Every New Year my family and I celebrate with a Greek tradition, the Vasilopita Observance. This custom began in the fourth century when a bishop, Saint Basil the Great, wanted to distribute money to the poor members of his flock. To avoid demeaning this proud people, St. Basil commissioned the ladies of his church to bake coins into a sweet bread, thereby hiding his offerings.
When the families cut into the nourishing bread they surprisingly found gold coins as well, and the New Year’s tradition of baking coins into a sweet yeast-risen cake-like bread was born. While my mother never baked a traditional vasilopita, nor ever baked the coins directly into the cake, she would, true to custom, hide a variety of coins into a finished cake—whatever cake she felt like making that year.
Today, the head of household divides the cake equally for each member of the family, and in traditional households, in commemoration of St. Basil’s love and concern for the poor, an additional piece of cake is cut to represent the unfortunate of the world. The one who receives the piece containing the special coin—a silver dollar in my home—allegedly will have an especially lucky year.
Since leaving home I have introduced many friends to this Greek tradition and each year I am reminded of the fun generated by anticipating and hoping to receive that lucky coin. This year, in an effort to avoid sharing a whole cake with my husband, I have baked mini Rum Bundt Cakes, the preferred New Year’s cake in my family, and will give the extras to friends. While I cannot promise that partaking in the Vasilopita Observance will bring health and happiness to all who participate, as hoped by St. Basil the Great, I can attest that the ritual of making New Year’s resolutions is more fun while eating a rum-soaked coin-filled cake. Happy New Year!Print
- 10 tablespoons (5 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature plus more for the pan
- ¾ cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 yolk
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup + 2 tablespoons (5.5 oz) all-purpose flour plus more for the pan
- ¾ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon table salt
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 3 tablespoons rum
- ¾ teaspoons vanilla extract
- 8 tablespoons (4 oz) unsalted butter
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ cup rum
For a fun touch, or a festive Valentine’s Day dessert, add a pink glaze:
- 1¼ cup confectioners’ sugar
- 3 tablespoons brandy
- 3 tablespoons rum
- 1–2 drops pink food coloring
- Position oven rack in center of oven and heat to 350˚F. Butter the mini Bundt pan and lightly dust with flour, shaking out excess.
- In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the yolk, and beat until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, blending after each addition. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In another small bowl combine the milk and rum. Add half the flour mix to the mixer and blend until just smooth. Add half the milk mixture and blend until smooth. Add the rest of the flour and again blend only until just combined. Add the rest of the milk mixture and blend until smooth. Finally add the vanilla and blend until smooth.
- Divide the batter evenly among the six molds and place in oven. Bake the cakes for 25 minutes.Meanwhile prepare the glaze. Gently heat butter, sugar and rum until butter has melted and sugar has dissolved. Set aside.
- After the 25 minutes, remove the cakes from the oven and test for doneness. It may look wet and spongy but still test with a paring knife. If the inserted knife emerges clean, the cakes are done. If not, return pan to the oven, checking every 2 minutes.
- When cakes are done, remove from oven and spoon about 1 tablespoon of rum glaze (the first glaze listed above) on top of each cake. Let cakes cool in pan for 20 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack. Brush a layer of glaze on top of each bundt cake, let harden (about 10 minutes) and then paint another layer on. Repeat until all of the glaze is gone.
- Cut a small slit in the bottom of the cake and insert a saran-wrapped small coin into the slot. When ready to serve, divide the cake equally between the number of participants (hopefully no more than 2 per cake), enjoy your small portion and discover who is the lucky recipient of the coin. Make New Year’s resolutions and enjoy!
- At this point, if desired, the pink glaze can be added on top of the first rum glaze. Whisk all ingredients together until smooth. Spoon glaze into center and gently push out with the back of the spoon so that the glaze falls down the sides of the cake.
To make a normal sized Bundt cake, just double the ingredients for the cake, not for the glaze.For more information about the Vasilopita Tradition visit: https://www.stbasil.goarch.org/about/vasilopita.asp