National Hellenic Museum Vasilopita

By Anthe Mitrakos

CHICAGO, IL – Greektown’s National Hellenic Museum rang in the New Year with the annual cutting of the Vasilopita, a longstanding and sweet Greek Orthodox tradition. The event, which was coupled by a recipe demonstration and book signing by chef and food enthusiast Peter Minakis, drew about 60 individuals on January 10, while the Vasilopita was blessed and cut by Fr. Panteleimon Dalianis of St. Basil Greek Orthodox Church in Chicago.

In Greek Orthodox culture, the Vasilopita traditionally is associated with Agios Vasilis, or St. Basil of Caesarea, who was known for his advocacy, generosity, and compassion toward the poor and underprivileged. A Vasilopita is baked in Greek Orthodox homes across the globe to commemorate St. Basil’s life and work. In line with tradition, a lucky coin is hidden within the cake, which is during the New Year celebration cut into pieces for each family member, individuals present at the time of cutting, and even honorary recipients like the family business, home, and the Lord. The coin is said to bring good luck in the New Year to its recipient, who nowadays is handed an extra gift to accompany their winning of the coin.

Vasilopita flavors, designs, textures, and recipes vary all over Greece depending on which region they are from, Minakis explained. Some are more breadlike, while others resemble a soft cake. Minakis’ demonstrated version at the National Hellenic Museum was a sweet cake with mild orange flavor, dusted with powdered sugar.

To make your own Vasilopita at home this month, try Minakis’ recipe:

Vasilopita by Peter Minakis

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 3 cups all-purpose flower
  • Pinch of salt
  • 6 large eggs (whites & yolks separated)
  • 1 shot orange liqueur
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • Zest of 1 orange

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Whip your egg whites into a meringue and reserve. In a large bowl, use a mixer to blend the butter, sugar and add yolks, one at a time.

3. Add the liqueur and the zest. Then add the flour, salt and baking powder. Slowly fold the meringue into the batter.

4. Place a foil-wrapped coin randomly into the cake mix.

5. Place mix in a 10-inch round spring form pan and into oven. Bake on the middle rack for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool on a rack for an hour after baking.

6. Make a paper stencil of the New Year you’re celebrating, place it on the cake and dust the top of the cake with icing sugar. Remove stencil and reserve to use at New Year’s celebration.

The Everything Mediterranean Cookbook 2nd Ed.

It is known that people living in the Mediterranean area, especially Greece, eat better and live healthier, possessing the lowest rates of chronic diseases and the highest life expectancies in the world. Delightfully cataloging the Mediterranean diet rich in whole grains, olive oil, fruits, and vegetables, The Everything Mediterranean Cookbook 2nd Edition includes 300 of the most vibrant and healthy dishes that are a joy to create yourself in your own kitchen. Some of Minakis’ published recipes include Greek summer sangria, breakfast baklava French toast, and lemon meringue phyllo tarts. The book can be found for about $15 on Amazon.com. Aside from his publication, Toronto-based Minakis maintains kalofagas.ca, a website and blog dedicated to Mediterranean and Greek dishes, which he frequently updates.

For information on “The Everything Mediterranean Cookbook 2nd Edition” and more recipes by Peter Minakis, visit kalofagas.ca. For more information on upcoming events at the National Hellenic Museum, visit nationalhellenicmuseum.org.