TOULA’S NEW YEAR’S CAKE
VASILOPITA – KEIK
Serves 10 to 12
“New Year’s in Greece is always celebrated with vasilopita, which means St. Basil’s pie, a slightly confusing name, since vasilopita may be either a bread, savory meat pie, or cake, depending on the region,” writes Diane Kochilas in her 2012 cookbook The Country Cooking of Greece. “St. Basil is commemorated on New Year’s Day, hence the name despite the variations The cake always has a coin, and in rural areas sometimes a piece of hay baked into it for good luck, which is bestowed upon the person who gets the lucky piece. The most common vasilopitas are the ones that resemble a brioche – puffy, egg-and-milk-laden breads flavored with orange or lemon zest and mastiha (mastic) or mahlepi, the aromatic kernel of a type of cherry. It is usually decorated with numbers indicating the new year and the words chronia polla, which literally means “many years,” or kaly chronia (“happy new year”) sculpted in dough, blocked out with blanched almonds, or stenciled with confectioner’s sugar. This recipe for a vasilopita cake is from one of the best home bakers I know, Toula Foukou, who lives in Athens but hails from Naxos and carries on the island’s traditional, seasonal baking in her apartment in an Athens suburb.”
- 1/2 tsp mastiha (mastic) crystals
- 2 cups/400 g plus a pinch sugar
- 5 large eggs, separated
- 1/2 tsp strained fresh lemon juice
- 1 cup/225 g unsalted butter, softened
- 3/4 cup/180 ml milk
- 2 tbsp brandy
- Grated zest and strained juice of 1 large orange
- 1 1/2 cups/150 g ground blanched almonds
- 2 oz/55 g couverture chocolate, finely chopped, or dark chocolate chips
- 1 lb 2 oz/500 g self-rising flour
- Confectioners’/icing sugar for sprinkling
- Chocolate sprinkles or slivered almonds for sprinkling (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C (gas mark 4). Cut out a round piece of wax/greaseproof paper or parchment paper to line the bottom of a 12-in/30.5-cm round springform or conventional baking pan/tin. Butter the surface of the paper and the walls of the pan. With a pestle, pound the mastic with a pinch of the sugar in a mortar. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer outfitted with a whisk, whisk the egg whites at medium speed until foamy. Add 1 1/2 cups/300 g of the sugar and the lemon juice, increase the speed to medium-high, and whisk the whites until they form a stiff meringue. Remove from the mixer and set aside.
In a clean, large mixing bowl, use the electric mixer with the paddle attachment to whip together the butter and remaining 1/2 cup/100 g of sugar at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, for about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, whisking after each addition. Whisk in the milk, brandy, and orange juice. Stir in the orange zest, almonds, pounded mastic, and chocolate.
Using a rubber spatula, fold the meringue and flour into the egg-yolk-and-liquid mixture, a little at a time, alternating between them.
Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan/tin. Bake for about 1 hour, or until a thin knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and invert onto a wire rack to cool. If making the cake for New Year’s, wrap a small coin in aluminum foil and insert it into the bottom of the cooled cake.
Turn the cake right-side up and sift confectioners’ sugar over the surface. If the cake is for New Year’s, write the new number with chocolate sprinkles or almonds.
Email the author: The Hellenic Journal