Vasilopita

Vasilopita

January 2: Feast Day of St. Basil

Long before we started blogging, Highlander gave Islander the cookbook “Cooking with the Saints” as a Christmas gift. Vasilopita was the very first recipe she made in the new year and for the Feast Day of St. Basil. Now we can blog about the traditional Greek cake that we bake for a simple new year’s celebration at home.

According to the author, Ernst Schuegraf, “different recipes (for Vasilopita) exist, (but) they all include the hiding of a silver coin in the cake, which is supposed to bring luck to the person who finds it. The head of the family slices the cake and distributes the pieces in a very precise order. The first piece is for St. Basil, the second one for Christ, the third one for the oldest member of the family and on down to the youngest.”

The hiding of the coin represents Baby Jesus hiding from King Herod. Different cultures make cakes with hidden coins, beans or trinkets around this time of the year. Include Vasilopita in your recipe repetoire during the 12 days of Christmas, which come to a close on Epiphany (January 6), and celebrate the new year and the Feast Day of St. Basil with this special cake.

Recipe

(Adapted from Cooking with the Saints by Ernst Schuegraf)

For the cake

  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ tablespoon lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda

For the topping

  • 1/3 cup nuts, chopped (we used walnuts)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

Directions

Line an 8-inch round pan with waxed paper. Lightly grease the bottom and sides with cooking spray or vegetable oil. Set aside. In a large bowl, cream the butter with the sugar. Add the flour and mix until it resembles coarse crumbs. Beat in the eggs one at a time until well incorporated.

Vasilopita

In a measuring cup, pour the milk then stir in the baking powder. Add this to the flour mixture and blend until smooth. In another small cup or shot glass, mix the lemon juice with the baking soda (it will be fizzy). Add this to the cake batter.

Vasilopita

Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan. Place a clean coin (optional) in the batter. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes.

Vasilopita

Meanwhile, prepare the topping by mixing the chopped nuts and sugar. When the 20-minute baking time is up, remove the cake from the oven and sprinkle the topping over the cake. Return to the oven and continue to bake for 20-30 minutes until the cake is done. Remove from the oven and cool completely. Remove from the pan and transfer to a cake plate or serving platter.

Vasilopita

Notes

  • If there is a coin hidden in the cake, let others know about the symbolism—and safety!—before they eat their slice. We usually wrap a silver dollar in waxed paper or foil before including it in the cake batter.
  • The cake may be decorated with numbers representing the new year.
  • Serve Lakror as the main dish, followed by Vasilopita for dessert, for a full meal on the Feast Day of St. Basil. The recipe for Lakror is included in an earlier blog post.
  • The Feast Day of St. Basil is observed on January 1 in the Eastern Orthodox Church; January 2 in the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran churches; January 15 in the Coptic Christian and Ethiopian Orthodox churches; January 30 in the Byzantine Rite; and June 14 in the Episcopal Church.
  • Bake a galette des rois (3 Kings Cake) a few days later with a hidden bean (instead of a coin) to celebrate Epiphany.

Lakror (St. Basil Meat Pie)

Lakror

January 2: Feast Day of St. Basil the Great

During our courtship in college, Highlander would stop by at the end of Islander’s  international communication night class and escort her back safely to our dorm. One of her classmates from Albania seemed to have a crush on Highlander and flirted with him every time he came to pick up Islander (she was more amused than jealous because Highlander was merely interested in her Albanian culture than in her!). Islander’s class had an international potluck party at the end of the school year and brought Highlander as her date, of course.

That was many years ago and we do not even remember her name or the Albanian dish she brought to the party. But we do remember to observe the Feast Day of St. Basil the Great on January 2 (see Notes for other feast dates) by making a meat pie from her country.  Lakror has an aromatic and tasty ground meat filling sandwiched between layers of crisp, buttery and flaky phyllo dough. Like many special dishes associated around the new year and Epiphany, this meat pie may contain a hidden trinket, such as a coin, to represent the Baby Jesus hiding from King Herod. Traditionally, the one who finds the coin in his/her slice will be blessed with good luck in the coming year!

Recipe

(Adapted from Cooking with the Saints by Ernst Schuegraf)

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ tablespoons butter
  • ¼ cup onion, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • ¾ pound lean ground meat (we used beef but it is traditionally a mixture of ground beef and lamb)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley, minced
  • ¼ cup cooked rice
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 (8 ounces) package of phyllo dough, defrosted according to the package instructions
  • ½ cup butter, melted

Directions

In a skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Saute the onions until transparent. Add the ground meat and stir to break up any large chunks. Season with garlic, salt, oregano and pepper. Drain off any grease.

Lakror

Mix in the parsley, rice and eggs until well blended. Set aside.

Lakror

Cut the phyllo dough sheets to fit a 9 x 13-inch rectangle or 10×10-inch square baking pan. Brush the bottom of the pan with melted butter. Lay a sheet of the phyllo dough on the bottom, brush with melted butter, add another sheet, brush with butter again and repeat until half of the sheets (about 10) are layered on top of each other. Spread the meat mixture evenly on this layer. Place a clean coin on top of the meat (optional).

Lakror

Lay a sheet of phyllo dough on top of the meat mixture, brush with melted butter, add another sheet, brush with butter again and repeat until all sheets of phyllo dough are used. Use a sharp knife to score down the meat pie for easier cutting after it is baked. Bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees F for 35-45 minutes or until golden. Remove from the oven. Slice the pie using the score marks as guides. Serve immediately.

Lakror

Notes

  • To stretch out the filling in the meat pie, feel free to substitute diced potatoes for the rice as an ingredient in lakror.
  • Heat any leftovers in the oven instead of in the microwave to retain the crispness of the meat pie.
  • If there is a coin hidden in the meat pie, let others know about the symbolism—and safety!—before they eat their slice.
  • The Feast Day of St. Basil is observed on January 1 in the Eastern Orthodox Church; January 2 in the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran churches; January 15 in the Coptic Christian and Ethiopian Orthodox churches; January 30 in the Byzantine Rite; and June 14 in the Episcopal Church.