baked loaves with gold inside them and distributed them among the people. Luckily, everyone got back their belongings in a surprising manner.
Vasilopita is available in two varieties in Greece: a cake and a brioche-style bread similar to Tsoureki, a traditional Greek Easter bread. Regional differences can be found in both recipes and ornamentation. Inside the Vasilopita is a coin. The locals believe that whoever gets the coin in their slice will have good fortune for the remainder of the year.
Not too ornate
A traditional Vasilopita cake, Image Source: mygreekdish.com
Vasilopita, unlike many decorative cakes, is not ornate. Just use icing sugar or powdered sugar to dust, and you are good to go. Some people prefer to write the year atop the icing sugar using melted chocolate, sliced almonds, or even pomegranate seeds. Melted white chocolate is another option for coating it.
Not restricted to the domestic celebration
Vasilopita is not just for families in Greece. The special cake is likewise served by companies, organisations, commercial establishments and clubs. Members or staff who locate the hidden coin inside their slice are typically awarded money or a gift in such a setup.
The dominant one
Melomakarona and Kourabiedes are always on the table for the New Year dessert. The Vasilopita, however, is the focus of attention, where it is cut to bless the house for the New Year. Some families offer it shortly after midnight on NYE, while others serve it on 1 January.