This is the first in a series of features I’m calling “Challenge:Accepted!” wherein I propose a challenge to myself having to do with some aspect of living in Paris or traveling around the world and I accept that challenge. Totally normal. This particular feature will be called “From the French Kitchen”. In it, I challenge myself to explore French ingredients and French home cooking traditions by cooking or baking 5 dishes I’ve never made before. These will be more from the traditional home cooking than the Julia Child/Jaques Pepin classical way, if only because I have no interest in making an aspic. My first choice is this Gâteau au Yaourt, or Yogurt Cake, which is perfect for reasons fivefold: it’s simple, has a quaint story to the recipe, I’m obsessed with yogurt and the cups they come in, it can be easily made with ingredients from American grocery stores so you can try it at home and it is super versatile and can be made as pure or as fancy as you like.
The recipe is simple: 2 parts yogurt (plain, whole milk), 2 parts sugar, a bit less than 1 part oil, 4 parts flour*. Add 2 eggs, baking powder and soda, a pinch of salt and any flavorings you wish to add, et voilà! The ingenious bit is that these “parts” are traditionally the yogurt cup itself, making it a simple, easy, dish-free way to measure. (Assuming your yogurt cups are a half-cup each, although it worked when I used a slightly smaller yogurt cup and adjusted the rest of the volumes accordingly.) It is also a perfect recipe for young bakers, and one that is often the first dish a child learns to make. Its just the perfect anytime cake- easy to make, easy to eat, infinitely versatile, and you may just have the ingredients to make it right now.
Gâteau au Yaourt
- 1 cup plain, whole milk yogurt
- 1 cup sugar (or ¾ for a less sweet cake)
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 large eggs
- 1 2/3 cup flour
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- pinch of salt
- Optional additions, see “Flavor Ideas” below
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, 177 degrees Celsius.
- Grease a 10 x 10 round pan** with oil and line with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl mix together yogurt, sugar, oil and vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each, and mix well.
- Over the same bowl, sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. If, like me, you don’t have a sifter, I recommend whisking dry ingredients well in a separate bowl before adding to the wet so that you don’t end up with unpleasant baking soda lumps in your cake. She said from experience.
- Mix until incorporated.
- Pour batter into pan and spread evenly with a spatula.
- Bake for 30-45 minutes. Mine took only 30 minutes in a convection oven, with a regular oven it would take longer, and if you’ve added extra liquids or very wet fruits it could take 40-45 minutes. A toothpick or knife inserted into the center of cake should come out clean. Let cool 10 minutes before turning out onto a plate.
Some Flavor Ideas!
The recipe as written above is very simple and fairly begs to be gussied up with a favorite flavor, whatever is in season or what you have on hand. These are some ideas, not all of which I’ve tested, mostly because my taster will not go near a dessert with citrus, but I think this cake can handle almost anything.
Rum: A very traditional French addition, add 1 tablespoon of dark rum to batter.
Apricot/Pear/Peach: Also classic French, add ½- 1 cup chopped fresh or canned apricots, pears or peaches to batter.
Lemon and poppy seed: Add ¼ cup lemon juice, zest of one lemon and ¼ cup poppy seeds to batter at the end.
Lime: Add ¼ cup lime juice and zest of one lime to batter at the end.
Apple and Brown Sugar: Replace sugar with brown sugar and add ½-1 cup chopped, peeled apple to batter, or layer slices on top of cake before baking for an elegant presentation.
Blueberry/Raspberry: Add ½-1 cup fresh or frozen berries to batter.
Chocolate: Why not? Stir dark chocolate chunks or chips into batter. Could be very nice with pears too.
Olive oil: Use olive oil for the vegetable oil for a slightly fragrant cake, almost savory cake. Remove vanilla and maybe add pears and rosemary.
*Like all good classic recipes, these proportions will be different depending on which French person you ask.
**Let’s be real here, use whatever pan you have. I feel certain you can try a loaf pan or muffin tins if you want to and just adjust cooking time.