This was one of my favorite treats growing up. A traditional Greek bread made typically for New Year’s celebrations, I looked forward to the special time of year when my mom made it. There are many variations on the Vasilopita bread or “cake” itself, but the tradition is for a coin to be inserted into the loaf prior to baking. Then the loaf is cut at midnight and the family member who gets the coin in their piece of bread will have good luck all year!
I remember not wanting to wait until midnight to cut it open to see if I’d get the coin. I’d impatiently wait until New Year’s Day rolled around and immediately slice into the lovely loaf, usually slightly before midnight ;). My mom even baked two small loaves and put a coin in each one so that the chances of getting the coin would be higher. Not sure if that’s technically “cheating”, but in any event, it’s nice to find a coin at the beginning of the New Year to boost your luck for the coming year.
This bread is probably my favorite bread of all time. It is sweet but not too sweet and has a nice cinnamon and spice flavor that is truly unique. The orange peel adds a nice citrus element and pine nuts provide a delicious nutty crunch. I have eaten it for breakfast, a snack, dessert, or my personal childhood favorite; a peanut butter sandwich made with Vasilopita in place of the usual sandwich bread. Hmmmm…the pleasures of childhood.
Even though I am an adult now, I still request that my mom make it for New Year’s each year. I also sometimes make this bread myself when I am craving it. Recently, we had overnight guests and I made it as a light breakfast option. It lasts for weeks in the fridge but also freezes very well and can be reheated and eaten months later. Who says good luck can’t be had all year ‘round?
Vasilopita: Greek New Year’s Bread
Makes one loaf (9×5 inch pan)
• 2.5 cups all-purpose or whole wheat flour (plus more as needed)
• ¼ cup lukewarm milk
• 4 tbsp. light olive oil or canola oil (can use melted butter or margarine as well)
• 3 eggs, lightly beaten
• 1 package of yeast (0.25 oz), dissolved in ¼ cup warm water
• 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
• 5 tbsp. white sugar
• 1/4 tsp. salt
• 1 tsp. cinnamon
• ½ tsp. nutmeg
• 1.5 tbsp. grated orange peel
• ¼ cup pine nuts
• Garnish: almonds and sesame seeds
1. Add yeast to warm water. Let sit for ten minutes, until bubbles form on top. Set aside. Start with 2.5 cups flour and add in cinnamon, nutmeg, orange zest, salt, and sugars. Mix ingredients together. Form a well in the center of flour mixture and add eggs, yeast with water, milk, and oil. Add in pine nuts. Mix thoroughly until firm dough forms, adding additional flour as needed. (I used 2 cups all-purpose flour and ½ cup whole wheat flour to start and I needed to add an additional 1 ¼ cup more whole wheat flour to form a dough.)
2. Let dough sit covered in an oiled bowl for 1.5-2 hours, until it doubles in size. Knead dough for 1-2 minutes more (place a foil-wrapped coin inside at this point if you like) and cover bowl with a towel and let rise again for another hour. Place in an oiled 9×5 inch (or similar sized) loaf pan. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 350°F until puffed up and golden brown, for 50 minutes to 1 hr. Remove from oven and let cool before slicing.
Proceed to Nom-Nom to your hearts content.
I stored mine in the fridge after a day and I found that it actually tastes even better after a couple days because it gets moister!