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Βασιλόπιτα - Greek New Year bread

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default Βασιλόπιτα - Greek New Year bread

Post by Chilli-head on 2nd January 2015, 11:46 am

Yesterday we spent the day with my FIL.  As well as being New year's day, it is also his birthday.  To help celebrate, I decided to bake a Greek Βασιλόπιτα - literally St Basil's pie, since it is St Basil's day.  It is somewhere between a bread and cake in texture, sweet, lightly spiced and very good with a cup of fresh coffee, Greek or otherwise.

An authentic recipe can be found here, but you might spot two problems. One, it is huge - less of a problem than you might imagine ! The more serious is that it uses two ingredients that will elude most of us - mastic (from the sap of a tree, which grows only on the island of Chios), and Malhepi, the kernels of a sort of cherry tree.  Fortunately, you can make a passable alternative:

Spice mixture:

1/2 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
3 cloves
1/2 cup water

Simmer gently for 20 minutes, strain.

1/2 cup milk
4 oz butter, + 1 for brushing.
4 oz sugar
pinch of salt

1.5 tsp easy blend yeast
scant 1/2 cup hand warm water
16 oz flour
2 eggs, + 1 for glazing
2 tblsp spice infusion, as above

Whole blanched almonds and sesame seed, to decorate.

Bring the milk to the boil, then melt in the 4 oz butter, and the sugar and salt  Leave to cool.  Meanwhile put the warm water and yeast in a large bowl to rehydrate.

When cooled to body temperature, add the milk mixture.  Beat in the eggs, and the spice infusion. Fold in the flour.  You might need to play by ear the quantity a bit; it should be a fairly soft dough, only enough flour to make it come together and leave the sides of the bowl.  

Knead for 15 minutes, then return to the bowl.  Brush the top with melted butter, cover the bowl, and leave to rise in a warm place for 2 hours.

Knock back, knead again for 2 minutes, shape into a round and put it in a large cake tin - 25-30 cm diameter will be a good size - which has been greased with butter, then dusted with flour.  The ball of dough should sit in the middle with a gap around it for rising space.  Cover, and rise again for 2 hours in a warm place.

Decorate the top with the almonds - forming the number of the year is traditional.  Brush with egg to glaze, sprinkle with sesame seeds to taste, bake at 175C for 40 mins or thereabouts - it should be well risen with a rich brown, glossy top. Let it cool for 20 mins in the tin before turning out.

I have omited one traditional ingredient, a lucky silver coin.  I decided that it would most likely be lucky for the dentist !  One final tip - a springform cake tin is ideal, because it makes it easier to unmould without dislodging the decorations off the top.
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