Wall Street Greek welcomes the contribution of a new Greek master. Our regular Greek Cooking Columnist Pinelope has been keeping a big secret from us. His name is Nikolaos, and he will be sharing many of his treasured Greek recipes over the next few months along with Pinelope.
My husband Nikolaos shares his long treasured recipe for Greek New Year's bread, known as Vasilopita. Nick is a wonderful chef, having learned much of the skill from his father, who was the preferred chef for the private parties of several important Greek ship owners residing in New Rochelle, New York.
Ingredients: Makes 12 to 14 loaves of 1 pound each and the Vasilopita of 2 pounds in weight
You may divide the ingredients for a lesser quantity of loaves, but when Nick cooks Greek New Year's or Easter Bread, he makes enough to share with our many friends and neighbors who look forward to its delivery with great anticipation.
9 Pounds of All Purpose Flour
2 3/4 lbs. Granulated Sugar
1 lb. Unsalted Butter
8 Envelopes of Dry Yeast (1/4 oz. each)
1 Stick of Cinnamon
3 Bay Leaves
2 Teaspoons Mahlepi (found at your local Greek store – from the seeds of the St. Lucie Cherry)
1 8 oz. Glass Warm Milk
1 ½ Cups of Lukewarm Water
Aromatic Liquid: Boil a cup of water, adding in the bay leaves, cinnamon stick and a 1 ½ teaspoons of mahlepi until you smell the essence of the aromas. Then set it aside for later use.
Ground the remaining mahlepi from the standard little jar they are sold in (perhaps 2 teaspoons or more of it) and save it for later use as well.
Dissolve the yeast into 1 ½ cups of lukewarm water
Make a hole or clearing in the center of the flour
Place yeast mixture there and mix flour into the yeast
Cover the bowl with aluminum foil or linen towel
While it sits...
Place room temperature butter into a mixer bowl and cream it
While the butter is mixing, add egg yolks to the butter as you separate them from the whites, while saving the whites of the eggs
Add your sugar to the mixture until mixed well
While it's mixing...
Beat the egg whites into a stiff meringue
Add the three mixtures (egg yolk butter, whites meringue and aromatic liquid) to the flour
Add the ground mahlepi
Add the milk as well
Knead the dough until it comes together
Cover the dough with aluminum foil or a linen towel
Allow to rise until it doubles in size
Knead it down and size out loaves (1 lb each for braided loaves and 2 lbs. for the Vasilopita)
Forming the Loaves
Forming the Vasilopita:
This is your round New Year's loaf
You'll need a 2 pound piece of dough for this
Take a dime, wash it and wrap it in aluminum foil
Place it into the dough as you form the loaf
Form the dough into a circular shape for the Vasilopita or Greek New Year Bread
Take pieces of dough to label the bread with the number of the New Year
Be sure to account for the expansion of the dough and numbers so that they are legible once expanded
Forming the braided loaves:
Take the one pound dough piece and break it into three equal pieces (or 2, one twice the size of the other)
Roll them out until they are about 11 inches long or 11 and 22 inches if you make it the alternate way
Connect the three at a point and braid them as if you were braiding hair, pinching them together at the close. Or wrap the long piece around like a horse shoe and place the other in the center, and begin braiding
Place on cookie sheet with wax paper, leaving enough space between to account for rising (3 per sheet)
Cover with linen towels in a warm place, and let rise again to double their size
Beat 2 or 3 eggs and brush the surface of each loaf
Place into a preheated oven and cook at 350 degrees
Cook until they have a nice golden brown color (30 to 35 minutes or until browned if longer, as ovens will vary)
The Custom of Cutting the Vasilopita:
Greek families the world over honor an annual custom of cutting the Vasilopita or Greek New Year Bread as a family unit for good luck through the New Year. Greeks have extended this ceremonial cutting to include extended families, or organizations. The cutting of the Vasilopita thus offers loved ones and friends a chance to come together to celebrate the New Year.
While tradition may vary from place to place and family to family, in our Greek Orthodox family, we cut slices for each member, but we start with a slice for Jesus Christ. The second slice is for our home, and then come the elders of the family and each member, incorporating all who live in the home. Only one piece will contain the coin, and the person who receives this piece will enjoy a blessing of the best luck through the New Year. On occasion, the coin may fall in between pieces, in which case we like to say the luck is shared.
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