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Greek New Year’s Eve Saint Basil Pie (Vasilopita)

Cake or brioche? The eternal New Year’s Eve Greek dilemma!

ingredients for 8 generous servings (total cost about 11 € with organic ingredients)
  • 175 g butter
  • 35 g EV olive oil
  • 175 g sugar
  • 250 g (5) eggs
  • 325 g pastry flour
  • 20 g baking powder
  • 100 ml kumquat liqueur (or other citrus liqueur, such as Grand Marnier)
  • 130 ml milk
  • 60 g Pistachio chopped + extra for decorating
  • 70 g chopped candied peels from oranges and/or tangerines
  • 40 g dry figs coarsely chopped
  • 20 g sultana raisins
  • 20 g black currants
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp ground star anise
  • 1/8 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 pinch salt
  • icing sugar for dusting

In Greece, after the festive dinner on New Year’s Eve, as tradition dictates, we serve Vasilopita, dedicated to Saint Basil the Great. Inside it there is a coin hidden, and whoever finds it in his served piece, is considered to have a lucky year ahead.

If the Christmas dilemma is melomakarona or kourabiedes, that of New Year’s Eve is Vasilopita brioche based or cake based. I cannot imagine of a Greek Family, whose members have never argued about what kind of Vasilopita they will prepare or serve. The Democratic Gourmet Family is not an exception. While Vangelis was always in favor of the brioche base (in Greek we call it tsoureki), I preferred the cake version, ever since I remember myself (Nuri does not like sweets, so she does not participate in the quarrel. With a couple of extra meaty treats she is OK).

Vangelis’s argument has always been that Vasilopita cakes are boring, in terms of flavor and usually dry. Well to be honest, this is true. Most of the Vasilopita cake versions are simple, poor flavored and rather dry butter cakes, which the guests often do not even eat. A classic image of my childhood’s New Year’s Eves, is everyone – and especially the children – anxiously digging inside their piece, searching for the lucky coin and then leaving the cake dissolved in crumbs inside the plate, unconsumed in complete contempt!

So, having nothing to say to prove him wrong, for years we had been choosing a tsoureki vasilopita. And the myth of the boring, dry and flavorless vasilopita cake was preserved. Until one year, I decided to leave Vangelis with no arguments and did my best to make a cake vasilopita, that would be juicy, tender and packed with various festive aromas and flavors.

To make it more tender and juicy, I substituted a part of butter with oil. As far as the aromas and flavor are concerned, first of all I added lots of Christmas spetsierika (this is how the Corfiots call the spice mixtures) – cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, star anise, coriander – to mesmerize him, by reminding him of his homeland. I also used a great amount of homemade candied citrus fruit – oranges and tangerines – as well as dry fruits, such as dry figs, sultana raisins and black currants soaked in kumquat liqueur. For dry nuts, finally, I chose pistachio, as I find its bright green color ideal for a festive sweet decoration. After all, Christmas and New Year’s sweets are all about winter spices, candied & dry fruits.

The result? Myth busted!

First of all, we place the raisins and dry figs, chopped in a bowl, we cover them with the liqueur (slightly warmed), we add enough warm water to cover them completely, to and we let them soak for about 1 hour or so. If the cake is meant to be consumed by children as well, we can bring the liqueur with some water into a boil and cook it for about 30 seconds from boiling point, so that the alcohol evaporates. Then we let it cool a little and we pour it over the dry fruit. We also blanch the pistachio for a minute in boiling water, to easily peel them and we toast them for about 5-8 minutes at 120 o C.

We sieve together all dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, spices and salt), except for the sugar and we set aside. We grease well a 24 cm aluminum round cake tin, we line it with parchment paper, we re-butter the paper, taking care not to leave spots without lubrication and we sprinkle with flour everywhere.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, we beat the butter, already at room temperature and sugar for about 5-8 minutes until the butter becomes soft, creamy, pale white and fluffy. We add the eggs (at room temperature as well), one by one and we mix, waiting until each of them is fully incorporated, before adding the next. Then we add the oil and we mix to combine.

Meanwhile, we strain the soaked raisins and figs, keeping the liqueur. We dry them well with kitchen paper and we mix them with the candied peels and toasted pistachio, all chopped as well.

When the eggs and olive oil are fully incorporated in the cake batter, we start adding the rest of ingredients, in batches and in the following order: dry ingredients, liquids (milk and liqueur), mixed fruit and nuts, mixing after each addition to incorporate them in the batter. We repeat 3 circles of additions ending with the last batch of fruit – nuts mixture.

We pour the thick batter in the prepared cake tin, and we bake it in a preheated oven at 140 o C for about 1 hour.

When ready, we remove the cake from the oven, we allow it to cool for about 10 minutes, then we unmold it by turning it over on a plate. If you wish to add the traditional coin, wrap it with foil and insert it by pressing it vertically inside the bottom of the cake, while it is turned up side down. Then turn it once again to bring the surface back on top and let it cool on a wire rack. Once the vasilopita has cooled completely, we generously sprinkle it with icing sugar and garnish with chopped pistachio.

Nuri, Vangelis and I, wish to all of you a happy New Year and … congratulations to the lucky one!!!

NOTE: You can make your own citrus fruit peels. Find out how, HERE


Published in DESSERTS