In every Greek home, as soon as the new year’s countdown is over and people have embraced and exchanged their new year’s wishes, they gather around the table to cut the Vassilopitta, also known as the “New Year’s Pie”.
This is usually a rich cake with the New Year’s number written on top and a little surprise within: a coin to be found when the cake is cut. Tradition says that the person who finds the coin in their slice will enjoy good luck all year round. Some families leave the matter entirely to luck but in others, the parents conspire for the coin to be found by one of the children. No matter who gets the coin, the sweetness and richness of the cake symbolise our wish for a sweet and rich new year. There’s an interesting story behind it too, which you may read about here.
Every region of Greece has its own recipe, handed down from mother to daughter to granddaughter; some are rich, others more frugal. Some are sweet and others savoury, with cheese or even meat. Some are like cakes whereas others are made of several layers. However, traditionally, the new year’s cake must be round (an auspicious shape). An exception is very large ones, for clubs, societies and the like, which are usually rectangular. Recent non-traditional variations call for various glazes and the addition of chocolate.
The recipe I’m giving you today was my grandmother’s, but I’ve played with it a little to improve its texture, as it used to come out rather dense. Also, I’ve replaced the ash water that granny used with its more modern equivalents of soda and baking powder.
This cake can be made and consumed all year round (of course, without a coin). Being vegan, it is particularly popular during Lent, when it is fortified with nuts and raisins (about a cup each, rolled in flour first, so as not to stick to the bottom).
Vassilopitta or New Year’s Pie recipe
Active cooking time: about 10-15 minutes
Baking time: about 45-60 minutes
Appropriate for vegetarians and vegans. Kosher & Halal.
3.5 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 cup sugar
¾ cup sunflower oil (or any other cooking oil with a mild flavor)
½ cup brandy
1.5 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon grated orange rind
1-2 tablespoons powdered sugar
Two mixing bowls, whisk, wooden spoon, baking pan/pans, small sieve.
- Grease well and flour your baking pan or pans. Shake off any excess flour.
Tip 1: Use a mixture of flour and cinnamon – if you use white flour alone, it will stick to your cake in ugly white patches.
Tip 2: Instead of throwing away any leftover flour, put it in the measuring cup and use it.
Tip 3: Use a pan that measures about 23 cm (9 in) across. Alternatively, you may divide your batter in two smaller pans and make two pies. If the pan is too small and the batter is spread too thick, the cake will not bake through.
- Wash well and dry the coin that you’re going to use for the pie. Wrap it in a piece of tin foil and put it aside.
Tip 4: The New Year’s Coin is not to be used as money but saved throughout the year for good luck. For this reason, many people put in the pie special coins made for the purpose (with the year’s number on) or use collectible ones.
- Sift all the dry ingredients in a wide bowl and leave aside.
- Beat the oil and sugar together.
- Add the brandy,
… orange juice and rind.
Beat lightly after each addition.
- Pour the dry ingredients into the wet mixture and mix well with a whisk or wooden spoon. The batter should be quite thick and sticky.
- Pour the batter into your pan. Drop your coin in, close to the edge of the pan and flatten the surface above it as much as possible.
- Bake at 175 ⁰C (350 ⁰F) for 45 – 60 minutes or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Don’t be alarmed by the cake’s dark colour, due to the cinnamon.
- While the cake bakes, take a piece of paper as wide as your pan and make a cut-out of the year’s number. Cut it around, making sure the numbers are not separated.
- Once the cake is out, let it cool. Pop it out of the pan carefully and put it in a nice platter. Lay the paper cut-out on top and spray with a little water, to just moisten both.
- Dust with powdered sugar using a small sieve. Lift the paper with a broad knife carefully to remove it.
- Decorate with season’s decorations, if you have any.
Have a Happy New Year!