New Year’s Day Vasilopita

by Caterina Borg, Good Food Gourmet on December 31, 2010

For my last post of 2010, I wanted to take a moment to thank all of our readers who have supported us over the past few months. We have come a long way since we launched this blog in February of this year, and our success has been largely due to Greg Stavros, a wonderful friend and web guru extraordinaire who brought GFG to life through his tireless efforts and true genius. Thank you my dear friend, I could not have done it without you…

In the New Year, I look forward to developing new stories and recipes that will keep you coming back to visit us for many more years to come.

For my last post, I will leave you with a recipe for a traditional New Year’s Eve bread called Vasilopita. It is associated with Saint Basil’s day which falls on January 1st. The Greek word Vasilopita is directly translated as “King’s Bread”, and when it is prepared, a coin is baked into the dough. Sweet flavoring and a spice called Mahlep is added to the bread to symbolize the sweetness and joy of life, liberty, health and everlasting happiness.

The bread is cut at midnight on New Year’s Eve, and the individual who receives the portion of the Pita which contains the coin is considered blessed for the New Year.

This age old tradition commenced in the fourth century, when Saint Basil the Great, who was a bishop, wanted to distribute money to the poor in his Diocese. He wanted to preserve their dignity, so as not to look like charity, he commissioned some women to bake sweetened bread, in which he arranged to place gold coins. Thus the families in cutting the bread to nourish themselves, were pleasantly surprised to find the coins.

Saint Basil was the first person in human history to establish an orphanage for children and also founded the first Christian hospital in the world. He was considered one of the most wise and compassionate clergymen in the entire history of the Church.

I hope that you have an opportunity to make and enjoy this delicious bread, and I wish you all good health and much happiness in the New Year.

***An original recipe from


2 oz fresh yeast (or 2 packets of active dry yeast)

2 cups warm milk

2 tablespoons vanilla

8 Tablespoons vegetable oil

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil (1 Tablespoon for each bowl)

4 whole eggs, room temperature

8-8 1/2  cups flour

2 teaspoons salt

1 cup granulated sugar

3 teaspoons mahlep (found in international grocery stores)

1 egg

1/4 cup heavy cream

1 small coin, washed and wrapped in parchment paper or foil

white sesame seeds **optional

coarse white sugar **optional

Add the milk to a microwave safe container and heat until it is just warm to the touch, then add the mahlep spice and stir in well. In a large bowl, crumble the fresh yeast and add the warm milk and whisk until all the yeast is dissolved. Then add the eggs, the 8 tablespoons of oil and vanilla and whisk again to combine. Scale out all of the dry ingredients and add this to the wet ingredients and either combine with one hand or add to a large mixer bowl and use either the dough hook or paddle to knead until dough is smooth.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead into one large ball. If it is too dry just wet your hand with a little water and continue kneading the dough, if it is a little too wet, add a little flour to the table and continue kneading until the dough is smooth and tacky, but not sticky. Cut this into 2 large pieces and put each piece into a greased bowl and allow to rise for 2 hours or until doubled.

Once you have achieved the first rise, remove the dough from the bowl and either braid it into a long loaf, or braid it and twist to fit into a round cake pan. It is at this point that you can hide the coin in the dough. You can use any small coin, but wrap it in a small piece of parchment paper or foil before adding it to the dough. Allow plenty of space for the dough to expand because it will double again in size.

Once it has doubled again, you need to brush on the egg wash which will give it a nice golden color. To make this, add  1 egg and 1/4 cup of cream into a small bowl and beat well. Brush this mixture carefully onto the risen dough. Be careful that you do not brush too hard or the dough will deflate. If you plan to add either the sesame seeds or coarse sugar, add it after you have brushed on the egg wash. Bake this in a preheated 350 F oven for 30-40 minutes. The finished loaves will be golden brown and will sound hollow when tapped. Remove from bake pan and allow to cool completely before cutting. Xronia Polla everyone!

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella January 9, 2011 at 5:56 p

Happy New Year Caterina and I love this tradition steeped bread. Thanks for all of the wonderful posts and I hope 2011 is a wonderful year for you! :)

avatar Caterina Borg, Good Food Gourmet January 14, 2011 at 12:48 p

Thank you Lorraine! I wish you and your family all the best for another fabulous year! Thanks for being so wonderful, kind, generous and supportive!

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