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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Vassilopitta (New Year Wish Cake)

Vassilopitta (New Year Wish Cake)
I love hearing people's new year traditions. Whether a tradition between a small family unit, or something native to a region or country, it's so fascinating to get that glimpse into what makes people tick. Growing up, we didn't really have many traditions revolving around welcoming a new year. Unless you count watching Dick Clark, counting down with the ball, and yelling "Happy New Year" as the hour changed, hugs and kisses all around. Okay, I guess that is a tradition in itself. But I'm thinking something beyond that.

A few years ago, I started with the twelve grapes at the twelve strokes of midnight thing. I always prepare five cups of twelve grapes and we try to gobble quickly as the year changes. It's a pretty fun tradition, but I don't like that it takes away from the kissing and hugging. I mean, giggles and gagging are always a good time, but I miss kisses and hugs with loved ones on the hour.

One tradition that I started myself when the kids were young is drinking mimosas all day on New Year's day. I used to pop the cork at midnight—and then I had kids. I just couldn't keep my eyes open long enough to enjoy a whole bottle of champagne before passing out (from exhaustion). So, I'd wait and the hubs and I would pop the cork as soon as we woke up...full bottles of orange juice (and maybe some other fun juices and additions) ready in the fridge. Don't worry (I know you were), I buy sparkling juices for the kids.

Vassilopitta (New Year Wish Cake)
So, where am I going with all of this New Year's tradition talk? Well, to a Greek New Year's tradition—Vassilopitta! A single coin is baked into the cake, and cut on the first day of the year (sometimes at midnight) to bless the house and bring good luck in the new  year. And, of course, the person whose piece of cake has the coin in it has extra fortune headed their way. Now that is a fun tradition.

This cake may be simple and rustic, but it's moist and dense, and entirely luxurious, too. I mean, there's brandy in it! Plus, it's scented with orange and lemon zest. It's absolutely my favorite type of cake (I've never been much for frosting. I know...).

Now, I've seen different versions of Vassilopitta (sometimes spelled Vasilopita), or New Year Wish Cake, over the years, but this is my first time making it—thanks to Progressive Eats! Progressive Eats is a monthly progressive dinner party with a new theme to match the new month. This is my first time bringing a dish to the party (I'm filling in for a vacationing Liz this month), but I'm excited to be a part of it. When I "received my invite", it came with the theme for the month: Mediterranean. I immediately signed up to bring a dessert, because I knew that a Mediterranean-themed dinner party on (almost) the last day of the year would be the perfect time for me to share this cake!

Vassilopitta (New Year Wish Cake)
Vassilopitta (or Vasilopita) is a Greek New Year's Day cake that contains a hidden coin. It is cut on the first day of the year to bless the house and bring good luck in the new year, with extra fortune going to the receiver of the hidden coin.
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Vassilopitta (New Year Wish Cake)
by Heather Schmitt-Gonzalez
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 45-50 minutes
Keywords: bake dessert vegetarian soy-free almonds citrus flour brandy New Year cake Greek Mediterranean

Ingredients (1 large cake)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 14 tablespoons (7 ounces) unsalted butter, at soft room temperature
  • 1-1/2 cups superfine sugar
  • finely grated zest of 2 oranges (at least 1 tablespoon) - see notes
  • finely grated zest of 2 lemons (at least 1 tablespoon) - see notes
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup blanched almonds, coarsely ground (heaping 1/3 cup after ground)
  • powdered sugar, for dusting
  • 1 coin, optional
Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter and flour the bottom and sides of a 10.5-inch springform pan. Wash the coin in hot, soapy water and dry it (if you like, wrap it in foil), if using.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl and set aside. Combine the milk, brandy, and vanilla in a small bowl and set aside.

Use a hand mixer (or stand mixer) to beat the butter, sugar, and both citrus zests together until creamy. Beat in the eggs one at a time.

Beat the reserved dry mixture in, alternating with the liquid mixture, until just combined. Fold in the almonds. Scrape the whole mixture into the prepared pan. If you're using the coin, drop it in now, trying to keep it upright (for easier cutting later).

Slide into preheated oven and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes before unhinging and turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Once the cake has cooled completely, dust it with powdered sugar. Cut a stencil with the numbers of the new year, add a doily if you want to, then dust a good layer over the whole thing. Cut into slices and serve.

Zest your citrus over your sugar in a recipe, so that you don't lose any of the oils!
  • I like to zest my citrus over the sugar I'll be using in a recipe, this way you don't lose any of the flavorful oils that fly off when you're grating (it sprays into the sugar). Just place the sugar in a side bowl or onto parchment paper and zest directly over it. Add where you would add the sugar in the recipe.
  • If you want to use coarse almond meal instead of grinding your own almonds, use a heaping 1/3 cup.
  • If you don't want to bake the cake with the coin in it, you can add it afterwards. Once it is cool, but before dusting it with powdered sugar, turn it over and cut a small slit in the bottom of the cake. Slide the coin into the slit, then turn right side up onto a serving plate and proceed as directed. Or, you can skip it all together (but it is a fun tradition).

-adapted from Food From Many Greek Kitchens by Tessa Kiros
Vassilopitta (New Year Wish Cake)
I don't have a lick of Greek in me, but I think this cake is going to become a tradition in our house. So tell me, what are your New Year's traditions?

Welcome to Progressive Eats, our virtual version of a progressive dinner party. This month's theme is Mediterranean Food and is hosted by Megan Myers who blogs at Stetted. Try something new for the New Year; a mix of appetizers, salads, main dish and desserts all featuring recipes with a Mediterranean look and feel.
Progressive Eats - Mediterranean
Mediterranean Feast

Main Course

If you're unfamiliar with the concept, a progressive dinner involves going from house to house, enjoying a different course at each location. With Progressive Eats, a theme is chosen each month, members share recipes suitable for a delicious meal or party, and you can hop from blog to blog to check them out.

We have a core group of 12 bloggers, but we will always need substitutes and if there is enough interest would consider additional groups. To see our upcoming themes and how you can participate, please check out the schedule at Creative Culinary or contact Barb for more information.