Divides & Binding Traditions

Many of you who have been reading my blog for some time are aware that I am fascinated with Greek New Year traditions, including the ritual cutting of the vasilopita, or St. Basil’s Bread. I touched on the subject in a blog post last January and provided a traditional Constantinople Greek recipe given to me by a friend’s mother. At the time I wrote that post, I was also aware of a slightly different type of vasilopita, more of a cake, and have even partaken of some when we were in Crete one January a few years ago.

From what I can gather, there are numerous varieties of vasilopita. Many of them are regionally specific, but, for the main part, there are two major types. These two types can be described as tsoureki (i.e. a yeast based sweet bread) and cake, examples of a north – south divide and modern versus traditional custom. Tsoureki style vasilopita is generally northern and old-fashioned whereas cake is more trendy and southern. Of course, this is not a hard and fast rule!


However, what binds them together is the tradition of cutting the bread/cake. And, that tradition extends to working environments, churches, clubs, schools, etc. wherever people gather together. Cutting of vasilopitas occur throughout January. This ritual is a nice way to reinforce group solidarity, wishing everyone at work, at school, in your club or church a very happy New Year.  In fact, it is not unusual for people to have slices from many vasilopitas throughout the month. Our group made two vasilopitas – one tsoureki from my recipe and one from S’s repertoire – which you can see side-by-side in the photo above. Both were delicious!


Another Vasilopita (Cake)
From S’s list of recipes. She made double the following recipe in a huge tapsi (ταψί) or baking pan, big enough for a large group.

  • 600g sugar
  • 800g plain (all purpose) flour
  • 250g butter
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon machlepi (optional)
  • juice and zest from 2 large oranges, yielding about 125ml juice
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 100ml Metaxa cognac (Greek brandy)
  • 150ml milk
  • 1 foil wrapped coin
  • confectioner’s sugar
  • Chocolate sprinkles

Preheat oven to 160 degrees C (fan assisted). Line a large baking pan (approximately 30 x 15cm) with greaseproof paper.

Cream butter and 200g of the sugar in a mixer (reserving the other 400g of sugar). Separate the egg yolks from the whites. Add the yolks to the creamed butter sugar mixture, one at a time until mixed. Add the remainder of the sugar and the orange juice, zest, brandy and milk. Slowly add the flour, baking powder and optional machlepi. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold this into the batter.


Pour the batter into the prepared pan and insert the foil covered coin.


Bake for 60 minutes. Remove from pan and let it cool slightly, turning the cake upside down for a flat surface on which to dust liberally with confectioner’s sugar. Write the year in the sugar with your finger and sprinkle the chocolate sprinkles in the numbers.


    • I definitely agree about the sweetness! At least it wasn’t soaked in syrup before the mountain of powdered sugar was layered on top, as many Greek cakes are. As I said in the into – it is the tradition rather than the actual cake that is important.

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