In Greek culture it is common belief that New Year is an incredibly auspicious time, so families often partake in traditions that beckon good fortune, health and prosperity for the year to come.
The cutting of the Vasilopita (New Year cake) is one such tradition and every January we all get together to cut the cake – Yiayia will have hidden a gold coin in the sponge before baking.
We carefully mark out symbolic slices for the church, the house and the poor and then one for each family member in order of age. The person that receives the slice of cake with the gold coin inside is said to receive extra good luck all year round!
The kids are so eager to find the coin that Yiayia’s beautifully prepared cake soon ends up as a pile of crumbs on their plate. The adults are no more restrained as we all burrow away at our own slices faster than you can say Opa!
Preparation Time 25 minutes
Cooking Time 40-45 minutes
5 medium eggs, separated
1 tbsp cold water
210g butter, soft at room temperature
210g granulated sugar
100ml olive oil
730g self-raising flour, sifted
1½ tsp baking powder
300ml freshly squeezed orange juice (Vasso also includes mandarin/satsuma juice if she has any of these fruit spare at home)
1½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp vanilla essence
2 tbsp orange zest (and mandarin/satsuma if you have any spare)
Icing sugar, sifted and pomegranate seeds (to decorate)
Preheat the oven to 180 C.
Ensure your mixing bowl and whisk attachments are extremely clean and totally dry. Whisk the egg whites and tbsp of water until they are beaten into thick & glossy meringues. Vasso carefully turns the bowl upside down – your meringues are ready if the mix doesn’t fall out of the bowl and onto the floor!
If you are using one mixing bowl, put the meringues into another bowl and place to one side.
Add the butter, sugar and olive oil into your mixing bowl and using a food mixer (or hand mixer) mix extremely well until the mixture is creamy and fluffy and the sugar has dissolved.
Add the egg yolks one at a time, mixing well each time you add a yolk.
Put the self-raising flour (sifted) and baking powder into a bowl.
Add a little orange juice and bicarbonate of soda to a cup and stir with a spoon.
Add the cup contents, orange juice, vanilla essence, orange zest and two heaped tbsp of flour (and baking powder) to the butter mix. Mix for a short while with the food mixer.
Remove the bowl from the mixer and using a large wooden spoon add a heaped spoon of the meringue and also a heaped spoon of flour. Blend using the wooden spoon in circular movements from the bottom up.
Add another heaped spoon of meringue and heaped spoon of flour and combine with the wooden spoon, again in circular movements. Repeat until all the meringues and flour have been combined.
Grease a baking tin which is approx 30cm in diameter. If you don’t have a baking tin you can use a round baking tray lined with baking paper. Grease the base and sides.
Drop your gold coin (or any coin or trinket will do) into the mixture, stir and then pour into your baking tin.
If you like, bless the Vasilopita by crossing it three times.
Place in the oven. Cook for 20 minutes at 180 C, then turn down to 160 C and cook for a further 20-25 minutes until nicely bronzed and cooked through.
Under no circumstances open the oven before 30 minutes or so as your cake will flop! You can check your Vasilopita is ready by sticking a skewer in the middle of the cake. If it comes out clean, it is ready. If it’s not quite done but the top has a nice golden colour, continue to cook in the oven lightly covered with some foil.
Remove the cake from the tin and allow to cool on a cooling rack to allow air to get beneath the cake.
Once cooled, place on your serving plate and cover the top with sifted icing sugar. Carve with a matchstick the number of year on top, or decorate with pomegranate seeds.
Yiayia’s tip: This is a large family cake! For a ‘standard’ size cake halve the ingredients (use three eggs) and cook initially at 180 C for 15 minutes and then at 160 C for a further 20-25 minutes.