Hello summer. Let’s eat cake.
Not just any cake. A French yogurt cake. Which is really a lighter version of pound cake. And by lighter, I mean less dense. Which might make it a half-pound cake. Maybe? Maybe not.
So, let’s talk.
As lore goes, yogurt cake is one of the few cakes that French people actually bake at home. Seriously, would you bake cakes if you had access to the best pâtisseries and boulangeries mere steps from your kitchen? The French take their pastries very seriously - while a boulangerie is a bakery specializing in breads, a pâtisserie is a legally controlled substance, and can only be called such if it employs a licensed maître pâtissier (master pastry chef). Yes, licensed.
The lore continues that this cake is so easy that children make it. It uses as a measuring cup a standard yogurt tub, measuring a half-cup. Two tubs yogurt, about one tub oil, two tubs sugar, four tubs flour, a smidge of leaveners, two eggs, a quick stir, and into the pan. If you’re like me, let’s also count the dishes to wash. One bowl, one spoon, one cake pan, one cooling rack. The yogurt tub goes right into the trash.
I set out to test the lore because in my several summers spent in France, I never met anyone who baked this cake. I asked all of my French friends, every single one of them, and none of them have every baked this cake. Neither have their mothers or grandmothers. The only French friends of mine who have ever tasted a yogurt cake are the ones that I’ve fed.
So yogurt cake is more folklore than lore, more fairytale than truth. It’s a cake that began once upon a time in a land far, far away. Little Red Riding Hood would carry it in her basket on the way to Grandmother’s house. The witch would feed it to Hansel to fatten him up. Snow White would bake it for the dwarves. Goldilocks would gobble it up while the bears were out on a walk.
Fresh from the oven, the cake’s crisp golden top and crunchy edges give way to moist messy crumbs that cling to your fork. Once cooled, the cake slices neatly and its lemon-yogurt tart and tang intensify. The next morning, a quick toast revives the last few slices. They emerge with a dusting of caramelized crumbs that soak up a slather of butter.
There may be no happily ever after, but this cake comes close.
Lemon yogurt cake
This is an easy, one bowl cake that doesn’t require a stand mixer, just a whisk and a spatula. I modified a recipe from Bon Appétit, adding a bit more lemon flavor with juice and replacing full-fat Greek yogurt with non-fat plain yogurt. The resulting cake rises a lot, with that classic pound cake golden hump and a cracked top. Serve it with berries – my favorites are blueberries and raspberries. The cake is great the next morning toasted and slathered with butter.
- Nonstick oil spray
- 1 C sugar
- 1 medium lemon for zest and juice
- 3/4 C non-fat or low-fat yogurt
- 1/2 C vegetable oil
- 2 large eggs
- 1 t vanilla
- 1 1/2 C flour
- 1 t baking powder
- 3/4 t salt
Prep. Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Spray a loaf pan (8.5 X 4.25 or 9 X 5) with oil.
Rub. In a large bowl, rub the lemon zest into the sugar with your fingers until really fragrant. This releases the oil in the zest and will make your cake really lemony.
Whisk. Add the juice of the lemon, yogurt, oil, eggs, and vanilla and whisk until smooth.
Stir. With a spatula, stir in the flour, baking powder and salt until smooth.
Bake. Pour the batter into the pan and smooth out the top. Bake for 50-55 minutes until the top is golden and a toothpick comes out clean.
Cool. Let cake cook in the pan for 15 minutes and then remove from pan and turn onto a rack. Let cool completely (at least 30 minutes) before cutting if you want pretty slices. Or dig in when the cake is still warm and clean up the cut edge after it cools (you know, so it looks pretty for company).