vassilopita with pomegranate for the enigmatic Erato

My very beautiful friend Erato (and an Oxford scholar of Hellenic Studies) has been really annoying me for the past two days. Pestering is perhaps a more accurate depiction of her approach. In any event, she has been trying to get me to share with her the recipe for a vassilopita I made last year.  The special touch is the pomegranate seeds. Unlike the previous recipe, which is more of a sweet bread, this one is a cake.  Both variations are to be found in Greek households around New Year's.

5 large free-range eggs (at least, if not organic), yolks and whites separated
1 cup caster sugar
2 sticks of unsalted softened (but not fully melted) butter (~16 tablespoons)
1 cup orange juice (Tropicana, with bits, do not use the cheap stuff)
½ cup of Grand Marnier
4 cups quality all-purpose flour (sifted)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 teaspoon of baking soda (NaHCO3)
zest of 2 oranges
zest of 1 lemon
1 cup of confectioner sugar
seeds from 1 pomegranate
whole blanched almonds (lightly toasted/roasted)

  1. Preheat oven to 185 degrees Celsius.
  2. Take a large bowl, and with a hand-held electric mixer, beat the egg yolks and the sugar until you have gotten a very smooth, creamy consistency (yellow in colour) – for about 3.5 minutes. Add the butter and beat for just over 1 minute. Finish off by adding your OJ (remember, do not get the ‘from concentrate’ Tesco’s brand just because it’s cheaper) and the Grand Marnier. Beat all ingredients for 1 more minute.
  3. In another large bowl, take a metal whisk and mix the flour with the baking powder, baking soda, and orange + lemon zests (if for whatever reason your market ran out of lemons and oranges, it’s not the end of the world, but it’s an importantly added touch to this recipe). Then, add this flour mixture ½ cup at a time INTO the yolk/sugar mixture, stirring with a plastic/rubber spatula.
  4. In a separate large bowl, beat egg whites until you get soft peaks with mixer (provided you have cleaned the beaters). Using your plastic spatula, fold in carefully the egg whites into your batter and mix slowly until you get an even consistency. 
  5. Pour batter into a greased 9-10 inch pan, and bake the cake in the oven for about 50-60 minutes. Do NOT open the oven for the first 35-40 minutes, otherwise you run the risk of the cake not rising properly. Around 45 minutes, open the oven and insert a toothpick into the centre of the cake. If the toothpick comes out clean, and you have a nice golden brown colour on the top of the cake, your creation is done! Cool cake on a rack for about 30 minutes, and then remove from the pan.
  6. Dust the confectioner sugar on top of the cake, and use almonds to write out the letters of the year ‘2009’.
  7. The final touch before serving is all about the pomengranate seeds. Take them and arrange them around the rim where the cake meets the serving plate. If you wish, you can also disperse some on top of the cake.

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