Vasilopita – Greek lemon cake – and the male and female brains

Her brain, his brain…

My wife recently posted on Facebook a small but telling experience that astonished her. She said she was thinking simultaneously about her elderly parents and their needs, major political developments in Maine she’s involved in, the demands of her new job working with local schools, a recent phone conversation with the father of her very best friend who died too young of cancer last fall, and a number of other weighty things that threw her mind onto different trajectories. Then she asked, as we sat together and I seemed  deep in thought, what I was thinking of.

“What are you thinking about?”

“Gene Chandler.”

True. I had in my head Gene Chandler, the guy who sang “Duke of Earl” and “Groovy Situation.” 1960s, ’70s. I was wondering why such a great talent had just two big hits, one of them a doowop-y novelty song.

When she asks what I’m thinking about, I tell her, no matter how trivial. I was thinking of one thing. A guy, a singer. Just one thing, while she was consumed with many things.

So we agreed: when her brain is working, it’s like GPS with SIRI on overload (show me every Elm St. in America), while my brain works more in little, confined boxes with solid walls and no escape. Gene Chandler. Why just two hits?? I mean, c’mon!

It’s been said, and widely discussed, that men’s brains are tightly compartmented and ultra-focused, while women’s brains are alive with a gazillion cross-hemisphere neuronic firings enveloping all of humanity, the planet, the universe, and more. I say “it’s been said” because I won’t say it myself, being not so sure that it’s true. Those who dare traverse this delicate terrain tend to do so with tongue partly in cheek, or at least with affectionate humility, but it’s still risky business, and I wouldn’t want to categorize either men or women in any specific way. But still, my wife’s brain was buzzing with multiple issues, and mine had momentarily settled on Gene Chandler. Go figure.

Here’s a well-known riff on male and female brains. Funny-ish.

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I was hoping to post a terrific recipe for beef provençal, which we made last week, but that’ll have to wait till we get it right. The recipe calls for speck, which is —

An Italian cured, smoked meat native to the Alto Adige, a region that straddles Northern Italy and Southern Austria. To make speck, a boned pork leg is cured in salt, and spices like laurel and juniper, then intermittently slow-smoked, using pine or juniper wood for several months.

— and which makes it completely unavailable to most of us on the Midcoast. Rumor had it that prosciutto was an okay substitute, so we went with that. Big Mistake! The finished dish was such a salt bomb that the best I could do was stare at my plate (beef provençal is pretty to look at, with tomatoes, carrots, parsley) with wistful remorse, wondering what could have been.

Instead, let’s have dessert.

Vasilopita – Greek New Year’s Cake

 

Vasilopita! This is a traditional Greek and Balkan bready, lemony cake traditionally served on New Year’s Day. Addictively delicious! The cute part of this cake is that you hide a coin in the cake after baking – the person who gets a piece with the coin in it has good luck for the whole year! Thanks to www.olivetomato.com for this treat.

What’s intriguing about this dessert is that it’s more bread-like than cake-like.

You’ll need:
  • 1 cup + 2 tbsp. bread flour (or hard flour)
  • 2 tsps. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup + 1 tbsp olive oil
  • zest from 2 lemons
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • 4 egg yolks and whites, separated
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 tbsp. brandy or cognac
  • 3 1/2 oz. low fat Greek yogurt
  • 2 1/2 oz. finely ground almonds
  • Powdered sugar
Here’s what to do:
  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • In a medium bowl. mix flour, baking powder, and baking soda.
  • In a large bowl, mix olive oil, zest and sugar. When well-blended, add the yogurt and mix well. Then add vanilla and cognac and mix in.
  • Mix the egg yolks with the lemon juice. Add this to the olive oil mix and blend in. Then add the ground almonds and mix well.
  • With a wooden spoon, combine the flour mixture with the oil mixture, stirring gently. Don’t overmix.
  • Beat the egg whites until they form peaks. then gently fold into the batter.
  • Use an 8″ cake pan (not that common, by the way). Line the bottom with wax paper. Grease the whole pan and sprinkle with flour. Now pour in the batter – it will be quite thick.
  • Bake for 40 to 50 minutes till the top of the cake is browned. Check the cake with a toothpick for doneness.
  • Remove cake from oven and let cool. Then remove it from the pan and let it cool some more. Finally, turn the cake upside down and remove the wax paper..
  • Wrap a coin in tin foil. Push the coin somewhere into the cake (avoid the center, since you’ll be slicing the cake like pie…). Now turn right side up again, sprinkle the top with powdered sugar, and add any designs you want (we used dried apricots).

We served this cake after lunch with my mechanical advisor and his wife. Knowing they made frequent trips to Canada, we found a “twonie” as the coin of choice and, sure enough, it ended up with my mechanical advisor. Just as we’d hoped.

We also trotted out extra brandy and rum for our guests to dribble on the cake for a little extra fun.

There it is, for now.

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My books here…

Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is a writer, novelist, crossword puzzle constructor, humorist, traveler through 49 states, and at times a danger in the kitchen. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.