Greek Recipes with May Lerios: Vassilopita

There are two competing explanations regarding the origin of the name of this cake, tradionally served on New Year's Eve: This recipe is the easy variety: it's a cake recipe, relying on baking powder. A more complex and time-consuming recipe, but also a more traditional one, relies on yeast and produces vassilopita bread; this type of bread is also known as tsoureki.

For 12 people

(Click on the thumbnail for a larger photo)

In a mixing bowl, place

You may substitute butter with

Mix the butter and shortening until you get a creamy consistency. It's easiest if you use an electric mixer or blender. Add

Continue mixing until the mixture is even again. It is best that you split the sugar into four equal doses, add each dose along with one egg, and then mix until smooth before proceeding with the next dose; this makes it much easier to keep the mixture smooth.

In a separate bowl, mix lightly (by hand)

In a third bowl, mix lightly (by hand)

Now mix the flour and milk bowls into the mixing bowl, in four equal doses, as you did earlier with the eggs and sugar. That is, pour a fourth of the liquid into the mix along with a fourth of the powders, and mix until smooth before proceeding with the next dose. That's the end of the batter.

Grease a cake pan with

The shape of the cake pan is up to you. Tradition recommends a round pan, but a bundt cake pan ("Why does this cake have a hole in it?") or a square pan work just as well (although cooking time increases for a bundt cake pan). If you don't have a non-stick pan, also sprinkle evenly along the pan's interior surface

This prevents the cake from sticking to the pan while baking.

Bake in moderate oven (350 degrees) for 45 minutes. Remove from oven, and insert into the cake a

The coin is part of a tradition shared by Greeks, Albanians, and others: whosever cake piece gets the coin has good luck in the new year. Of course, if you are making this on a day other than New Year's Eve (e.g. for Greek Easter), you may skip the coin.

A point of note here: where money and luck are involved, a fight may break out if the ownership of the coin is disputed. So make sure not to put the coin smack in the middle of the cake (since no piece can claim sole ownership); halfway between the center and edge is just fine. Also, do not place the coin flat on the cake; place it so that it's flush with the surface of the knife that you'll use to cut the cake when it's served. And, finally, put the coin deep enough that the batter will close up behind it, making it invisible: little kids love to turn pies upside-down, and examine the markings on the cake to figure out where the coin had been inserted.

Bake the cake with the coin for an additional 45 minutes. Remove from oven, and then remove the cake from the pan, placing the cake on a cookie sheet right-side-up. Brush with

Sprinkle with

Place back in the oven for 7 minutes, at 250 degrees. Remove from oven, and set aside for 4 hours to let cool down.

For New Year's Eve, here are some serving tips:

Of course, feel free to adapt tradition to modern times, or to the specific circumstances of your household; it's the family spirit that matters, not the small details of tradition.
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