A Greek New Year’s celebration cannot be without a Vasilopita Tsoureki! Vasilopita Tsoureki is a sweat brioche like type bread or cake. Tsoureki is traditionally made as an Easter celebration cake though we also make it especially for New Year’s celebrations.
History behind Vasilopita
The Greek custom of the Vasilopita and that of the lucky coin originates from Caesarea in Cappadocia. At 330BC St Basil was born in Caesarea. He was a noble and generous man who eventually became a monk.
The story goes that a tyrant had threatened the Caesarea unless its citizens handed all their valuables. Forced with such aggression, they gathered all their valuable possessions and presented it to their spiritual leader, St Basil. St Basil caring for his city replied to the tyrant that his citizen had nothing of value to surrender which of course infuriated the tyrant. In a last attempt to save Caesarea, St Basil presented a chest full of valuables that the citizens had gathered to the tyrant. When the tyrant army opened the chest, a miracle took place; suddenly an army of Angels emerged which defeated the tyrant’s army.
Having defeated the tyrant and kept the valuables, St Basil had to find a way to return the valuables to the citizens. After much deliberation, St Basil decided to give out a ‘special’ type bread to the citizens of Caesarea! This ‘special ‘ type of bread included a hidden coin inside. This was Vasilopita.
St Basil’s memory is celebrated on 1st January of annually with a Vasilopita. The hidden (lucky) coins brings prosperity , health and success to anyone who has it in their slice.
Is Vasilopita the same as tsoureki?
Vasilopita is a special type of cake with a ‘lucky’ coin inside. This special cake is made particularly for New Year’s Day. In many households throughout Greece, housewives prepare tsoureki in a circular loaf rather than the Easter one braided. This type of tsoureki is Vasilopita Tsoureki as it includes a lucky coin.
What is Vasilopita tsoureki?
Tsoureki is a spiced sweet brioche type of bread, very similar to challah bread. Both tsoureki and challah bread are brioche like breads made up of egg-yeast-oil dough rather than butter. They are fluffy breads with lots of fibres (stringy) when pulled apart.
Vasilipota tsoureki is infused with orange zest (peel), magleb and vanilla. Mahleb is a unique spice that is solely used in tsoureki recipes. It smells and tastes like almonds, ie marzipan.
This tsoureki recipe is a variation of the traditional tsoureki (Easter bread) but it is not braided. It is rather baked as a cake/bread in a baking tin.
How can you keep Vasilopita Tsoureki fresh?
You can keep this Vasilopita Tsoureki fresh by storing it in an airtight container for a few days, that is of course if there would be any left by then! A simpler and easy solution to have fresh tsoureki is to make batches of it and store it in the freezer. Freeze a ‘naked’, ie without icing sugar decoration, Vasilopita Tsoureki and defrost when you wish to enjoy it! Simply defrost!
Other Tsoureki recipes
Tsoureki is enjoyed all year round and not just on major celebrations. To prepare the traditional homemade tsoureki, then check out my homemade tsoureki recipe.
Over the years, tsoureki recipes have evolved with the addition of other mouthwatering ingredients such as chocolate. Indulge in a chocolate tsoureki with a wonderful marbled effect upon slicing. Find my recipe under Greek marble tsoureki.
Fancy a syrupy tsoureki? Yes, you heart right! chocolate tsoureki buns soaked in syrup! Absolutely delicious! Try my recipe for cocoa tsoureki with syrup and you won’t be disappointed.
For a different type of tsoureki, a mouthwatering savoury one, packed with all then greek goodness, then try this spinach and Feta tsoureki.
For the yeast:
- 60gr fresh yeast or 16g dry yeast
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 75mls lukewarm water (app 35C or 95F)
- 75gr strong flour
For the dough:
- 750gr strong flour
- 200gr sugar
- 180ml lukewarm milk
- 10ml sunflower oil
- 2 eggs +1 egg yolk for the egg wash
- 75ml orange juice (freshly squashed)
- 10gr mahlep
- 1 vanilla or 3-4 drops of vanilla
- 1 orange peel
Kitchen equipment you will need: a precision kitchen scale, 1 large bowl, 1 medium sized bowl, parchment paper, kitchen foil, cling film and a 28 cm cake tin.
And of course last but not least , the show stopper; A coin
Make sure you wash and wrap the coin with kitchen foil.
- I always start any cake by assembling all the ingredients for my Vasilopita on the kitchen counter. I find that in this way I do not waste time assembling the ingredients.
- Take the medium bowl and add the yeast, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 75 mls lukewarm water and 75 gr strong flour. Mix the ingredients for a couple of minutes.
- Wrap the bowl with cling film and cover it with a kitchen towel. Leave the dough to prove for approximately 20 minutes near a radiator. During this time the mixture will more than double in size.
- Meanwhile, in another large bowl add the sugar with the eggs and whisk them for a couple of minutes. Add the lukewarm milk, orange juice, orange peel, sunflower oil and vanilla. Whisk the ingredients for a couple of minutes. At this point, start adding the flour, mahlep and the yeast (proved dough/yeast). Leave the whisk aside and start mixing the ingredients by hand. Kneed the dough for approximately 7 minutes. You can use an electric mixer if you wish.
- Add 1 tablespoon of sunflower oil in the Vasilopita Tsoureki recipe dough and cover the bowl sides with oil. Wrap the entire bowl with cling film and cover it with a kitchen towel. Let it prove for approximately 30-35 minutes.
- When the dough doubles in size, knead again for a couple of minutes and shape the dough into a round shape to fit into your cake tin. Do not forget your Lucky coin at this stage!
- Cut enough parchment paper to cover the bottom of the cake tin and a separately piece for the sidewall of the cake tin.
- Wrap the Vasilopita Tsoureki cake tin with the dough with cling oil and let it prove for another 20 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 170C/ 338F.
- When the dough has increased in size, coat the surface of the Vasilopita Tsoureki dough with the beaten egg and place the cake tin in the oven.
- Bake the Vasilopita tsoureki for approximately 40-45 minutes. You can check whether your vasilopita tsoureki is ready with a toothpick .Simply prick the cake with the toothpick, if the toothpick still has dough residue upon retrieval, then bake for another 10 minutes.
- Enjoy your Vasilopita Tsoureki. Happy New year!