Vasilopita is a traditional cake that is served on New Years Day. There is often a coin placed inside of it (wrapped in foil) and the cake is sliced and divided among guests. The person who finds the lucky coin is said to have good luck in the new year.
The tradition of baking and enjoying Vasilopita cake on New Year’s Day is popular among Greek families. The cake contains a hidden coin and as the cake slices are distributed amongst every member of the family and guests. The person who finds the coin is said to carry that luck with them for the rest of the year.
The New Year cake itself is a simple vanilla cake and quite easy to make. Once baked, a coin wrapped in aluminum foil is tucked inside and then the entire cake is sprinkled with icing sugar. From the outside, it’s impossible to tell where the coin is.
I absolutely love this fun tradition and have been the lucky recipient of the lucky coin a few times in the past!
I use a traditional Greek cake recipe that is a family recipe that has been passed down to me. I’ve made a few tweaks to the original recipe over time though. It has been a part of our family New Year’s traditions my entire life and is something I know I will continue for years to come.
A bit of background on Vasilopita
Vasilopita translates to “King’s Pie” but is also known as “Basil’s Pie” after St. Basil (Saint Basil’s Day is celebrated on January 1st each year). The form of Vasilopita can differ from home to home (and region to region). Many families have their own recipe which they continue to make year after year. It is most often in the form of a cake or a vasilopita bread (this Greek New Year’s bread is similar to the Tsoureki bread which is made for Easter).
Whether bread or cake, the tradition of hiding a coin in the Vasilopita is consistent. Just after midnight on New Year’s Eve, the vasilopita cake is divided among every family member (and guests). Some families like to serve later on during New Years Day with a cup of coffee (either as breakfast or even as part of a traditional New Years Day meal).
Before cutting into the cake, the sign of the cross is often made three times with the knife by the person cutting it (often the head of the family). Although this tradition varies with families, in many families the very first piece is cut in honour of Jesus Christ. After that, slices are distributed in order of age, beginning with the most senior person and ending with the most junior. Everyone then begins to dig into their piece of cake, looking for the coin that will bring them luck for the whole year.
Ingredients in my Vasilopita Recipe
- Eggs. I use 6 eggs in this recipe. You will need to separate the yolks and whites. I whip the egg whitesuntil they form stiff peaks. This helps achieve a lighter cake.
- Flour. I use all purpose flour.
- Baking powder
- Lemon zest. I use lemon zest for added flavor to the cake but you can also use orange zest.
- Sugar. I use granulated sugar in the cake batter. I also like to use icing sugar to decorate the cake (more on options to decorate below).
- Butter. I use unsalted butter that is softened (room temperature).
- Greek yogurt. I add yogurt for added moisture to the cake.
- Vanilla extract: adds flavour.
Note: Ingredient quantities and full instructions are in the recipe card at the end of this post.
How to make Vasilopita
Full instructions are in the recipe card at the end of this post, but essentially this cake comes down to these easy steps:
1. Prep ingredients: First separate the egg yolks and whites. Place the yolks in the bowl of a stand mixer. Place the whites in a separate bowl.
2. Mix the dry ingredients: Next, in a large bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder. Set aside.
3. Mix the wet ingredients: Start by creaming the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer or a large bowl using a hand mixer. Add the egg yolks, Greek yogurt, vanilla and lemon zest to the butter mixture and mix to combine them.
4. Beat the egg whites: Next, beat the egg whites in a medium bowl with a hand mixer until they form a meringue (the egg whites should be airy and hold their shape).
5. Combine it all: Slowly add the egg whites and dry ingredients to the wet ingredients a little bit at a time, alternating between the two.
6. Bake: Transfer the cake batter to a cake pan lined with parchment paper. Spread the cake batter evenly (it will be quite thick, similar to a pound cake). Bake until it turns a nice golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
7. Cool and decorate! Finally, once it is completely cooled, I insert a coin into the bottom of the cake (towards the outer edge is preferable so it is less likely you will cut into it when slicing the cake). Flip the cake over and dust it with powdered sugar or decorate with an icing glaze. I also decorate the cake with the date of the new year.
How to Decorate Vasilopita Cake
There is more than one way to decorate your cake but my top two favourites include decorating it with a simple dusting of icing sugar or with an icing glaze consisting of icing sugar, vanilla extract and milk.
I usually opt for icing sugar which is far easier to do and much more traditional.
Whichever way you top your cake, it’s customary to also add the numbers for the new year on top of the cake. I like to use:
- candies like m&m’s
- chocolate chips or chocolate rosettes
- cardboard stencils (you can remove these before slicing)
- candles with the numbers for the new year
Tips for making Vasilopita and Substitutions
- Prep ingredients in advance. I think this recipe is easy to do but I highly recommend some prep work before you begin. I like to measure out my ingredients beforehand so that I can work more quickly.
- Wrap the coin well in foil. I hope this is obvious and I did mention it in the blog post and recipe card, but you definitely don’t want dirty money touching the cake you are eating!
- Insert the coin in the bottom of the cake. I turn the cake upside down and then insert the wrapped coin into the bottom of the cake, preferably closer to the outer edges. Inserting it in the bottom helps to hide any dimple it may make so the coin is hidden from everyone. I don’t recommend placing the coin near the center of the cake. It its more likely to be cut into by the knife if you do so.
- Cool cake completely before decorating. Whether you choose to decorate the cake with powdered sugar or with an icing glaze, you will want to make sure the cake is completely cooled.
- Add the year to your decorations. It’s traditional to add the number for the new year on your cake. I often use candies (like m&m’s) or chocolate chips to do this. You can also use paper cutouts or even numbered candles.
- Flavour substitutions: I use lemon zest and vanilla to add subtle flavour to the cake. You can increase the flavour by adding a bit of lemon juice as well. Other substitutions include orange zest (and orange juice if you wish) or even adding almond extract instead of vanilla.
All the best in the New Year!
I hope you enjoy this cake and continue this family tradition in your own homes. The fun part is digging in and searching for that coin! I hope it brings you good luck in the year to come!
Kali Xronia (Happy New Year)!
Looking for other Greek recipes to enjoy during the holidays? Be sure to check out:
Vasilopita (Greek New Years Cake)
- 6 eggs yolks and whites separated
- 3 cups flour
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 cup butter softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup Greek yogurt
- 1 lemon zested (or orange zest)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 coin covered in foil
- powdered sugar
- candies or numbered candles to show the numbers of the new year (optional)
- Preheat your oven to 350F and line the bottom of a cake pan with parchment paper.
- Prepare the eggs as follows: 1) separate the egg yolks and whites. Place the yolks in the bowl of a stand mixer. Place the whites in a separate bowl.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large mixing bowl using a hand mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Mix in the egg yolks, Greek yogurt, vanilla and lemon zest to combine them.
- Beat the egg whites with a hand mixer until they form stiff peaks (the egg whites should be airy and hold their shape).
- Slowly add the egg whites and dry ingredients to the wet ingredients a little bit at a time, alternating between the two.
- Transfer to the cake pan. Spread the cake batter evenly (it will be quite thick, similar to a pound cake). Bake for 40-50 minutes or until it turns a nice golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Once removed from the oven, remove from pan and transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.
- Once it is completely cooled, insert a coin into the bottom of the cake (towards the outer edge is preferrable so it is less likely you will cut into it when slicing the cake). Flip the cake over and dust it with powdered sugar or decorate with an icing glaze. Decorate if you wish with the date of the new year.