Vasilopita is a Greek holiday bread meant to be eaten around New Years. Typically there is one coin baked into the bread, and whoever finds this coin will have good luck for the coming year. I found this recipe many years ago in a McCall’s cookbook and was very pleased with the results.
This version of vasilopita tastes very much like my Grandmothers. Her loaves were much smaller though, about a quarter of the size, and included a mix of black and white sesame seeds, and slivered almonds. As a child, I really didn’t care for the black sesame seeds, and still don’t, so they never make the cut. Neither of us added the coin (party poopers), but it would be easy enough to just wrap it in some foil and put it in for the second rise. This particular recipe includes both orange and lemon zest, giving it a light fresh flavor. Once cooked, it turns a deep chestnut color with a cake-like texture.
Making bread is a time-consuming process, so pick a rainy/snow day to tackle this recipe. Baking bread is very rewarding but requires some work in the beginning. Work= kneading. I ain’t got time for that! My Kitchen-Aide mixer will do this task for me, and not even make a fuss.
I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to have found this recipe and be able to carry on this tradition. An added bonus to making the bread yourself is being able to fill the house with a wonderful, sweet aroma.
Greek Holiday Bread
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2/3 cup butter or margarine
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 pkg (8g each) active dry yeast (I used the quick rising kind)
- 1/2 cup warm water (105 to 115°F)
- 3 eggs
- 5 1/2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp lemon zest (I used a whole lemon)
- 2 tsp orange zest (I used a whole orange)
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tbsp water
- blanched almonds (I used slivered almonds)
- sesame seeds
- Step 1 Pour 1/2 cup warm water into the bowl of your stand mixer. If you have a thermometer, check to make sure the temperature is around 105-115°F. Pour in the yeast and stir. Yeast mixture will begin to look frothy after a few minutes.
- Step 2 In a small saucepan, heat milk over medium heat until bubbles form around the edges. This will take several minutes. Remove from heat. Add butter, sugar, and salt. Stir until butter melts and sugar dissolves. Set aside and let cool to lukewarm.
- Step 3 Add milk mixture to yeast mixture. Beat the 3 eggs thoroughly, and add to the milk-yeast mixture. Stir to combine. Using the dough hook attachment set to low speed (around 1-2), slowly add half the flour. Add the orange and lemon zest and continue mixing. Slowly pour in the remaining flour, a little at a time. Continue kneading until the dough is a smooth mass and comes away from the sides clean (About 3 minutes).
- Step 4 If the dough is still a bit sticky, transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and continue kneading by hand for a couple minutes. Put dough in a large greased bowl. Flip so the greased side is up. Cover with a towel, and let rise for 1.5 to 2 hours in a warm, draft-free location (dough should double in size). I like placing the bowl in my oven with the light on. The light creates some heat and keeps it warm. I also boil some water and place it in a container on the bottom rack in the oven for added warmth.
- Step 5 Grease a 12-inch round by 2-inch deep baking pan (I used a large spring form pan). Turn raised dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth (several minutes). Shape dough into a 10-inch diameter circle and place in the prepared pan. Cover with a towel and let rise for about 1.5 hours (or until doubled in size). Be careful not to plunk the pan down on the counter, you do not want your dough to suddenly collapse and have a !!!! moment.
- Step 6 Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Beat egg yolk with 1 tbsp water and lightly brush over the surface of the dough. Arrange almonds as you wish, and sprinkle on the sesame seeds. Place your pan on the middle shelf and bake for 40-50 minutes or until golden brown. Halfway through, you may need to cover the bread with foil if it is getting dark too quickly. Remove from pan and place on a cooling rack.
- Step 7 Enjoy the fruits of your labor!