My holiday recipe: A Greek New Year's cake with a surprise inside
The sister duo behind Mia Kouppa share a family recipe for vasilopita
Every year, many Greek households will whip up a vasilopita for New Year's Day, and even though extended families won't be holding large celebrations, food can still bring people together.
For Helen and Billie Bitzas, the sister duo behind the Mia Kouppa food blog, this means physically delivering holiday food to their parents' doorstep.
"Every weekend, Helen or I will make something that they wouldn't make for just themselves," said Billie.
This is something they've been doing throughout December, making extra food and dropping it off for their parents.
But the sisters don't have the market cornered on custom delivery. Their parents have been doing the same thing.
"During the week when we work, they often will tell us to drive by and they've left something at their door for us to have for supper."
"It keeps them busy too," added Helen. "They're doing it to help us, of course, but they're doing it to help pass their time. They both love to cook."
For the Bitzas family, exchanging food and recipes is not new.
Several years ago, the sisters started the food blog Mia Kouppa to preserve and demystify their family recipes and note everything down scientifically.
'A beautiful tradition'
When it comes to Christmas baking, vasilopita is a staple for the Bitzas and many others.
"Anyone who is Greek will certainly either have made it, have had it, or has heard of it," said Billie. "Plus it's a recipe that has a really beautiful tradition to it."
The cake is made on New Years Day in order to commemorate St. Basil and it usually has a coin inserted into it which one lucky person will find.
"Growing up our parents would make it every year," said Billie.
"As kids it was always with great excitement and anticipation that my dad would cut and hand it out. As you're eating your piece, you have to carefully make sure that you don't swallow a coin. And then whoever finds the coin has good luck for the year."
Traditionally the cutting of the cake 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 each member of the family and offered to the oldest person present, then down to the youngest.
3 1/2 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 tablespoon orange rind, tightly packed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons (30 ml) cognac or brandy
1 cup (250 ml) milk
Approximately 1/3 cup (45 grams) icing sugar, for dusting on top of the vasilopita
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
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 3 – 4 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 25 cm (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 plastic wrap. 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 batter. Smooth the top once again.
Bake your vasilopita on 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 centre 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, especially to small children and the elderly, as the coin could be a choking hazard.