Thursday, January 1, 2009

Vasilopita or St. Basil's Day Bread

In Greece New Year's Day is also known as St. Basil's Day. St. Basil was the father of the early church and it is in his honour that Vasilopita is shared amongst family and friends at the stroke of midnight in many Greek homes! The tradition of cutting the Vasilopita on the first of January is said to bless the house and bring good luck for the new year. Traditionally the first piece is offered to the saint himself, the second piece distributed amongst the poor, and the third piece goes to the senior most member of the family.

Typically the the baker hides a coin in the Vasilopita, and the person who gets it is deemed blessed for the year. Of course in the old days there was a reason why the coin was hidden in this festive bread and why indeed this bread is baked!! Vasilopita is made in honor of a wonderful act of charity by St. Basil to the poor of his flock. St. Basil wanted to ensure that the needy would have enough money for necessities. But he was also aware that they were proud people and would not accept money. St. Basil asked his church members prepare some sweet bread with coins baked into them. In this way he was able to give them money without demeaning them.

Despite its distinctive simplicity, this bread is very rich. But it is also beautifully fragrant and tasty. As I searched for recipes for BBD #15, an event started by Zorra , which I myself am hosting this month and for my very first entry for YeastSpotting hosted by Susan, I kept finding recipes that asked for anything from 6-12 eggs and a kilo of all-purpose flour!! I could not even begin to tackle reducing these quantities but I did want to bake this bread - simply because it was not too sweet and because I adore anise!!

So after much searching I came about a recipe that I felt could be tweaked to our requirements here while keeping with the original taste and texture of the bread. The original recipe is at the bottom of this post. What follows here is my version of this traditional New Year's Bread!!

2-2 1/4 cups flour
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1 tbsp candied lemon peel
1 tsp anise seeds
1/2 cup milk
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp sugar
Pinch of salt
2 egg whites
1 tsp sesame seeds

To Glaze:
1 tbsp orange juice


  1. Sift together 1 cup of the flour, yeast, lemon peel, and anise seeds.
  2. In a separate saucepan, heat the milk, butter, sugar, and salt until all the butter is melted.
  3. Add the heated milk mixture to dry ingredients, and the add egg whites to this mix. Blend well.
  4. Stir in the remaining flour to form a soft dough. Knead this dough on a lightly floured surface for around 7 minutes.
  5. Place the dough in a greased bowl. Coat the top of the dough with some butter.
  6. Cover the bowl and let it rise in warm place until it has doubled. This may take a couple of hours.
  7. When it is risen, punch it down. Divide it into half. Flatten one half of the dough in greased loaf pan. Shape other half into 3 ropes. Braid them. Seal the ends and then place on top of the dough in the pan.
  8. Glaze the top of the loaf with the orange juice. Sprinkle generously with sesame seeds.
  9. Let the loaf rise in warm place until double, around 45 minutes.
  10. Bake in a preheated oven at 375 degree oven for 25-30 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Remove the loaf, cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool thoroughly.
This bread tastes delicious on its own, and even better when it is toasted. Serve with a a pat of butter and a dollop of your favourite jam or conserve!! Here's to a Happy New Year and blessing to one and all.

Recipe Source: Festive Bread Book, The by Kathy Cutler, Barron's Educational Series, Inc., 1982.

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  1. bread looks the way you have braided the dough..

  2. Interesting history, lovely shaping, and how can you go wrong with anise-scented bread? Happy New Year and thanks for host BBD this month!

  3. I just adore the way you shaped the bread. I will try the technique sometime.

  4. What a beautiful looking bread. Love the braids!
    Nice read too.

  5. Lovely and perfect.Love the way you shaped it.

  6. This bread looks lovely with its braided top. I just saw another one at Ivy's Kopiaste.

  7. Thanks so much for hosting, you made a fantastic round up!

  8. Beautiful looking loaf of bread, love the braided look.

  9. I found you on Yeastspotting! What a gorgeous loaf! I must try it.

  10. thanx a lot for posting such wonderful recipes. I am Vegetarian....can I make the above bread without different the taste would be ? also if I use just Wheat Flour, how different it would be...??



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