Call it a cake, loaf or pie; this item containing a hidden coin has long been associated with New Year and good luck. Vasilopita, akin to its exquisite name, has an intriguing history, folklore and legends. As the geographical limit keeps shifting, so does its name and dough keep changing. But this coin in the cake, can safely call it so, fortifies the bond between food, festivities and faiths
All of us have grown up listening to several beliefs and legends surrounding the first day of the New Year (according to the Gregorian calendar). One of the most prevalent says, "Whatever you do on this day, you will continue to manifest the same for the rest of the year." Does it resonate? Likewise, there are conjectures that eating or drinking certain something fetches good fortune. If you brush it off disbelieving such faiths, then here we bring Vasilopita from Greece. You gotta have it on the 1st day of the new year, to believe it.
Diverse monikers and doughs
This Greek New Year cake is prepared from different types of dough, and the variance is influenced by regional and family traditions, including tsoureki. In certain households, a custard base known as galatopita is used instead of dough. Chronópita, which translates as "New Year's pie," is another moniker for the pie. Vasilopita is also referred to as basil pie or Vassili's pie. The name stems from 'king' and 'cake' but was reinterpreted as "Basil's cake". It is also called vasilopoulla in Cyprus.
Traditional Vasilopita Greek New Year Cake, Image Source: constantinjewels@Instagram
In Greece, families cut the Vasilopita on New Year's Day to bless the home and fetch felicity for the upcoming year. This is typically done at NYE midnight. The cross emblem is carved over the cake with a knife at midnight. Each family member and any visitor present receive a slice of cake. Relying upon regional and family traditions, pieces are cut for other allegorical individuals or groups. They might be the Kallikantzaroi, the impoverished, St. Basil and other saints, or the Lord.
Importance of the coin
Inserting coin in Vasilopita dough, Image Source: theglutenfreegreek.com
Before baking, a coin is inserted into the dough and remains concealed. Historically, the coin was often valuable, such as a gold sovereign. Saint Basil's Feast Day is honoured on January 1, the first day of the fresh year and the Epiphany season. It is also known as the Vasilopita Observance.
Legend says that Vasilopita is intertwined with Basil of Caesarea, also known as Saint Basil the Great. Basil pleaded with the local Romans to raise a ransom when Caesarea was under siege. Everyone gave whatever gold and jewels they had. The enemy was so shamed by the act of collective donation that he called off the attack and left the payment.
Basil was given the task of returning the unpaid ransom. He was clueless about which objects belonged to which families. Basil cooked all of the jewellery into bread and distributed the loaves throughout the city. Miraculously every citizen received their precise portion by a miracle.
The Balkan tradition of cake with a buried coin
Cake with a buried coin is a custom associated with the winter holidays in several Balkan provinces. But, it bears no relation to Saint Basil whatsoever. Other regions, such as Ukrainians and Romanians, have documented the practice. Serbs eat "esnica" around Christmas, while Albanians consume pitta, which is eaten by both Christians and Muslims. Bulgarians make and consume Pogacha and Novogodishna banitsa for New Year.