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 a recipe for Vasilopita, which is true! In this post, I will share my own Vasilopita recipe with you.
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How to Make Vasilopita
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A delicious Cretan recipe that has been passed from generation to generation in my family…
So read on and 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.
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, 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 after it came out of 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 and bring good luck for the year that has just begun.
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 relatively 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 valuable, but it has been replaced 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 valuable object, either gold or jewelry, in their possession.
It is also said that the enemy (for reasons that differ from one story to another) did not collect the ransom and 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 other versions of this legend; you can also find out more here.
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 countries with a similar cake are Albania, where the cake is known as pitta and is eaten by Christians and Muslims. In Ukraine, the cake is called pirog, while in Romania and Serbia, it is known as česnica and shared during Christmas.
Bulgarians, instead, share a similar cake known as pogača or pagacha in New Year.
Vasilopita Recipe: How to Make Vasilopita
- 6 eggs
- 250 gr of unsalted butter
- 125 gr of margarine
- 400-450 gr of sugar
- 1 cup of condensed milk (for better flavor, we use condensed milk, you can replace it with regular milk)
- 60 ml of brandy or cognac (we recommend Greek Metaxa).
- 500 gr of self-raising flour
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (liquid or powder)
- zest of one orange (or lemon)
- a pinch of salt
- icing sugar to decorate
- a small coin wrapped in aluminum foil
- Separate the whites from the yolks, set the yolk aside, and put the six whites in a big bowl with a pinch of salt.
- With a mixer, using high speed, mix until you obtain a firm meringue (when you turn your whisk upside down, the peaks will hold), and set the meringue aside.
- Take another bowl and mix the butter (which you have left out of the refrigerator for a few hours) and the sugar.
- Add the yolks individually and keep mixing until you have incorporated them.
- Only now, incorporate the milk, the brandy, the vanilla, and the lemon zest.
- Now, you can add the flour little by little.
- Add the meringue once all these elements are incorporated into a soft batter. Do not use the mixer to prevent the meringue from softening; do it with a rubber spatula or a wooden spoon, little by little, and with soft movements to incorporate some air.
- Use a 32 cm cake pan that has previously been buttered and flowered. Add the batter to the cake mold and the small coin wrapped in aluminum foil.
- Bake in a preheated oven at 170 °C for 45 to 50 minutes.
- Let it cool, and decorate with icing sugar on top.
Have you ever tried Vasilopita? Did you get the coin? Let me know!
About the author: Apostolis (Tolis) is a local foodie born in Chania who is passionate about Cretan traditions. He loves to experiment with forgotten cooking methods and authentic local ingredients. He produces grapefruits, honey, and avocados on the outskirts of Chania. Tolis is eager to share unique recipes that have been in his family for generations.
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About my blog:
I moved to Crete in 2016. During these years, I learned much about the island.
In Crete, I juggle being a solo mom, hosting culinary tours, and writing for several travel media.
I’ve written for Greek Reporter, published travel guides about Greece, co-authored DK Eyewitness Top 10 Crete, and had more glasses of frappe than any regular person could ever handle.