Vasilopita (or Basilopita) is a perfectly sweet and flavourful New Year’s Cake! This cake is full of meaning, and is baked with a coin hidden inside of it. My recipe is for a vasilopita cake that is flavoured with orange and a bit of cognac. The texture is just perfect, as the batter includes milk, butter, eggs and just the right amount of sugar. It is a hit every year!
There are many recipes for vasilopita, including some that are more bread-like and are very similar to the traditional Greek Easter bread called tsoureki. I love the cake version, and this recipe is pretty fail-proof. So many people have messaged Mia Kouppa to let us know that after trying this recipe, it became their go-to recipe every year. Love that!!
This is such a great cake that if you simply want a cake and not a vasilopita, follow the directions exactly, but omit the coin. Now you have a lovely cake that you can serve with tea, coffee or a warm cup of hot chocolate.
Why this recipe works
Why do so many people turn to this vasilopita recipe, year after year? Probably because the recipe is easy to follow so even a non-baker will have great success, so long as they follow the recipe. As well, the ingredients are very simple and are probably items you already have in your kitchen.
In preparing this recipe I made sure that the proportions of all ingredients are just perfect – this helps to create a vasilopita that is flavourful, but that will also hold up to being sliced and served with ease. You don’t want the coin falling out before any has a chance to find it!
All purpose flour – Regular or plain flour, this is the base for your cake batter. Because the recipe calls for 3 1/2 cups sifted all purpose flour, you sift your flour first and then measure out 3 1/2 cups.
Sugar – White sugar is used to sweeten the vasilopita.
Baking powder – In order for your vasilopita to rise you need a leavening agent, like baking powder.
Salt – Salt in sweet baked goods really brings out the flavour.
Milk – Using milk as the liquid in this cake creates a rich and delicious crumb.
Eggs – I use large eggs, and there are six of them in this recipe! Don’t cut back on the eggs – they are important to making the vasilopita as great as it is.
Butter – I use unsalted butter
Cognac or brandy – I prefer to use a Greek brandy, but any variety will do. It has a subtle orange flavour that fits well with this vasilopita.
Vanilla extract – For flavouring
Orange zest – Finely grate orange zest trying to only get the orange part of the peel and not the white bitter part underneath.
The coin – If you are making a traditional vasilopita, you have to insert a coin into the batter!
Icing sugar – This is technically optional, but I love to dust my cooled cake with icing sugar. It looks pretty, and tastes great.
How to make vasilopita
The preparation of this cake is really quite simple. It actually tastes best the day after it is made, which could be helpful in terms of planning and preparation for your get togethers!
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Set rack in middle.
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.
Omit the alcohol
If you prefer to keep your vasilopita alcohol free, no problem! Simply use orange juice instead.
Use any dairy milk
I have made this cake with full fat milk, lactose-free milk, skim milk…they all work just fine. Use whichever dairy milk you have on hand.
The meaning of the vasilopita
Ever wonder why, in most Greek families, names seem to be on repeat? At any 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 on 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.
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 inserted all the valuables. He then called the townspeople to each take a piece. Miraculously, each person received a piece of vasilopita that contained the exact items which were to be returned to them.
How to serve vasilopita
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.
Karydopita, Greek walnut cake, is another one of our crowd pleaser cakes, see video below:
Baking tips and helpful hints
How to display the year on your vasilopita
There are many ways to bake a vasilopita. Some versions are very bread-like, and similar to the Easter tsoureki. Other versions, like this recipe, 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. My 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.
How to prepare your cake pan
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!
Inserting the coin into your cake batter
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.
Serve and eat your vasilopita with care
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. I remember that when me and my siblings were little, our parents would often tear our pieces apart before allowing us to eat them, being sure that if there was a coin in our piece, it would be found before it ended up in our mouths. Now that I think of it…I 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!
Best when served the day after it is made
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.
Make vasilopita cupcakes
If you will only be a few people gathering in New Year’s Day it is hard to divide up the vasilopita completely in order to be sure that someone gets the coin. There ends up being a lot of wasted cake if, for example, four people share the entire vasilopita.
That is why there are vasilopita cupcakes! Learn how to make this not-quite-traditional-but-absolutely-brilliant version of vasilopita. This way you ensure that the coin will be found, everyone has an appropriate amount of the vasilopita, and there is no waste! Learn how to make them by following this recipe for vasilopita cupcakes.
Drizzle your vasilopita with a glaze
Instead of dusting your vasilopita with icing sugar, you can drizzle it with an orange or cognac glaze. Simple whisk together 1 cup of icing sugar with 1 tablespoon of orange juice or cognac; your glaze should be thick enough that it doesn’t drizzle right off the cake.
If you are looking for more holiday inspired recipes, these are some of the favourite things my family makes at Christmas time:
Christopsomo (Χριστόψωμο): Called Christ’s bread, this special loaf is delicious and full of symbolism.
Christmas koulourakia with yeast (Χριστουγεννιάτικα κουλουράκια με μαγιά) Amazing savoury bread koulourakia.
Lalagia (Λαλάγγια) Fried rings of dough! We love these on Christmas morning with a lot of feta
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Vasilopita (Greek New Year's Cake)
- 3 ½ cups sifted, all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- pinch of salt
- 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups white granulated sugar
- 6 large eggs
- 1 tbsp orange rind, tightly packed
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tbsp cognac or brandy see notes
- 1 cup milk
- 1/3 cup icing sugar for dusting the top of the vasilopita
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Set rack in middle.
- In a large bowl, combine the sifted flour, baking powder and salt. Mix together with a whisk or a fork. Set aside.3 ½ cups sifted, all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, pinch of salt
- 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.1 cup unsalted butter, softened, 2 cups white granulated sugar
- 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.6 large eggs, 1 tbsp orange rind, tightly packed, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 2 tbsp cognac or brandy
- 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.1 cup milk
- 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.1/3 cup icing sugar
- 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!