February 18, 2013

Lemon yogurt loaf cake

Do you eat or cook a lot with yogurt?  I don't eat yogurt on its own (but I'm going to work on that), unless frozen yogurt counts, but I have gotten into the habit of cooking with it in recent years.  I buy whole-milk yogurt pretty often to bake this banana bread and with plenty left over in the tub after doing that, I automatically make chocolate yogurt snack cakes for my son, who adores them.  Lately, I've also been using the yogurt to marinate chicken with tandoori spices to make chicken tikka marsala.

But I hate seeing things go to waste (more and more so as I get older) so I still find myself  scrounging around for new inspiration and good uses for that yogurt.  This time, I took advantage of some basic ingredients to make a simple - and what turned out to be, very tasty - loaf cake.  A lemon yogurt cake, to be exact, and one that's mixed together without even needing to plug in the mixer.
This recipe comes from one of Ina Garten's cookbooks that I have; I found it right behind the very stained pages for Beatty's chocolate cake - my favorite chocolate cake as far as traditional layer cakes go. 

What I really like about this is the use of yogurt and vegetable oil (I used canola oil), instead of butter, to tenderize the cake.  I'm always looking for lighter and/or healthier options that are just as flavorful and appealing as their richer counterparts.  And while butter provides flavor, you won't lack for that here thanks to a lemon syrup that's applied to the cake after baking.

The fact that this is easy to make is a big plus.  The only extra step required for this is the lemon-sugar syrup that's poured over the baked cake.  You really can't skip this step since it provides the majority of the lemon flavor but since it simply involves heating an equal amount of sugar and lemon juice together, it's really no sweat.  You could go one further step and add a final glaze over the top but I skipped that since I'm generally not a fan of baked goods with a layer of hardened confectioners' sugar on top.  Plus, it really doesn't need any more sweetness after the lemon syrup.
The still-warm loaf ready for a dousing of lemon-sugar syrup 
The lemon-sugar syrup gives the cake a lemon bar-like flavor and adds so much moisture
I have to fess up - I made a litte boo-boo and accidentally used 1/3 cup of oil instead of 1/2 cup.  I actually thought it odd at the time I was measuring but since there are a few 1/3-cup measurements in this recipe, it got stuck in my mind and I obviously didn't think twice about it.   Luckily, the finished loaf was plenty-moist, particularly as that lemon syrup gives it a ton of extra moisture (it's literally soaked!) while a full cup of yogurt certainly helps as well.  Next time, I would even stick with using 1/3 cup of oil.  I wish every mistake could work so well.
When I try one of Ina's recipes, I'm realize why people line up in droves at one of her book signings.  I saw the phenomenon at a mall once and I couldn't believe my eyes.  I don't make a ton of her recipes but the ones I've tried are usually quite good.  And speaking of Ina, I'm really enjoying her new season of shows on location in California!  It makes me want to move out West where all that sunshine awaits instead of sitting here wrapped up in sweaters and scarfs!

That was my usual long-winded way of saying this lemon loaf cake is really tasty!  My husband and I really liked it.  The little one, who drinks lemonade religiously and loves lemon Italian ice, is ironically not a fan of most lemon desserts.  He usually won't even try it but he did give this a taste and pronounced it "pretty good", which is actually more of a compliment than it sounds.

Typical of yogurt cakes and even more so in this case because of the syrup, this cake is super moist, with what I'd call a "springy" texture to it.  I really liked how the lemon syrup gives it that lemon bar flavor.  That sweetened lemon flavor is a little more muted towards the bottom of the loaf, where the glaze doesn't quite penetrate as far through, but it's still very moist and creates a nice balance eaten altogether.  I love the crispy crust on the freshly cooled loaf but like other yogurt cakes, this holds extremely well and stays moist for several days.  We made good use of it as breakfast, a snack, and as a simple but satisfying dessert.

I suspect this yogurt loaf could be quite delicious using orange instead of lemon.  As it is, it reminds me of the Florentine orange cake I posted about a long time ago.  I really adored that cake, but for some reason, have had trouble with it the last few times I've attempted it.  It's been turning out dense, and just doesn't fluff up the way it did the first two times I made it.  I wonder if this loaf cake with orange instead of lemon could be an answer to my quest for another good, dependable, orange cake...

Aside from my "lucky" mistake of using 1/3 cup of oil instead of 1/2, I made a couple of other small changes to the recipe.  One, I skipped the sifting and just whisked the dry ingredients together.  Second, I follow a trick I read from Dorie Greenspan that I use whenever there's zest in a recipe like this.  I zest the lemon right over the sugar and rub the two together to get maximum flavor from the zest.  Ina also always uses extra-large eggs but I use large and find that it typically works just fine.

In this recipe, the oil gets folded into the batter as a final step.  Be patient and gentle, and everything incorporates into a fairly smooth mixture. 
As I mentioned, the lemon-sugar syrup is crucial for that strong lemony sweet flavor of this cake.  I applied warm syrup to the warm cake.  You could poke a few holes with your cake tester (I did) but it's not really necessary.  Just spoon or pour it slowly so the cake has a chance to absorb most of the syrup.
That syrup packs a punch of flavor and practically drowns the yogurt cake in moisture!  It's delicious and helps the cake hold well, staying super moist, for a few days. 
If you like an additional glaze on top of this cake (it sets up like a cap of thin white icing), you could do so by whisking 1 cup of confectioners' sugar together with 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice.  Ina does this in the recipe but I really don't think this cake needs that additional sugar so I've omitted it from the recipe below.


Lemon Yogurt Loaf Cake
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home by Ina Garten

- Makes one loaf -

For loaf cake:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt, well-stirred and at room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 extra-large eggs (I used large)
Zest of 2 lemons (2 teaspoons)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used 1/3 cup and I think it was enough)

For lemon-sugar syrup:
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2 large lemons)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease an 8 1/2 x 4 1/4 x 2 1/2 inch loaf pan (you can also use a 9 x 5 x 3 inch pan).  Line the bottom with parchment; grease and flour the pan (or use baking spray).

In a medium-size bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together.  Place the cup of sugar in a large bowl and zest the lemons directly over it.  Rub the zest into the sugar with your fingertips until fragrant and slightly moistened.  Whisk in the yogurt, eggs, and vanilla until well blended.  Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet.  With a rubber spatula, fold the oil into the batter until thoroughly incorporated.  Pour batter into the prepared pan, smoothing out the top.

Bake for about 50 minutes, or until a cake tester placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean. 

When the cake is nearly done, cook the 1/3 cup of lemon juice and 1/3 cup of sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear.  Set aside.

Remove cake from the oven and allow it to cool 10 minutes before carefully (the pan will be hot) removing it from the pan and discarding the parchment paper.  Invert cake back onto a wire rack.  Set the rack over a sheet pan.  While the cake is still warm, pour the lemon-sugar syrup over the cake (I use a spoon), allowing it to soak in.  Cool cake completely.


  1. This looks so moist and delicious, I love anything lemon!

  2. Thank you, Natalie & Gloria! We really like this recipe - the cake is extremely moist with that lemon-sugar syrup and stays that way for a few days, which I love.

  3. I can never eat yogurt plain really either, but I do like cooking with it. It's great for baking and the occasional savory dishes. The cake looks so good after you poured the coating on it.

  4. Hi Alyssa - I've had great experience with baking recipes that use yogurt, including these loaf cakes! I want to try it more on the savory end and I'm also going to give eating it straight-up (okay, with some sweetener and granola at least...) more effort since I keep hearing how excellent it is for you.



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