I have great news! I have secured good luck for 2009. January 1st was my husband’s ‘Name Day.’ In Greece, everyone celebrates the “Name Day” of the saint that bears the same name. According to the Orthodox Church, every day of the year has been dedicated to the memory of a Saint or a martyr from the Holy Bible and Holy Tradition. In Greece, a person’s name day is even more important than their own birthday and is celebrated with attention from friends and relatives and often gifts.
My husband Vasili’s Name Day lands on the first day of the year and has a historical tradition. It commenced in the fourth century, when Saint Vasili the Great, who was a bishop, wanted to distribute money to the poor in his Diocese. He commissioned some women to bake sweetened bread, in which he arranged to place gold coins. Thus the families in cutting the bread to nourish themselves, were pleasantly surprised to find the coins. I read that the sweetness in the cake symbolizes the hope that the New Year will be filled with the sweetness of life, liberty, health, and happiness for all who participate in the Vasilopita Observance.
Below is a recipe for a traditional Vasilopita cake. One coin is dropped in the batter of a round pan. The person who finds the treasure in his or her slice of cake is said to be blessed and will receive good luck for the coming year. I squealed when my fork found the coin in this light, simple but delicious yellow cake.
Vasilopita – Greek New Year’s Cake
Serves 15-20 people.
4 cups flour, sifted
6 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups milk
Grated lemon rind from 1 lemon
Silver or gold coin (soak in water and soap to clean. $1 coins are fun!)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift flour, baking powder and salt. Cream butter, add sugar gradually; beat together until mixture is light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in alternately until just smooth, flour mixture and milk. Add grated lemon rind from one whole lemon (2-3 teaspoons).
Grease a 12-inch round baking pan and line bottom with parchment paper. You can use a rectangle if you don’t have the large round pan. Put batter into the prepared pan. Drop in a silver or gold coin and bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan. Then, sift confectioner’s sugar over the top. Cut out of pan to serve.
* You can halve this recipe in half and use a 9 inch round pan