Thursday, January 5, 2012

Journey Around the World (of Cake): Greek New Years Cake - Vasilopita

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We're old. Not old by usual standards, mind you. To most, Mr. C and I are still young whipper snappers (does anyone say that anymore?). But, in our own little private world, we are, without a doubt, old. Gone are the days of bar hopping, drinking until wee hours of the night , and barfing into your friend's houseplant. Gone are the days of sleeping in until mid-afternoon and doing nothing buy playing video games for the rest of the day. Gone are the days when we could survive on nothing but stir fry and, my personal favourite, "Soup On Rice" (it's exactly how it sounds). Now, all we do is complain about "those darn kids" and their "fixed speed bikes" and "hipster mustaches".

It's no surprise that we're not big New Years people. Staying up until midnight is near impossible for us at this point. We are nicely trained little worker bees who have been programmed to go to bed at ten and wake up at six. December 31st is a daunting task for us. Anything past 11pm is seriously intimidating.

This year, however, we braved the night and ventured out to a buddy's house. It was here that we discovered the secret to surviving New Years: An exorbitant amount of food and drink is required to keep you occupied until the clock strikes twelve. Stuffed peppers, many types of root vegetables, and a crispy roast duck entertained us for a while, but it was the cake that really brought us into the New Year.


Greek New Years Cake: Vasilopita

So what is it?
Traditionally, Vasilopita was a sweet yeast bread spiked with the flavour of almond, orange, and poppy seeds. Now a days, if you don't have a darling little Greek grannie, most people create their light-as-air cakes with whipped egg whites. The best part of the Vasilopita is the little surprise it hides - a coin or trinket that gives good luck to whomever happens upon it within their slice.

When did it first pop out of the oven?
So, way back in the fourth century, there was this dude name Basil. Saint Basil if you're getting picky. He found himself concerned with how to distribute charity to the poor without, you know, making it look like charity. His solution: bake the money into a cake, give the cake to the needy, and hope to god that they didn't choke on all those coins.

Is it worth my time?
With any egg white based cake, it can get a little picky. It is also a pretty large and delicate cake, so a lot of baking time  in a fairly even oven is needed. The texture and taste of this cake, however, is worth the trouble. If you'd like my opinion, thought, I'd think about baking the batter into cupcake tins. That way, the oven time is reduced, and everyone gets their own coin!

Got a recipe?

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Greek Vasilopita
Makes one 10" cake

1/2 cup butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
4 eggs, separated
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
the zest from one large orange
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup almonds, crushed
1/3 cup poppy seeds
raw almonds and confectioner's sugar (to decorate)
a coin wrapped in tin foil

1) Preheat oven to 350. Butter or oil a 10" cake pan. Whisk together your flour, salt, and baking powder in a small bowl and set aside.

2) In a large bowl, whip your butter and sugar until very light and fluffy - about 5 to 7 minutes. Add your egg yolks, one at a time, and continue whipping. After everything has combined well, you may add the rest of you wet ingredients: almond and vanilla extract, milk, and orange zest. Mix until everything is combined well. With a wooden spoon, stir in your flour mixture until just combined. Set aside.

3) In a separate bowl, pour in your egg whites. Whip until they just being to form stiff peaks. Carefully fold your egg whites into your batter. Add the crushed almonds and poppy seeds, stirring a few times to evenly distribute. Pour batter into your cake pan, making sure it's even. Drop your coin randomly into the batter, pushing down a bit so it's covered. Sprinkle with raw almonds. Bake for about 30-35 minutes, or until your cake tester comes out clean. Cool, then sprinkle with confectioner's sugar. Serve and don't choke on that coin!


S.V. said...

I want a slice of this cake it sounds wonderful..... my hubby and I don't venture out for New Year's we are young but old as well lol.

Yaneri said...

This looks soooooo delisioso!!! Our tradition is the Rosca de Reyes! I have a tutorial on on I made one! Come over and see! How we celebrate the birth of Baby Jesus!


Jo said...

Thanks for sharing your recipe. I'm having friends over tomorrow for our first shared meal of the new year. This cake seemed to be the perfect cake for the occasion, especially as we're having a Greek meal. I just made the cake and have tried it (I made a couple of muffin sized cakes so I could try it before I serve it tomorrow). It's very good; not too greasy, just nice and moist. I think next time I'd maybe add a bit more almond essence and I'm going to add an orange icing glaze to this one.
Happy New Year
Jo :)

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