Sunday, January 4, 2009

Vasilopita - Greek New Year's Bread

On New Year's Day, the Greeks have a really tasty tradition: You are served a delicious Vasilopita! There are 2 forms of this: a cake and a bread. Both are super yummy, and also share a lucky surprise - a coin! Whoever gets the coin is considered the lucky one for the year. (My mother in law got it this year, by the way!)

Although I do like the cake, I chose to make the bread version for my first attempt at Vasilopita. This is my mother in law's recipe. She showed me it during a spanakopita and bread lesson. My mother also makes a very tasty bread version, but I did not have some of the ingredients that she uses, so I opted for this recipe. The only thing is, I never got any really accurate measurements. Instead of 1 cup or 2 cups, my recipe lesson called for 1 water glass of this and 1 soup bowl of that. I couldn't remember exactly how big my mother inlaw's water glass and soup bowls were, so I played it by ear.

My sister in law was also making a bread version, and it was fun calling each other to see how our doughs were rising. I can tell you we both weren't fully confident until it got out of the oven. Not to worry, we both came up victorious in this sweet holiday adventure!

RECIPE - more or less!

2 bowls of flour (cereal/soup bowl)
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 cup vegetable oil (I used a dry measuring cup)
1 bowl warm water
1 1/2 teaspoons yeast
1 shot and a half of ouzo
some sugar
sesame seeds
icing sugar to dust

Get the Yeast Going
Fill your bowl up with warm water, and a little bit of sugar. I added close to a teaspoon, I think. Then add the yeast.

Mix the Dry Ingredients

While the yeast gets ready, add the flour, cinnamon, ground cloves and brown sugar. Stir it up and add the vegetable oil. With your hands, mix the ingredients together to form a crumbly mixture.

Forming the Dough
You can mix by hand, but with a baby in the house, I find it easier to use my beloved Kitchen Aid Mixer! With the dough hook going, add the water and yeast mix and then add in the ouzo. If the dough looks a bit dry, add some more water. I also added another swish of vegetable oil. Get this mixed until it forms a bowl and nothing sticks to the sides of the bowl.

Rise Dough, Rise!
Flip this fragrant dough on to a larger bowl, and add a drop of vegetable oil on top, so a skin does not form. Cover with a clean towel and let rise in a warm place for 2 hours, or until doubled.

Punch and Rise Some More!
After this first rising, hand knead and punch away at the dough for a good 5-10 minutes. Save some dough for decorations later, and use the rest to form a nice sized loaf. I used I spring form pan for mine, but you can use a baking sheet too. I rubbed a bit of vegetable oil on the sides and bottom of the pan, and dusted the bottom with some flour and sesame seeds. Once you get your loaf in there, cut a slit into the top, and hide your coin, making sure to seal the dough again.

Some Coin Advice
Instead of a regular coin, try going to the coin shop and picking up an inexpensive collectible that no one is used to seeing. You can get some neat ones for less than 5 bucks! Wash the coin well, and wrap in tin foil. (I hate it when dough gets stuck on the coin, so this is a good tip!)

Decorate and Rise Again
Now you can decorate! Brush the loaf with an egg wash of beaten egg and water. Take the extra dough you saved and make whatever decorations you want to cover the top of the bread. I made some swirls. Once fully decorated, brush the loaf with the egg wash again, and top with sesame seeds. Set loaf aside for an hour and a half, or until doubled again.

Bake and Wait
After the second rise, place in a preheated oven, at 350 degrees for an hour. TIPS: keep an eye on it! If it rises a lot, you may need to lower the rack. Also, if it browns too quickly, lightly cover with foil.

Sugar Shower
Once the bread is baked, let it cool, and dust with icing sugar. I spritz the top with water to make a bit of an icing. This also helps the sugar from falling off the cake.

Now, cut and enjoy - on New Year's Day of course! Happy New year's and have fun finding the coin.

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