Vasilopita Tradition & Recipe

Christ is born!  Glorify Him!!

Tomorrow, we’ll be baking our Vasilopitas!  The recipe below is the one I’ve used for the past eight or so years.  The one I used before that is linked here

I’ll be honest, the end result of the original recipe is much richer and slightly tastier but it’s more time consuming to make and I just don’t have the time most years!

books in the photo are The Keepsake Kitchen Diary, The Story of the Vasilopita and Vassilopita: St. Basil and the Story of the New Year’s Cake. 

This recipe is simple and super delicious.  My family prefers a more cake-like Vasilopita versus some of the more traditional bread types.

We always find a quiet moment, whether it’s while the pita is baking or before we cut it, to read the story of the Vasilopita.

You can use a regular quarter inside yours or an Official Vasilopita Coin, which is absolutely beautiful.   I used to use these gold coins we brought back from Greece one year and the kids would always want to keep the coin if they got it but I soon saw that by the end of the day it was usually left laying around somewhere.  So now, I use the “official” coin each year.  And I like doing that now because it feels special now, since it is the same coin inside our Vasilopita each and every year.

The story of the Vasilopita is a beautiful one.

In 4th century Caesarea, Cappadocia (in Asia Minor) there was a Bishop by the name of Basil, who later became St. Basil the Great.  He was the first person ever to establish an orphanage for children, and the founder of the modern day Hospital.  St. Basil, a very wise and compassionate clergyman, was considered to be one of the greatest philanthropists in the history of the Christian Church.

St. Basil’s fame as a holy man spread quickly throughout the Byzantine world.  In honor of his many contributions to the Church and to his fellow brethren we bake and cute Vasilopitas with our family in his honor.

Another reason we make Vasilopitas is because one year, during a time of terrible famine, the emperor levied a sinfully excessive tax upon the people of Caesarea. The tax was such a heavy burden upon the already impoverished people that to avoid debtors’ prison each family had to relinquish its few remaining coins and pieces of jewelry, including precious family heirlooms. Learning of this injustice upon his flock, St. Basil took up his bishop’s staff and the book of the holy Gospels and came to his people’s defense by fearlessly calling the emperor to repentance.

By God’s grace, the emperor did repent! He canceled the tax and instructed his tax collectors to turn over to St. Basil all of the chests containing the coins and jewelry which had been paid as taxes by the people of Caesarea.

But now St. Basil was faced with the daunting and impossible task of returning these thousands of coins and pieces of jewelry to their rightful owners.  After praying for a long time before the icons of our Master Christ and His All-Holy Mother, St. Basil had all the treasures baked into one huge pita. He then called all the townspeople to prayer at the cathedral, and, after Divine Liturgy, he blessed and cut the pita, giving a piece to each person.

Miraculously, each owner received in his piece of Vasilopita his own valuables. They all joyfully returned home, giving thanks to God who had delivered them from abject poverty and to their good and holy bishop St. Basil the Great!

After that,  St. Basil used the same method of baking gold into bread whenever he wanted to give money anonymously to the poor of his Diocese.  He came to the elderly women who baked for the area and gave them gold coins to place inside the many loaves of sweet bread.  The needy families, when cutting the bread to nourish themselves, were overwhelmed and grateful to find the coins.

Our personal tradition is to cut the first piece in honor of Christ, the second for the Theotokos, St. Nektarios who is the patron saint of our marriage, and then one piece for each family member beginning with the father, then the mother, then each child in order of age.  The person who finds the gold coin receives a special blessing for the upcoming new year!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter + 1 T butter for greasing pan
  • 2 cups  sugar
  • 3 cups flour
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 tsp almond extract (optional)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 T fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
  • 2 T powdered sugar, for sprinkling

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 10″ baking pan with 1 T butter.
  2. In medium bowl, cream 1 cup butter and 2 cups sugar until light in color.  Stir in flour until batter resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
  3. Add eggs one at a time and mix each one in well.  Add almond extract at this point, if desired.
  4. In small bowl combine baking powder and milk.  Add to batter and mix well.
  5. Combine lemon juice and baking soda in another small bowl and add to batter.  Mix well.
  6. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 15 minutes.
  7. Wrap a clean gold coin (or quarter) in tin foil.  Make the sign of the cross over the pan and drop the coin in while saying, “Through the prayers of St. Basil…”.
  8. Bake for another 15 minutes.  Sprinkle toasted almonds.
  9. Continue baking for another 25-35 minutes or until cake springs to touch.
  10. Cool on rack for 10 minutes before inverting onto cake plate.
  11. Once completely cooled, sprinkle with 2 T powdered sugar.

Note:  I always sprinkle a bit more powdered sugar on top right before serving.

Click here for a fun version of St. Basil’s Day from Highlights for Kids called Santa in Cyprus!  There’s also an audio version you can listen to.  🙂

Kali Xronia everyone!  Kalo Paradiso to all of you celebrating your nameday!

4 thoughts on “Vasilopita Tradition & Recipe

  1. When you say 2 cups of sugar, do you mean confectioners sugar or granulated sugar? Thank you and Happy New Year!

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