This is an Amish Friendship Bread variation of a traditional Greek New Year’s cake called vasilopita, which has a coin tucked inside to yield good luck and blessings in the coming year. Infused with the heady scent of oranges and lemons, and topped with a glossy sugar glaze, a smattering of sliced almonds, or a dusting of confectioners’ sugar, this is a fun and festive way to ring in the new year.
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Vasilopita is served at midnight on New Year’s Eve in celebration of Saint Basil, who asked the women in his church to bake a sweet bread with coins inside. This was how he could offer charity to the people in his community without embarrassing anyone. I love this spirit of generosity, which dovetails perfectly with Amish Friendship Bread. In my research there are bread-like versions (dotted with sesame seeds) and cake-like versions. I opted for the cake version.
Unless you have a gold coin handy, I discourage baking the coins directly into the bread as the metals may interact with the starter (Amish Friendship Bread pros know about this), which could cause discoloration and distaste of the cake. Some recommend wrapping a coin in aluminum foil and inserting it into the bottom of the cake while it’s cooling, although there has been talk about whether or not aluminum foil is safe, too (you can read more about that here). Since we were serving our cake right away, however, I went ahead and added a clean coin at the very end.
To make sure your coins are clean, add a tablespoon of salt to a small bowl (I had pink Himalayan but any will do). Add just enough white vinegar to make a paste. Rub the coin in the paste and then let it sit (you can also add a little more vinegar and let it soak until you’re ready to use it). Rinse well with warm water and dry.
When the cake is cut, the house is blessed and everyone receives good luck and blessings for the year, especially the one he finds the coin in his slice of cake. Just make sure people know ahead of time that a coin is hidden inside so nobody cracks a tooth by accident!
According to Elena Paravantes of Olive and Tomato, there’s a special way to cut the cake:
On New Year’s Eve when the clock strikes 12, after everyone wishes each other a happy new year, it is time for cutting the vasilopita. Traditionally there is a religious aspect, so the host of the house is the one who cuts the cake. The first piece is for Christ, the second for the virgin Mary, the third for the house and then follows a piece for the hosts, following by the oldest relatives and moving to the youngest. If a family member is away on a trip they are also included. We also included our pets.
If you are celebrating New Years’ s with friends and you are cutting a vasilopita, they all should get pieces. Anyone who is present at the gathering should get a piece.
I wanted a soft cake with a tender crumb, so I used cake flour. If you only have all-purpose flour on hand, that will work, too, just decrease the amount of flour from 2½ cups cake flour to 2¼ cups all-purpose flour.
The key to this recipe is NOT OVERMIXING. In a nutshell, combine wet and dry ingredients separately, then incorporate the wet ingredients into the dry.
Pour carefully into prepared two 8-inch round cake pans (I used the butter wrappers to grease my pans and added parchment paper on the bottom).
When the cake is cool enough to handle, carefully turn over and cut a small slit in the bottom (middle to center of cake). Insert a coin at an angle into the cake to prevent it from falling out, and to make sure it doesn’t poke through the other side.
You can top with slivered almonds, use a simple vanilla or lemon glaze, or dust with confectioners’ sugar. Since each recipe yields two cakes (one for you and one for a friend), I did one with a simple glaze (almond milk, citrus zest and confectioners’ sugar) and the other with confectioners’ sugar.
If you want to try a grown-up version (21 years and older), add ¼ cup brandy to the recipe and reduce the orange juice to ½ cup. Instead of the regular glaze, combine 1 cup confectioners’ sugar with just enough Grand Marnier to achieve a good drizzle consistency, about 2 to 3 tablespoons.
Amish Friendship Bread Vasilopita (Greek New Year’s Cake)
Topping (if not using glaze)
- 1 cup almonds slivered
Glaze (if not using topping)
- Preheat oven to 350° F (177° C) and place rack in center of oven.
- Grease two 8″ round cake pans.
- Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Create a well in the center of the flour mixture.
- In a medium mixing bowl, cream the starter, butter, sugar, orange and lemon zests, then add the beaten eggs and orange juice. Mix well.
- Slowly add wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just incorporated. Be careful not to overmix!
- Carefully add batter into prepared cake pans and smooth the top with a spatula. If not glazing afterwards, top with almonds.
- Bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean.
- Allow to cool for five minutes then turn out onto a cooling rack. Once you are able to handle the cake, cut a small slit at the bottom and tuck a clean coin into each cake (if you prefer, you can wrap the coin in aluminum foil).
- If glazing, drizzle glaze over cakes while still warm, or wait until cake cools and top with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar.
- The host should slice the cake, with a slice for each member of the household.
>> Have you tried this? Give the recipe some stars and leave a comment below letting us know how it worked for you!