The Greek New Year's Eve bread is know as Vassilopita in honor of Saint Basil, the saint patron celebrated on the first day of the year. It is really more a brioche, or a cake, than bread.
- Heat milk and butter together until the butter melts. Add sugar and wait until it is lukewarm. Pour milk, melted butter and sugar into a large bowl.
- Add one egg and beat until smooth. Repeat until all eggs have been incorporated. It is now the time to mix in the yeast.
- Stir in both types of citrus peel and salt. Incorporate flour gradually beating constantly. You should end with a ball of dough.
- Knead dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth and no longer sticky – it would take 5 to 10 minutes.
- Place dough in a large greased bowl and also brush gently the top with melted butter. Cover with plastic film or a clean tea towel. Leave to stand in a warm place until dough rises to double its original size. Time may vary and it can take up to 2 hours for the dough to rise enough.
- Knead dough, again on a floured surface, lightly - if you are going to put a coin, do it now – and give it a round shape, about 9 inches diameter.
- The dough needs to rise for a second time. Grease a baking sheet, place dough on top, cover and let stand until it has doubled in size again. It will take about 40 minutes.
- When the cake is close to the target size, preheat oven to 325° F.
- Decorate the top of the loaf with blanched almonds, bBrush evenly with egg yolk mixed with water and bake in the middle rack for 40 minutes, or until the desired golden brown color has been achieved.
The egg yolk gives this bead a beautiful golden brown color.
A coin is baked inside and the person who gets it when the bread is sliced, at midnight on New Year's Eve, will have the best of lucks in the coming year, or so the Greek tradition says. New Year's Eve it is also when Greek people exchange presents.
Greek New year's bread and surrounding traditions remind of the Roscón de Reyes eaten in Spain for Epiphany.
If you want to follow the tradition, you will also need a silver coin, new and clean, to hide in the bread.
Although this bread will bake in about 40 minutes, preparation will take about an hour, plus time spent rising.
Gently remove peel in small strips from the lemon and orange with a zester or a sharp potato peeler, without cutting any of the bitter white pith. Chop finely these strips with a knife. Alternatively, use candied citrus peel.
To activate the yeast, sprinkle it into ¼ cup (60 ml) warm water. Stir lightly and leave to stand until yeast has dissolved.
The mixture of butter and milk should not boil.
In step 4, if using an electric mixer, set it on low. you should not need to beat for longer than 5 minutes.
If necessary, knead in additional flour.
Wrap the coin in film or foil to protect the cake.
Instead of scatter them randomly, write the numerals of the New Year on top of the cake using the blanched almonds.