Vasilopita (Βασιλόπιτα)

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Vasilopita

Vasilopita (or Basilopita) is a perfectly sweet and flavourful New Year’s Cake!

Ever wonder why, in most Greek families, names seem to be on repeat? At any given family function you are likely to find 4 Marias, 3 Costas and about 7 Georges.  That’s because Greek parents have traditionally always named their children after their own parents.  So, two siblings who each have daughters, may very well name their girls after their common mother, for example.  Many Greek names are also names of Saints, making the Nameday (the day during which we commemorate the life of a given Saint) a much bigger deal amongst many Greeks than birthdays could ever be.  Each of us is named after one of our grandmothers, and one of our Greek names (Vasiliki) is also associated with Saint Basil the Great, who is commemorated on January 1st, the day of his death.

Vasilopita

St. Basil the Great was the Greek bishop of Caesarea Mazaca in Coppadocia, in Asia Minor (what is today, Turkey).  In addition to his theological works, he was also a great support for the underprivileged and poor.  In his memory, on St. Basil’s Day, homes of Orthodox Christians serve vasilopita (translated to mean St. Basil’s bread) to honour him.  Although there are many versions and types of vasilopita, they all have one thing in common; there is a single coin baked into each one. This coin is a symbol and reminder of St. Basil’s intervention against the emperor of Caesarea, and God’s miracle.  One year, the emperor of Caesarea had levied a heavy tax on the people, during a year of great famine and hardship.  Upon hearing the news, St. Basil asked the emperor to repent, and  he did.  The emperor ordered that all gold coins, money and jewels that the people had used to pay this tax, be returned to them.  Bishop Basil was assigned the daunting and overwhelming task of doing so.  Unsure of how to return the goods to their rightful owners, prayer led St. Basil to bake a large pita, into which he has inserted all the valuables.  He then called the townspeople to each take a piece, and miraculously, each piece contained the exact items which were to be returned to the right owner.

In our family, vasilopita is always served after lunch on the Feast Day of St. Basil, which is coincidentally also New Year’s Day (January 1st) for many.  Our father is typically the person who cuts and serves the pieces, and this is done in a particular order.  The first piece is cut and saved for Christ, the second for St. Basil, and the third for the less fortunate.  Then, a piece of vasilopita is cut for all members of the family, and any friends who may be present.  The vasilopita is always offered to the oldest person present, up until the youngest.  The person whose piece contains the coin is expected to have good luck and blessings for the upcoming year.

Helpful hints

There are many ways to bake a vasilopita.  Some versions are very bread-like, and similar to the Easter tsoureki.  Other versions, like our parents’ recipe which follows, are more cake-like.  Both are delicious, but different.  Besides the obvious flavour and texture differences, another difference between the two is that with the bread type of vasilopita you can usually use a bit of the dough to roll out the numbers of the year, which is then laid on top of the bread before baking.  You can’t really do that with this recipe.  If you would like to have the year showcased on your vasilopita however, you can either decorate it with sliced almonds, or use a stencil with the year cut out of it, on top of the cake before you sprinkle it with icing sugar.  Our parents would sometimes do this, but not usually.  They always reminded us that this was not a New Year’s cake, but a cake to commemorate the Feast Day of St. Basil.

Although you will grease your cake pan with some vegetable oil, is it still a very good idea to line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.  The easiest way to get just the right size of parchment paper for the bottom of your round pan is to place your baking pan on a sheet of parchment paper and to trace its outline with a pencil.  Then, use a scissor to cut out the perfect circle.  Ta da!

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Before inserting the coin into your cake batter, it is a very good idea to wash it and to then wrap it with either food grade plastic wrap or aluminum foil.  You can even use parchment paper, although that can be a little more cumbersome to wrap the coin in. Traditionally, before inserting the coin into the cake you would use it to make the sign of the cross over the pan.  The easiest way to get your coin into the batter is to use a knife to make a small cut into the batter and slip the coin right in.  Spread the batter evenly so that it is not obvious where the coin is.

