sweet bread of basil
Everyone as he is able, should try to heal (with kindness) anyone who has something against him.
Saint Basil the Great
The Fathers Speak (p. 55)
It is a cherished tradition bearing the leaven of hope toward the coming year and the further redemption of our time here, in Christ, that Orthodox Christians bake this sweet bread of orange and lemon to ring in the new year.
The bread is called vasilopita which means the sweet bread of basil. It’s namesake is a humble holy bishop Saint Basil the Great whose heart compelled him during a time of famine to help the poor. It was a time of merciless and unfair taxation. The Bishop confronted the emperor who had levied the tax, calling him to repentance for the harsh burden he placed upon the people.
Amazingly, the emperor did repent and he returned the gold and jewelry that had been taken from the townspeople. Basil and the villagers offered thanksgiving prayers after which the Holy Bishop commissioned women to bake and place the gold coins into a sweet bread which were then distributed. Miraculously each family found in their bread, their own valuables which had been collected as part of the taxation.
Today, the vasilopita is baked in memory of that miracle forged by God and Saint Basil’s faith, love and shepherding of his people. Each year on January 1st– the date on which St. Basil reposed in the Lord , Orthodox Christians observe the tradition of the Vasilopita. The recipient of the coin is considered especially blessed.
This is the first year our family has ever made the vasilopita. There are many regional variations to the bread, yet a taster will find that all of the recipes are sweet and authentic!
This particular recipe is adapted from my “go to” Greek Cookbook by Aglaia Kremezi The Foods of the Greek Islands. She gives a rich history of her recipes and I appreciate her anecdote that butter and eggs were luxuries in Greece during times past. What I love about the old way of Greek cooking is that by using the brandy the texture of the flour totally changes into a nice bread texture. There is no yeast in this bread, instead the brandy adds to the leaven quality of the dough.
- 4 large eggs, separated
- 1 cup sugar
- 12 tablespoons melted butter (1-1/2 sticks)
- 1-1/2 cups orange juice
- 1/2 cup brandy
- 4 cups all purpose flour
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
- grated zest of two oranges and two lemons
- whole blanched almonds and /or powdered sugar to decorate
- Preheat oven to 375F.
- Grease a 10 – 12 inch springform pan
- In a large bowl beat egg yolks, zest and powdered sugar (this releases the essential oils from the zest) for about three minutes.
- Add butter and beat for an additional minute
- Add orange juice and brandy, beat until it is incorporated.
- Whisk the flour, baking powder and baking soda in a separate bowl. This makes sure that you will not have any clumps of the baking powder and baking soda but that it will be totally distributed.
- Add to the liquid mixture and stir until incorporated.
- In separate bowl (I actually use a mason jar with a hand held electric stick mixer so that it does not splatter everywhere) whip the egg whites until soft peaks form.
- Fold the egg whites into the batter. Pour batter into the greased springform pan.
- Place clean coin (my daughter found a euro coin for one and a dime for another)
- Bake for 45 minutes to an hour until gold brown.
- Decorate with almonds and/ or powdered sugar.
May we all be especially blessed in the coming New Year!