May 18, 2011

French yogurt cake with lemon

I started thinking about baking a yogurt cake when I was reading A Homemade Life and Molly Wizenberg had a recipe for it in the book.  Then one day recently, I stumbled upon this post from  With the arrival of spring, I guess it was time to start thinking about lighter, fresher dessert options (although I'm ready for a chocolate cake any time of day/year).  So I mentally filed the yogurt cake as something to try soon and I finally got around to it.  Remember that recipe for banana bread with chocolate?  Well, I'm happy to report that it has become a new family favorite and I've made it several times since that post.  I just baked a few loaves recently and had plenty of extra yogurt on hand so it was the perfect time to tackle the French yogurt cake.
I did a bit of research and consulted a few recipes before starting on this cake.  It's a simple cake but there are many variations from a plain one to lime, lemon, and vanilla or almond scented options along with glazes or fruit sauces as accompaniment.  But first, I learned that this is a French yogurt cake because it's often the first cake a French child learns to bake.  And I also read somewhere that this is one of just a few desserts a French family will make at home since there are so many amazing patisseries in France.  This makes total sense to me.  I'm not sure I would bake as much as I do if I had access to the caliber of pastry that's so widely available in France. 
In the end, I decided to make a fairly plain French yogurt cake, accented with a bit of lemon, which I love.  Specifically, I used the zest and juice of one lemon to add just a little bit of zip.  This cake is quite similar to the Italian orange cake I wrote about last month.  I would say that the yogurt here makes this cake a bit more dense but in the most moist way possible.  The yogurt and lemon give the cake a bit of tang but it's not overpowering and the cake by no means tastes like yogurt.

I also decided to forgo any type of glaze or fruit sauce (well, initially...see details at the end of the post).  I wanted to keep it straightforward and simple and I'm just personally not into fruit sauces/jams/marmalade although it certainly looks beautiful.  However, my husband was tasting this and he could totally visualize this cake being accompanied by a raspberry or strawberry sauce.  In fact, it could even take a chocolate glaze or whipped cream.  The cake, being relatively neutral and "clean", is a good partner for any number of creative accompaniments.  I would be interested in making this cake again with an almond twist, using some almond extract.  In some recipes, a portion of the flour is substituted with ground almonds; that would obviously be more work but I have a feeling it would be quite tasty.
Although there is no raspberry in the cake itself, I think lemon and raspberry are a good flavor combination

Here, I've gathered the ingredients I'll be using to make this basic French yogurt cake.  There's no butter in this recipe.  The moisture is coming from 1/3 cup of canola oil and a cup of whole milk plain yogurt.  Being the simple cake that it is, everything can be mixed in one big bowl.  No major equipment necessary.
In my research for a recipe for this cake, I read a tip from cookbook author and expert on all things French-culinary, Dorie Greenspan.  She recommends using your hands and rubbing the lemon zest into the sugar to really bring out the flavor and natural oils in the zest.  Dorie Greenspan has worked with famous French pastry chef, Pierre Hermé, and I've also seen him say this about the lemon and sugar on a cooking show he appeared on.  So that's what I did with a bit of the sugar.
In a big glass bowl, I put in the yogurt, canola oil, sugar and lemon zest, along with the juice of the lemon.  Whisk until combined and then add eggs one at a time and whisk each in to incorporate.

When all the wet ingredients have been whisked together, I sift the dry mixture of flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt on top and stir everything together with a rubber spatula.  You can even continue to mix using the whisk and have one less thing to clean but I love to use my spatula.
The batter goes into a 9 inch cake pan, which I've sprayed with oil and lined with a piece of parchment paper.  It bakes in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 35-40 minutes until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
The result is a very moist cake, with just a bit of lemon flavor.  I think this cake tastes better the day after it's made; it seemed to get lighter and fluffier. 
I like it just plain, with a light dusting of confectioners' sugar.  It's very fresh and clean.
But on the other hand, I did have a little raspberry and heavy cream in the fridge so I tried a little experiment and made raspberry whipped cream to go with the cake for my husband.
As it turns out, we think whipped cream is too heavy for this cake and masked the raspberry flavor too much.  It would've been better to omit the cream and just use the strained raspberry juice, sweetened a little, on its own.  But it was worth a try...
And oh look, it's Pac-Man!

The recipe:

French Yogurt Cake with Lemon
Adapted from recipes featured on Smitten Kitchen, Orangette, and Chocolate & Zucchini

1 cup whole milk yogurt
1/3 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
zest of one lemon
juice of one lemon
2 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9 inch round cake pan with vegetable spray, line the bottom with a round of parchment paper, and lightly spray parchment.

Gently rub lemon zest into sugar for a minute to release the natural oils from the zest.  Place the sugar and lemon zest mixture, along with the yogurt, canola oil, vanilla, and the juice of the lemon, into a large bowl.  Whisk well to combine.  Add eggs one at a time, whisking each into the batter.  Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt on top of the batter.  Stir the dry ingredients into the wet using a rubber spatula.  Mix until you no longer see streaks of flour but do not overmix.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, lightly smoothing the top.  Bake for approximately 35-40 minutes.  When done, the cake should be lightly browned and a toothpick or cake tested inserted into the cake should come out clean.  Cool cake on a cooling rack for about 15 minutes.  Then turn the cake out onto a serving plate. 

This cake can be served after cooling for about 30 minutes or so.  The corners are nice and crusty at this point.  But overall, I prefer the texture of the cake the day after it was made.  You can wrap the cake in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for several days.

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