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Eating cake or bread with a coin hidden in it could definitely be a choking hazard, so please…if you are serving vasilopita to the very young or the very elderly, be careful.  We remember that when we were little, our parents would often tear our pieces apart before allowing us to eat them, being sure that if there were a coin in there, it would be found before it ended up in our mouths.  Now that we think of it…we can’t remember a year when one of the children didn’t actually get the coin.  Coincidence?  Maybe…or perhaps clever serving by our dad. It was always such a thrill to find the coin!

This cake keeps really well and is even more delicious if made the day before.  This is also a great option because it means that your cake will have ample time to cool fully before you sprinkle it with icing sugar.

Vasilopita
Vasilopita

Looking for some more festive desserts? Try these:

Melomakarona

Vasilopita cupcakes

Koulourakia with orange

Vasilopita
Vasilopita

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Vasilopita
Vasilopita, Greek New Years cake
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4.91 from 10 votes

Vasilopita

Vasilopita is a perfectly sweet and flavourful New Year’s Cake!
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time1 hr 10 mins
Total Time1 hr 30 mins
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Greek
Keyword: greek cake, new years eve cake,, Vasilopita
Author: Mia Kouppa

Ingredients

  • 3 ½ cups (525 grams) sifted, all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup (225 grams) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups (400 grams) white granulated sugar
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 tbsp orange rind, tightly packed
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) cognac or brandy
  • 1 cup (250 mL) milk
  • 1/3 cup (45 grams) icing sugar for dusting the top of the vasilopita

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
  • In a large bowl, combine the sifted flour, baking powder and salt.  Mix together with a whisk or a fork.  Set aside.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer, at medium speed, cream together the butter and sugar. Beat until well combined and smooth, approximately 4-5 minutes.
  • To the sugar and butter add the eggs, one at a time.  Beat well after each egg is added.  Then, add the orange rind, vanilla extract and cognac.  Mix well.
  • Slowly add one cup of the flour to the bowl of the electric mixer.  Mix well. Then, add the milk and the remaining flour.  Mix well, over low speed to prevent too much splattering.  When the ingredients have been combined, turn the speed to medium and continue beating for a another minute or two.  Your batter should be smooth and without any lumps.
  • Take a 10 inch round baking pan and grease the bottom and sides with a thin layer of vegetable oil.  Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.
  • Take a silver coin (usually a quarter) and wash it well.  Dry the coin and then wrap it in securely in food grade plastic wrap or aluminum foil.  Set aside.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan.  Smooth out the batter so it is spread evenly in the pan.  Using a knife, make an indentation in the batter in order to make it easy for you to slip the coin in.  Be sure that the coin does not poke out the top of the vasilopita batter.  Smooth the top once again.
  • Bake your vasilopita in the middle rack of your oven for approximately 60-70 minutes. You can check that it is done by inserting a clean toothpick into the center of the cake.  If it comes out clean, with only crumbs attached to it (no wet batter), then your vasilopita is ready. Remember each oven is different, therefore, start checking your cake after 55 minutes to check for doneness.
  • Allow to cool in the cake pan for about 5 minutes and then remove it from the pan and allow it to cool fully on a cake rack.  Once it is fully cooled, sprinkle the top with some icing sugar, and serve.
  • Be mindful when serving the vasilopita to small children and the very elderly; the coin could be a choking hazard.
  • Enjoy, and Happy New Year!

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66 thoughts on “Vasilopita (Βασιλόπιτα)

  1. I enjoy reading about other cultures. The Greek culture and traditions are old and rich and hope that you continue to inform us about them. You have a fun and simple way of explaining them. Also, your pictures are so good that I can smell the vanilla and brandy perfume just by looking at the pics. Thanks again for your truly enjoyable blog. Happy New Year and more importantly Happy Feast Day of St. Basil!

