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31.12.2017

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A delicious, aromatic cake with a dense yet soft and moist crumb, a citrusy fragrance of mandarins and a hint of warming spices. Vassilopita cake, with almonds, satsumas, cardamom and a pinch of ginger.

Greek New Year’s Cake (Vassilopita) with Mandarin, Almonds and Cardamom www.thefoodiecorner.gr Photo description: Side view of the cake on the stand, the light coming in from the right illuminating the mandarin segments.

On New Year’s Eve, Greeks usually have gatherings at home. Members of their extended family come over, they have a big dinner, and straight after the countdown they cut the cake. Before slicing, the head of the household announces whose piece it is, starting with one for the home, one for Christ, one for the Virgin Mary, maybe a few more depending on how traditional the family is (some will cut for “the poor person”, St. Basil –the Greek Father Christmas- and other symbolic figures) and then one for each family member. The cake has a coin hidden inside, and whoever gets the coin has good luck all year.

Greek New Year’s Cake (Vassilopita) with Mandarin, Almonds and Cardamom www.thefoodiecorner.gr Photo description: A closer, backlit view of the top of the cake and the mandarin segments.

Vassilopitas are not only for families though. Almost all groups will cut a “pita” (pie) as we call it, for their people. Companies for their employees, sports clubs, scouts, associations of various types etc. Most will give a gift to the winner of the coin. I have won the coin maybe three times in my life, max. I am not one of those lucky ones. But that’s alright. As long as the cake is nice!

Greek New Year’s Cake (Vassilopita) with Mandarin, Almonds and Cardamom www.thefoodiecorner.gr Photo description: Another close view of the top of the cake, from the other side, with the light illuminating the mandarin segments.

There are two main traditional vassilopitas. One is in the form of a sweet yeast bread (tsoureki) and originates from Asia Minor. The other is in the form of a cake, usually with orange. It often has almonds in it, and depending on the household, a variety of spices.

Greek New Year’s Cake (Vassilopita) with Mandarin, Almonds and Cardamom www.thefoodiecorner.gr Photo description: Side view of the cake with a slice having been cut and pulled out part of the way, revealing some of the inside of the cake.

This year I’ve made a similar version, using mandarin instead of orange, and adding some cardamom and ginger. The almonds, which are ground into a fine powder, give the cake a very faint nuttiness, and help keep it moist for longer than regular cake. The mandarins, of which we use both zest and juice, give it a gorgeous citrusy fragrance and freshness. And the spices, well they make it even more interesting, giving it a little warmth but without interfering with the flavour. Traditionally cake vassilopita is covered in a simple, light dusting of icing sugar, although in recent years one finds many different topping versions such as sugar glazes (citrus or vanilla), white or dark chocolate frosting and other variations. I opted for a mandarin glaze because it’s just delicious and the crisp tartness suits the cake perfectly.

Greek New Year’s Cake (Vassilopita) with Mandarin, Almonds and Cardamom www.thefoodiecorner.gr Photo description: Top view of the cake with a slice having been cut and pulled out part of the way, revealing some of the inside of the cake.

It’s a really nice tradition, the “cutting of the pita”. It’s something everyone looks forward to, and even if they haven’t baked a vassilopita themselves, people will buy ready-made ones in bakeries. I doubt there are many households in Greece that don’t have a pita on the table on New Year’s Eve!

Greek New Year’s Cake (Vassilopita) with Mandarin, Almonds and Cardamom www.thefoodiecorner.gr Photo description: A slice of cake lying on a glass plate, the lucky coin protruding from the inside.

Happy New Year everyone! May we all do a little more of what we love in 2018!

Greek New Year’s Cake (Vassilopita) with Mandarin, Almonds and Cardamom www.thefoodiecorner.gr Photo description: A ¾ view of the cake, in the background are some Christmas decorations and two champagne glasses.

Ingredients

200gr margarine or butter plus extra for greasing the tin

460gr sugar

340gr self raising flour

160gr almonds, ground finely

2 tsp cardamom powder

1 tsp ginger

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

5 eggs

3 Tbs mandarin zest (I used satsumas)

200ml mandarin juice, freshly squeezed

For the glaze

250-500gr icing sugar (powdered sugar)

mandarin juice, freshly squeezed, as much as it takes, about 4-7 Tbs

Step 1

Preheat the oven to 160C fan assisted (180C conventional). Grease a 25cm cake tin and line the bottom with baking paper.

Step 2

Beat the margarine and sugar in a stand mixer for about 10 minutes until fluffy.

Step 3

In a different bowl whisk the flour, almonds, cardamom, ginger, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Step 4

Add the eggs, one by one, to the sugar mixture beating in between. Beat in the mandarin zest.

Step 5

Add about a third of the flour mixture, then half the mandarin juice and repeat, beating in between. Finish off with the last of the flour mixture. Don’t overmix.

Step 6

Transfer the batter to the tin and insert a coin wrapped tightly in foil. Alternatively you can pop the coin in after baking, from the bottom side so that it isn’t visible from the top! Bake for about 1 hour and 10-15 minutes. During the last few minutes you can cover the tin with foil, if the cake is getting too dark in colour. Test using a skewer in the centre, you want it dry or with dry crumbs. Let the cake sit in the tin for 5-10 minutes then turn out on to a rack to cool completely.

Step 7

To make the glaze, put the icing sugar in a bowl and gradually add the juice mixing very well after each addition. Even if it seems dry to begin with, keep mixing until you are sure you need more liquid. You want it only just pourable, not runny. Drizzle over the cool cake and let it set. Note: I’ve left the amounts a bit vague because it depends how much glaze you want. I used a lot but that as mostly for photo purposes. You could get a decent amount for the top of the cake with about 300gr of sugar.

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    M. L.
    01/01/2018

    Happy New Year, Eleni!