This tradition began in the fourth century. St. Basil, who was a Bishop, wanted to wanted to distribute money to the poor of his Diocese, but hoped to preserve their dignity and did not want it to seem like charity. Therefore, he would hide coins in the loaves of bread which he would then distribute.
Tradition holds that the eldest member of the family cuts the Vasilopita, cutting a slice for each person, the church, and the house. The guests then select their pieces in order from oldest to youngest.
The recipe that follows is not my family recipe (I could give you that one, but then I'd have to kill you :)....) but it is similar.
Vasilopita (New Years Bread)
- 5-6 cups flour
- 1/2 c milk
- 1/2 pound butter, melted
- 6 eggs, slightly beaten
- 1/2 c warm water
- 4 fresh yeast cakes (or equivalent dry)
- 2 1/2 cups sugar
- 3 t. baking powder
- 1 t. baking soda
- 1 t. vanilla
- 1 c orange juice
- 2 small glasses (jiggers as my great aunts called them) Metaxas
- Mix yeast and warm water to proof the yeast.
- Combine the yeast mixture with milk, butter, eggs, vanilla, Metaxas, orange juice, and sugar in bowl of stand mixer.
- Sift flour, baking powder, and baking soda together with flour.
- Slowly incorporate flour mixture to liquid/sugar mixture.
- Place dough mixture into a greased ceramic or porcelain bowl. Cover and allow to rise overnight.
- Knead again lightly, making sure to knead in the coin this time.
- Place in greased baking pan, cover and allow to rise again until has doubled in size.
- Bake at 350 for roughly an hour, or until almost golden brown.
- Remove bread, brush bread 2 eggs and top generously with sugar.
- Place back in oven and cook until golden brown.
My very favorite way to enjoy Vasilopita is with Greek coffee for breakfast. Yum!!
My great aunts also always included a pure white cake to start the new year. Everyone must take a bite for good luck. I confess that all my focus was on making the Vasilopita, but I did manage to make a white cake, even if only a boxed one.
I can only hope that many years from now these traditions will continue, and that someone will be remembering me as lovingly as I'm remembering the generations that came before me.
Happy New Year!