For our family’s New Year’s Day brunch party, I make food from many traditions that are thought to bring good luck in the New Year. Since my go-to way to express myself is with food, most of the food at the brunch is designed to bring good luck or fortune to our friends who come to the party! Treats at this year’s party include panettone, linzer torte cookies, benne seed wafers, Texas Black-eyed Pea Caviar, Hoppin’ John, pink-eyed pea relish, sweet and spicy collard greens, grits, kale salad, cotechino con lenticchie, cornbread, pomegranates, pig shaped cookies and donuts, pickled herring, bagels and smoked salmon spread, noodle salad, clementine, grapes, tamales, and vasilopita.
One tradition I’ve embraced is making vasilopita, a Greek cake with a hidden good luck coin inside. Traditionally, the person who gets the slice with the coin is rewarded with good luck that year. To stack the deck to ensure good luck for everyone at the party, I make dozens of small cakes in mini muffin pans and put a chocolate gold coin in each. I leave the wrapper on the coins, so it stays round…with a note by the plate about why there’s a coin at the bottom of the cake. In early fall, I intentionally buy a two-pound container of bittersweet Belgian gelt for our Chanukah celebration knowing I’ll have plenty left over for the vasilopita plus plenty of good luck coins to put out for the New Year’s Day party!
There seem to be as many variations on vasilopita as there are recipes. Most are almond, and many have orange flavor. This is my recipe that I’ve tweaked for years until I had the perfect tea cake texture and the heavenly combination of almond, orange and vanilla. I’ve even added my own Jewish spin on the vasilopita. I add the crunchy honey almond topping I make for the my good luck Rosh Hashanah honey cakes for the Jewish New year which is in the fall. The cake can also be baked in a 9” round pan with one coin wrapped in foil baked in it…but then not everyone would have good luck!
1 ½ cup sifted flour
1/3 cup finely ground almonds or almond meal
3 Tbs almond paste
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp kosher salt
½ cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp fresh orange zest (from 1 orange)
1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
Almond Honey Crunch Topping
4 Tbs unsalted butter
4 Tbs light brown sugar
4 Tbs honey
¾ cup sliced almonds
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bring all ingredients to room temperature before starting recipe
- Line 18 muffin tins, 36 mini muffin tins with parchment squares or muffin liners. Or lightly grease a 9″ cake pan and line bottom with a parchment circle.
- Make Almond Honey Crunch Topping: In medium saucepan add butter, light brown sugar and honey and cook on medium until butter melts. Whisk until combined. Add almonds and set aside to cool.
- In medium bowl whisk flour, ground almonds, baking powder, and salt and set aside
- In mixing bowl beat butter, sugar, and almond paste until light and fluffy.
- Add eggs one at a time
- Add orange juice, zest, and vanilla and mix until well incorporated. Add flour mixture. Us a sturdy spatula to mix just until all ingredients are incorporated.
- Place coin at bottom of each cake and fill muffin tins 1/3 full. Batter is thick.
- Bake cakes until lightly browned and set 15-20. Remove from oven and top with 1 tsp Almond Honey Crunch Topping. Return to oven for 4 more minutes to set topping on cake.