    1. Thank you so much Marina for your kind words of encouragement. Knowing that our posts bring pleasure to people, and that they are helpful, makes the hard work really worth it. Your comments are very motivating. 🙂

  2. Thanks, I was searching recipes yesterday and I had a feeling you would post one that was perfect. I can’t wait to make it

    Χρόνια πολλά

    1. Thank you so much Connie! We hope you enjoy this recipe. 😊 Χρόνια Πολλά και ευτυχισμένος ο καινούργιος χρόνος.

      1. I just had to come back and comment.
        What a great cake! Nicest vasilopita I’ve ever eaten, was enjoyed by my family and friends. Thank you this will be a yearly tradition from now on.

      2. Oh wow!! Thank you so much Connie for taking the time to come back and give us your feedback! It made our year 🙂 So happy that your family and friends enjoyed it and that you were happy with the result! Yeah! Happy New Year and all the best in 2018!

  3. I order Vasilopita from our church but someday I’m going to try and make one. I always looked forward to cutting a loaf with my yiayia. I got the coin several times! Happy New Year!

    1. Ordering your vasilopita from church is wonderful, but if you do decide to make one some day, hope you’ll give this recipe a try 🙂 It’s super easy! Χρόνια Πολλά to you and your γιαγιά…and the rest of your family 🙂

  4. This is the second year that i am making Vasilopita using your recipe! It has always been a tradition in our home for as long as i remember! So happy to be able to share this tradition with my daughters and loved the look on Yiayias face when she said… “this is so good, bravo” Happy New Year!

  5. Your just awesome I am Greek also xpovia polla and your soo positive and sweet God bless you
    With love❤️
    Xpisiva

    1. Thank you so much Christina for your kind comment! We are so happy that you found us 🙂 Wishing you a very happy new year and a 2019 full of love and laughter, health and peace.

  6. Hello. Thanks for sharing your family recipe! Our family usually does a more bread-like version but I would like to try out your recipe since it’s quicker. I may be making one for my son’s Kindergarten class so don’t want to use any alcohol. What would you reccomend to substitute for cognac/brandy? More vanilla? Almond extract? Also, do you think I could get away with two 8 inch pans for the amount of batter here? Thanks!

    1. You’re welcome Elayne!! Sorry it took us a few days to get back to you (holidays were busy!!). You can easily substitute orange juice for the alcohol and it would be just as delicious we think. As for the pans, one of us actually made it in two 8 inch pans this year…lower the cooking time a bit, but otherwise everything is the same and it worked out perfectly. Hope this helps..and that it isn’t too late 🙂 Happy New Year!

  7. Happy New Year! Thanks for this recipe! It came out perfect – nice and fluffy and delicious! My family loved it!

      1. Hi Sophie! You should be able to see the “print” option in the recipe box for Vasilopita. Let us know if you have difficulties.

  8. 3rd year I bake my own vasilopita, 3rd recipe I try…this one’s a keeper. Absolutely loved it, super tasty and moist, everyone raved about it!!

    1. Oh we are so happy to hear that Theoni!! Thank you so much for trying our recipe and making Mia Kouppa part of your New Year’s celebration. Happy 2020 to you and your family 🙂

  9. I need to make a vasilopita for 20 people this weekend. Can you double this recipe? If so, what size pan should I use?

    1. Hi Betty! We are really reluctant to suggest doubling baking recipes, especially when we have not tried doing it ourselves. Our suggestion would be to make the cake twice. More work, but may be a safer option.

  10. Last year I made your vasilopita recipe with a 9 inch dark coated pan and it came out perfect. This year I used a 10 inch Wilton cake pan and the top domed and cracked and the very center (about one inch around) wasn’t fully cooked at 55 mins but the outsides were plenty dark. Seems it’s more difficult to bake a 10 inch pan because the outside cooks faster than than center, which is exactly what happened to me this time. I followed the instructions exactly. What is recommended?
    I think next year I’ll try the 9 inch pan again but would appreciate any tips. Thank you.

