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Saint Basil's Cake

Editor's Note: Jennifer English, of The Food & Wine Radio Network, provided us with this recipe. She suggests using metal, not plastic or rubber, toys and trinkets. If using coins, always wash them or boil them first before wrapping them in waxed paper. Monopoly tokens work well. For something fancier, try using a Tiffany & Co. gift coin.

Saint Basil's Cake is a round, flat cake of Greek origin, having the texture of shortbread.

A coin or other trinkets are embedded in the dough, foretelling the finders' futures. These can be bought at stores specializing in party favors. Buy the usual button for a bachelor, thimble for an old maid, etc.; or you can assemble an assortment of small objects from ordinary household items. Wrap the items in waxed paper before putting them into the cake.

Among the many legendary rules associated with Saint Basil's Cake, the most important is that it should be made by the mistress of the house and no other, and she should wear her very best clothes and jewels while putting it together.

For some obscure reason no one is supposed to see the cutting of the cake, which is surreptitiously performed under a napkin. However, I feel sure one can dispense with this maneuver without offending the good saint.

Traditionally a round piece is first cut from the center of the cake with a glass tumbler. This piece is for Saint Basil. The Cake is then sliced in any thickness you want radiating from this circle.

The mixing is tedious, but the 60 minutes specified in the recipe can be divided into 10 to 15 minute intervals with coffee breaks in between. The fine texture achieved by the long kneading is really worth the trouble.

The same dough makes attractive small cakes in fancy shapes, gaily decorated or plain.

For a 10 inch cake:

  • 2 cups sweet butter
  • 4 tbsp confectioners sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • a coin and other favors wrapped in waxed paper
  • blanched almonds, dragees, candied fruits for decorating

Cream the butter and sugar thoroughly, then mix in the egg yolk and flavoring.

Sift the flour and baking powder and add it gradually, mixing well. Work the mixture together with the hands for 60 minutes. Note: It's very important to work the dough for the full 60 minutes!

Use an ungreased 10-inch round pan or skillet. Press the dough into the pan and embed the trinkets in the dough, hiding them well.

Smooth the top and prick it all over with a fork. Decorate the cake with nuts and fruit in any design pleasing to you. Bake for about 25 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (325 degrees with a glass pan) until it is very delicately browned.

Cool the cake for 10 minutes or so before taking it out of the pan.

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