Growing up, I can’t remember a New Year’s day that didn’t involve vasilopita. Sweet, orangey, and moist, this bread is sooooo delicious, not to mention beautiful! In fact, I don’t think I can continue writing until I make some of it toasted with butter. Excuse me.
That’s better :-) I’m going to be honest with you: this bread does not entirely fit my blog’s theme, “real food for busy people.” For one thing, it’s made with regular white flour and sugar. For another thing, it’s not very easy to make. But as a teacher, I am lucky to have nice long breaks around the holidays to be able to indulge in a cooking challenge (yes, cooking for hours on my days off is extremely fun for me!). And as for the refined grains and sugar, I don’t pretend to eat 100% real food all the time. I’m more of a 90% girl. I couldn’t do anything 100% of the time when it comes to dieting, and I don’t think you should either. There, I said it.
Aw, my toast is gone. That didn’t take long.
Before I get into how to make this bread, there’s one more very special thing about it. Traditionally, a coin is hidden inside it when it is done baking. It’s slipped into the bottom and then spun around, so the cook doesn’t know where it is either. Whoever gets the slice of bread with the money has good luck for the rest of the year. One time when I was little, I got the only coin in the bread for my whole church! I don’t really remember if I was lucky that year but I do remember it felt like I won something big, and I love winning things.
(In case you are wondering, Zach and I did not put a coin in our bread this year. But we definitely will when we have kids.)
This recipe is from The Food of Greece by Vilma Liacouras Chantiles. It’s my favorite Greek cookbook.
To start, heat up 1 cup of milk and 1 teaspoon of sugar on the stovetop. Not too hot! You will add your yeast in the milk. The first time I made this I killed the yeast by heating the milk too high. It should be between 100-110 degrees (and if you are too lazy to measure the temperature like I am, you should be able to keep your finger in it and feel warmth, not burning).
Once the milk and sugar is warm, turn off the heat and add 2 envelopes (or 4.5 teaspoons) of yeast. Whisk until dissolved, cover with a towel and allow to double in size (about 20 minutes).
Meanwhile, measure 7 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 cups sugar into a large mixing bowl. I chose not to use my KitchenAid mixer for this, and I regretted it. If you have a mixer, use it for this!
Stir dry ingredients and make a well in the center. After the yeast is doubled in size, add yeast, 1 more cup of warm milk, 2 tablespoons melted butter, 4 beaten eggs, and the zest of one orange. Mix together until a smooth dough forms (add up to 1/2 cup more flour if necessary).
Knead the dough on floured surface for 10-15 minutes (or continue kneading in your mixer).
Oil or butter a large bowl. Place the kneaded dough inside and turn once, allowing the oil to coat the top of the dough. This prevents drying out/cracking when the dough rises. Allow to rise in a warm place for 2-3 hours, until doubled in size. When I need to let dough rise, I usually turn on the oven light, turn on the temperature on for 1 minute, allow it to warm up slightly, and immediately turn the heat off. Then, I place the dough in the oven to rise. The residual heat as well as the heat from the oven light will keep a toasty environment for the dough to rise.
Punch dough down and divide into two. Knead for a few minutes and form into two balls. Butter two nine-inch round pans and place the dough balls in the middle of each. Place back in a warm area to allow to rise again for about 1 hour.
Man, did I get a lot of new year’s day cleaning done while the dough was rising!
Now comes the fun part! Preheat the oven to 375F. Once the dough has doubled in size again, use a sharp knife to carve a pattern in the top of your dough. You can do any design you want, but it’s easy to start with lines that radiate from the center (curved or straight). Then, you can add other lines to connect them.
FINALLY, beat one egg and brush the top of each loaf with it to cover it. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, and bake for 10 minutes at 375F. Turn the temperature down to 350F and bake for another 30 minutes, or until the loaves turn a deep chestnut brown on top. When they are done, take them out of the loaf pans and allow to cool on a rack. At this point, you can insert a coin (I usually use a dime since it’s small) through the bottom of one of the loaves, pushing it through with a toothpick or skinny knife. Yes, this is probably a choking hazard. Watch your little ones!
There we go! Done! Phew! Zach and I enjoyed our new tradition on New Year’s day by having a meal of black eyed pea soup (his family’s tradition) and vasilopita (my family’s tradition). Delicious!
|Vasilopita (Greek New Year's Bread)|| |
- Dissolve yeast in one cup of warmed milk with one teaspoon sugar. Cover and allow to double in volume for about 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, mix 7 cups of flour, salt, and ¾ cups sugar in large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center. When the yeast has finished doubling, add to flour mixture, as well as butter, 4 eggs, the rest of the milk, and orange zest.
- Mix until dough is smooth.
- Knead on floured surface for 10-15 minutes and place in a buttered or oiled bowl, turning once to coat the top. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place for 2-3 hours, or until doubled in size.
- Punch dough down and divide into two. Knead each for a few minutes and place in two buttered 9-inch pans. Allow to rise until doubled in size for about one hour in a warm place.
- Using a sharp knife, carve decorative patterns into the top of each loaf, such as with lines radiating out from the center. Using a pastry brush, brush the top of each loaf with the remaining beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
- Bake at 375F for 10 minutes, turn the temperature down to 350F and bake for another 30 minutes or until the tops of each loaf turn a deep chestnut brown.
- Allow to cool on racks. At this point, you can insert a coin into the bottom of the loaf using a toothpick or skinny knife to push it in.