    1. Hi Tassia!! Thanks for sharing your experience with our vasilopita recipe – it is true that pan size (and colour) can make a difference in baking. It sounds as though this year your oven was too hot however. Sometimes, even if you set your oven to the right temperature, the actual temperature in the oven is different. We actually think that this year we will create a post on baking, with some common issues, along with trouble shooting. Happy New Year!! xoxo Helen & Billie

    2. I had the exact same issue. I kept the cake in the oven much longer and I am hoping it’s not dry. I made 2 cakes and tried both with and without convection and had the exact same results with the center not cooking fully.

      1. Hi Margarita! Sorry for the late reply. A cake that is not fully cooked in the center may have a couple of causes. First, your oven temperature may not actually be what you set it to. If this is a common problem in your baking, consider investing in an independent oven thermometer. Otherwise, it could be that your cake pan was too small, that your ingredients were too cold, or that your rack was too high in the oven. Hoping that helps! Helen & Billie

  11. Happy New Year! I made your Vasilopita this year and it is the best Vasilopita I have made. Thank you! It is very close to my Mom’s recipe. This was a very hard Holiday Season for us and I am sure for many families out there. Losing a loved one in 2020 and going through the holidays is tough. But with recipes like yours that are so similar to ours growing up, they bring back memories of good times when we were all together celebrating. Xronia Pola!

    1. Thank you Helen for your kind message. We are so happy that you tried our vasilopita recipe, and that you loved it. Even more happy that our recipe posts are meaningful and can bring back happy memories. 2020 was tough, and we are so sorry for the loss that you and your family experienced; we can appreciate that, and how difficult the holidays especially can be. Wishing you many joyful and peaceful moments in 2021 with health and love – and good food!! 🙂 xoxo Helen & Billie

  12. I made this for New Year’s Day for my family. I have used other recipes in the past but this will be my go to from now on.

  13. Hello ladies! I just want you to know, you’ve made me a better Greek cook! Unfortunately, when I was younger I did not pay a lot of attention when my Mom was in the kitchen, she was an amazing cook! I have some of her recipes but I’ve found that your cooking is very similar to hers, so your site has made me very happy!
    I want a new vasilopita recipe, the one I got years ago from another site is ok but not great. I would like to try yours out this year but am wondering if there’s anything I can substitute for the cognac/brandy?
    Χρόνια πολλά and thank you for bringing me closer to my Mom’s cooking!

    1. Hi Kally, Thank you so much for your message. We are really thrilled to hear that our recipes are bringing you joy and happy memories! We hope you do try our vasilopita recipe, and that you love it! You can very easily substitute the alcohol for orange juice – it will be wonderful! Happy New Year and let us know what you think of the cake 🙂 xoxo Helen & Billie

  14. Hi Helen and Billie, I made this today and it smells wonderful! It turned out beautifully and I’m certain it tastes just as good. We’ll only cut it at midnight as the tradition goes, but Ι had to thank you for the recipe. My mom was a great cook and baker but sadly her recipes are lost. She has dementia now and the little blue book which had her recipes for baked goods, stains and all, has gone missing. So thanks again for perfecting and sharing these recipes! Χρόνια πολλά!

    1. Hi Anastasia! Our hearts are literally pained to know that your mom’s recipe book is missing. We hope that you will find it one day! In the meanwhile, we are so happy that we are able to provide you with our family’s recipes for you to enjoy. Wishing you a wonderful New Year, and thank you for being here with us. xoxo Helen & Billie

  15. The batter was delicious and the house smelled beautiful…..but,,,, the cake didn’t cook properly! It cooked lovely on the outside, but fell flat when cooling. The inside of the cake was still very undercooked even though it was in the oven for over 70 minutes and the toothpick came out clean. Any suggestions? All my ingredients were fresh.

