King pie

By Christos Sourligas
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Greeks don’t really go on about New Year’s resolutions on January 1. Their biggest concern is the eternal question: “Who will get the good luck for the upcoming year?” And how that’s decided is about as random as a coin toss. Greek families the world over look forward to slicing the vasilopita (king pie or Saint Basil’s pie) after New Year’s supper to reveal the lucky winner of the “lira coin.” For the most part, with my family at least, I must say the winner has been pretty evenly distributed throughout the years. The message here: Balance does exist in the world.... So enjoy cutting this sweet, tasty cake. Just don’t bite down too hard, or your first trip of the new year will be the dentist chair. Hronia Polla! (Happy New Year!) And good luck to us all!

SERVES
12
TOTAL TIME

Ingredients

Pie:

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon clove powder
  • 1 medium orange (zest only)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1-1/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 cup melted butter
  • 2 tablespoons Metaxa brandy
  • 1 cup chopped dried figs (6 millimeter pieces)
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 1 coin (washed and wrapped in aluminum foil)

Topping:

  • Greek honey
  • Sugar (or powdered sugar)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 °F (175 °C).
  2. Shred the orange zest, and set aside. Then, squeeze the entire orange.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla powder, cinnamon powder, clove powder and orange zest. Mix with a large fork.
  4. Whisk the eggs in a smaller bowl. Then add the milk, orange juice, butter and brandy. Whisk again.
  5. Pour the liquid mix into the larger bowl. Add the figs, raisins and walnuts. Mix thoroughly with a large fork (add additional milk, if needed). Toss in the vasilopita coin (aka “flouri”), making sure it’s well hidden in the batter.
  6. Grease a round 30 centimeter baking dish with oil or butter. Pour in the batter and place into the oven. Bake for 40 minutes, or until golden brown. Stick a toothpick or knife in the middle to check if it’s fully baked. If not, bake for another five to ten minutes.
  7. Remove from the oven, and immediately glaze the top with honey, lathering freely with a pastry brush. Finally, lightly sprinkle sugar (or sift powdered sugar) on top of the honey glaze.
  8. Let the pie cool overnight. Flip the top end over onto a large tea towel. Then flip topside up onto a cake plate, or a pizza pan.

How to serve:

As for the pie-cutting ritual, there are numerous versions depending on local and family traditions. At my family’s home, my father says a little prayer, does “the cross” over the pie with a knife, then cuts the first pie slice for the “house” to bless the home with good luck for the New Year. My dad then proceeds to slice additional pieces by order of age from eldest to youngest. The recipient who finds the hidden coin is considered “blessed” for the entire year.

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