In honor of Serafina's Greek ancestors, I decided to bake a Vasilopita (or Saint Basil's Cake) to take to our New Year's Eve dinner at Lisa and Willy's house. I found a couple of different recipes but settled on this one, mostly so I had an excuse to buy a bottle of brandy. :)
I had to look up brandy on the internet, because I didn't know what kind to tell Keith to get at the store. So I learned something new...
"The origins of brandy are clearly tied to the development of distillation. Concentrated alcoholic beverages were known in ancient Greece and Rome. Brandy, as it is known today, first began to appear in the 12th century and became generally popular in the 14th century.
Initially wine was distilled as a preservation method and as a way to make the wine easier for merchants to transport. It was also thought that wine was originally distilled to lessen the tax which was assessed by volume. The intent was to add the water removed by distillation back to the brandy shortly before consumption. It was discovered that after having been stored in wooden casks, the resulting product had improved over the original distilled spirit. In addition to removing water, the distillation process leads to the formation and decomposition of numerous aroma compounds, fundamentally altering the composition of the distillate from its source. Non-volatile substances such as pigments, sugars, and salts remain behind in the still. As a result, the taste of the distillate may be quite unlike that of the original source. -from Wikipedia
Also according to the internet, Greek families cut this cake at midnight on New Year's Eve, or sometime on New Year's Day, or whenever they get together with their loved ones after Christmas and before Epiphany. The whole thing is sliced up and then the pieces are handed out, starting with the eldest person present and going on down the line to the youngest. Someone gets a slice with a coin inside, and that person will have extra special good luck in the coming year.
Keith and I had a long discussion about baking a coin into the cake. He didn't feel good about the idea, what if somebody swallowed it? I disagreed, but lack of a celebratory coin only got me thinking about my other options. In lieu of a coin I thought a piece of candy slipped into the cake from the bottom (after it was baked and cool) would do nicely, and since I have an extra pound of caramel in my fridge from our holiday candymaking, that's what I decided.
Ours went into the oven with nary a photo snapped in process. Why? Because Santa brought me a little radio that I can plug my spacephone into and listen to Pandora while I cook. And my phone is also my camera. So it stayed on the counter and played 3 Leg Torso radio to Keith and me while we beat the crap out of some eggs.
I love love love cooking with my husband. He is on the culinary adventure with me, not just carrying the heavy stuff for me. It doesn't hurt that he is strong and patient, since we don't have a Kitchenaid. He and I took turns zesting oranges, beating egg yolks, and whipping egg whites till soft peaks formed.
My cakes cracked a bit across the top, like a cornbread does, and so weren't particularly fit for the traditional dusting of powdered sugar/stencil of the new year date that I had planned, as seen here. Instead I whipped up a glaze for the top.
Caramel Brandy Glaze
- In a small saucepan combine 1/4 cup of caramels, 1/4 cup brandy and the juice of half an orange, and a teaspoon of butter.
- stir over low heat till caramels are melted and sauce is blended.
- pour over the top of the cake!