    1. Hi Tina! Glad that the taste and aroma of the vasilopita were great…but, an undercooked cake is never fun. Typically, if a cake is well cooked on the outside, but undercooked on the inside, it is an issue with the oven temperature or a cake pan that is too small. Many ovens don’t actually achieve the temperature you set them to; if this is a common problem with your baking then an independent oven thermometer is your best bet. Otherwise, your cake falling flat could be due to a number of things: the oven door may have been opened before your cake had a chance to set, or the batter didn’t go into the oven as soon as it was ready. Another culprit could be that you accidentally used too much leavening agent. Hoping that this helps and that you give the recipe another try! Happy New Year!! xoxo Helen & Billie

  16. For many years, I have made the Vasilopita bread, which I love ; but this year I decided to also make the vasilopita cake. There seems to be a debate as to which is best ! I looked over many recipes on line and in Greek cookbooks and chose this one. I made it early New Years Day and it is fabulous ! I pur orange juice instead of brandy and I added a teaspoon of mehlephe~ which i dont think I will do again. I love the orange and will add more,It is tasty, has great body and is moist, My family loved it. It took about 65 minutes to bake in a 10″ pan. I had a little difficulty getting it out of the pan so next time, I will spray the sides better, Actually the only problem I had was stenciling the date in powered sugar ! This is a great recipe and a keeper. I still love the bread so I have decided to have BOTH !! Vasilopita bread on New Years Eve and Vasilopita cake for dessert on New Years Day ! Thanks !

    1. Hi Mary!! Happy New Year! We are honoured that out of the many recipes available, you trusted ours. We are thrilled that you enjoyed it! Cakes sticking to the pan are frustrating – you can also try lining the bottom of your cake pan with some parchment paper and greasing the sides well. Then, before flipping out your vasilopita, run a knife all along the edges. So happy Mia Kouppa was part of your New Year celebration…and we agree with you; the bread vasilopita is amazing too!! xoxo Helen & Billie

  17. I’ve used this recipe for our St. Basil feast-day celebration at our church in Texas the last two years. I had never had vasilopita before, but I can’t imagine a better recipe. The group was large enough to require doubling the recipe. Given the larger batter volume, I baked it in a large iron skillet (about 15 inches diameter) at 350 for the first 30 minutes, then slightly lowered the temperature to 340 for a total baking time of about 65 minutes. The result was tremendous (nicely browned on the outside, moist on the inside). Thank you for sharing your recipe.

    1. Oh wow!!! Thank you Jeff for letting us know that you have enjoyed our vasilopita recipe. We’re thrilled to know that Mia Kouppa has been a part of your church celebration!! Wishing you a wonderful new year full of health and blessings. Thanks for being here with us. xoxo Helen & Billie

  18. I made this on NYE and it was easy to make and so delicious! It was my 1st time. Usually my mother makes a Vasilopita but we couldn’t be together and I wanted my 4 year old daughter to see our traditions. Turned out great! My mom had some a few days later and said it’s even better than hers and wants the recipe! That says something LOL

    1. Hi Tina!! Thank you so much for choosing to use our recipe to maintain our traditions for your family! We are truly honoured. And as for your mom…that is high praise!! We’re thrilled that she loved our vasilopita!! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment! Happy New Year. xoxo Helen & Billie

  19. This is the recipe that I am going to use for our Vasilopita at church next Sunday. My question is do you recommend that I use one and a half times this recipe for a 14″ round cake? Thank you for your input.

    1. Hi Barbara!! We’re so sorry we are only getting to this now! We suppose that we are too late to offer you any input. How did the vasilopita turn out?

      1. Oh my gosh!! I doubled the recipe and baked it in a 14” round, 4” deep pan! It turned out beautifully!! I can’t tell you how many people made a point to find me to tell me how good it was. I passed your recipe on to a few of our parishioners as well. I baked it in our commercial convection oven at church at 300°. Though the edges were a little dark once the cake was done, the inside was very moist and fluffy!!!! This will be my forever “go to” Vasilopita recipe!

        Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

      2. Oh we are SO happy to hear that it worked out!!! Apologies again for the delay in getting back to you, but is sounds like you managed beautifully! We are so thrilled to know that so many people loved it! Thanks for helping to spread the word, and for trusting our recipe! Have a beautiful day! xoxo Helen & Billie

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