Want to Learn How to Make Vasilopita?
Vasilopita is the most traditional Greek cake eaten during the holidays. More specifically, Vasilopita is made one or two days before the end of the year, and enjoyed with the whole family on New Year’s Day. They say that every Greek cook has their own recipe for Vasilopita, and that is true! In this post I will share with you my own vasilopita recipe.
A delicious Cretan recipe which has been passed from generation to generation in my family, So read on and to learn how to make a traditional Vasilopita from Crete!
Different Vasilopita Versions
Vasilopita (Βασιλόπιτα, meaning (Saint) Basil’s pie or Cake) is a spongy, delicious cake or bread made in Greece (but also in other areas of the Balkans) which hides a small coin or trinket that is thought to grant good luck to whom receives it inside his piece of cake.
Vasilopita is related to Saint Basil’s Day (January 1st), locally known as Agios Vasilis. And the fun part of this tradition is that there are as many different recipes as families in the country!
Everyone claims to have their own secret to make it really special. For instance, some families make it similar to tsoureki (which pretty much resembles brioche dough). Other traditions want Vasilopita to be made from a custard base instead of regular dough, this is known as galatopita (milk cake).
My Own Cretan Recipe for Vasilopita
This recipe is more like a sponge cake, something like an Italian Pan di Spagna or even Torta Margherita, also known as Bizcocho in Spain or Bizcochuelo in Latin America. The previous picture is a photo of my Vasilopita cake just minutes it came out from the oven!
Curious Fact: The cake is also known as Chronópita, (Χρονόπιτα) this comes from the word χρόνος (chrónos – time) and πίτα: (píta – pie) meaning “New Year’s pie”.
The Family Ritual of Cutting Vasilopita
Depending on each family tradition, Vasilopita can be cut and shared at midnight on New Ear’s Eve or even on the 1st of January, in the morning.
No matter which tradition the family follows, when the cake is cut, it is believed to bless the whole household as well as to bring good luck for the year that has just began.
Usually, the sign of the cross is etched with a knife on top of the cake, while each member of the family receives a slice by order of age: from the eldest to the youngest.
The cake is usually made fairly big (in fact we used a 32 cm cake pan) because, according to some family traditions, slices of vasilopita can also be cut for symbolic people, including Saint Basil or other saints, the household, the poor, or even the Kallikantzaroi!
That coin used to be a valuable one in the past, but today it has been replaces by a regular coin or token.
The History Behind the Vasilopita Tradition
The traditions around vasilopita can resemble the western European celebrations of the Twelfth Night and even Epiphany.
However, for us in Greece, vasilopita is closely related to the legend of Basil of Caesarea, or Agios Vasilis. And it is a fascinating legend…
It is said that Basil called on the Roman citizens in Caesarea to raise a ransom in order to put an end to the siege of the city.
Everyone would give whatever they valuable object, either gold or jewellery in their possession.
It is also said that the enemy (for reasons that different from one story to another) did not collect the ransom, and simply put an end to the siege without any payment. It was Basil’s task to return those valuables to the citizens, but he could know what belonged to each family.
Therefore, he baked all of the objects into loaves of bread and distributed the bread in town. Saint Basil’s miracle then occurred, when each family received their exact share.
There are of course other versions of this legend, and you can find out more here as well.
Vasilopita in Other Balkan Countries
It is a curious fact that in different areas of the Balkans, the tradition of hiding a coin in a cake exists, especially during the holidays, but it has nothing to do with Saint Basil.
Some of the countries that have a similar cake are Albania, where the cake is known as pitta and is eaten both by Christians and Muslims. In Ukraine, the cake is called pirog, while in Romania and Serbia it is known as česnica, and it is shared during Christmas. Bulgarians, instead, share a similar cake known as pogača or pagacha in New Year.
You have already learned how to make Vasilopita and want to check more Holiday sweets?
Discover how to make Melomakarona and Kourabiedes.
Vasilopita Recipe: How to Make Vasilopita
Have you ever tried Vasilopita? Did you get the coin? Let me know!
About the Author
Apostolis (also known as Tolis) is a local foodie born in Chania, passionate about Cretan traditions. He loves to experiment with forgotten cooking methods and authentic local ingredients. He produces grapefruits, honey, and avocados in the outskirts of Chania. Tolis is eager to share unique recipes that have been in his family for generations.