If you aren't familiar with the French yogurt cake, it is a simple little cake made with ingredients that would typically be on hand in most French households—flour, sugar, eggs, oil and most importantly, plain yogurt. In France yogurt is often sold in individual portions in 125ml glass pots (about half a cup). The cake is made by measuring out all of the major ingredients using the pot the yogurt came in. I have never read this anywhere, but I would guess that the cake was originally developed as a marketing tool for a brand of yogurt. The cake is fast and easy to make and typically served plain and unfrosted...something an American might call a snack cake. In her book On Rue Tatin, Susan Loomis says that at one time this little cake was taught to every French school girl.
The recipe I use differs from most primarily in the mixing method—the quantities of the ingredients don't change too much from recipe to recipe. You might find a recipe with 3 eggs instead of two (which produces a tall cake with a nice, fine crumb, but is also a bit dry and really needs a soaking syrup). Other cakes will vary a bit in the amount of flour or yogurt. If you bake a lot of cakes, you will immediately recognize the French yogurt cake as a half recipe of that old standby, the "1-2-3-4" cake. The only difference is the yogurt cake uses oil instead of soft butter.
Many recipes for this cake use a mixing method called the muffin method. All of the liquids are combined in one bowl, the dry in another and then the two are quickly and minimally mixed. I have never made it this way, but I think it probably produces a nice tender cake. A version of the French yogurt cake using this method was published recently in Bon Appetit, and it must be very good because it has since popped up on a lot of food blogs.
Probably the most common method for mixing the cake is a variation of the muffin method. All of the liquids except the oil are combined and folded together with the dry. Then the oil is added and mixed in. I have not made it this way either, but I have made it using a method that is sort of a hybrid of the genoise method that also calls for folding in the oil last. I wasn't too crazy about the resulting cake. It was a bit flat and hard. Folding in the oil last seems to me to be asking for over-development of the gluten since you have to stir quite a bit to get the oil to incorporate smoothly.
Because of the similarity of this cake to the "1-2-3-4" cake, I use a mixing method that is similar to the method used for a traditional creaming-method butter cake. Since the cake uses oil instead of butter, it really isn't possible to incorporate air by creaming the fat and sugar. Instead, I begin by whisking the eggs and sugar until they are pale and fluffy (similar to the Dinah Shore brownie recipe).
I then whisk in the oil until the batter is thick and emulsified. I finish the mixing process by alternately folding in the dry and liquid ingredients as for a standard butter cake. This method produces a well-aerated cake without too much gluten development The mixing can all be done with a whisk and rubber spatula by hand—or by using the whisk attachment on a stand mixer if you prefer. I think the resulting cake is moist and tender—just what a cake should be.
The French yogurt cake has many, many variations. I have listed some of them at the end of my recipe. Most often the cake is flavored with citrus zest and might even include a citrus glaze. Susan Loomis's recipe is marbled with chocolate. I have not seen this particular variation anywhere else. When I make my yogurt cake, I almost always make a marbled chocolate version.
As I said at the start, it is fine to serve this cake plain—or with a simple dusting of powdered sugar. I have even been known to eat it out of hand, dispensing with plate and fork entirely. But when I made it this past week, I happened to have some lavender honey ice cream in my freezer (left over from one of my classes). It seemed like the perfect match: French yogurt cake....Provençal lavender honey ice cream....and some fresh raspberries.... It made a simple and elegant mid-week dessert.
French Yogurt Cake
(Gâteau au Yaourt)
1 1/2 c. all purpose flour (3 pots)
1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 t. baking powder
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 t. vanilla
1 c. sugar (2 pots)
1/2 c. vegetable oil (1 pot)
1/2 c. plain whole milk yogurt (1 pot)
3 oz. bittersweet chocolate (60% to 65%), chopped—melted and cooled
Butter a 9- by 2-inch round cake pan. Flour the pan and tap out the excess.
Place the dry ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.
Place the eggs and vanilla in a large bowl and whisk until smooth. Gradually whisk in the sugar until the mixture is slightly thickened (it should be lighter in color)—this will only take about a minute. Gradually whisk in the oil and continue to whisk briskly until thick and smooth—about another minute. Fold in half of the dry ingredients, followed by the yogurt, followed by the remaining dry ingredients, mixing after each addition just until blended.
Pour a little more than half of the batter (about 400 grams) into the prepared pan. Blend the melted chocolate into the remaining vanilla batter and mix until well combined. Pour the chocolate batter over the vanilla batter
and with the tip of a spatula or a table knife, gently draw swirls through the batter to marbleize it. Don't over mix or you won't have a marble affect—two zig-zag passes through the pan should be sufficient.
Transfer the cake to a preheated 350° oven and bake until the cake springs back when pressed gently in the center and a toothpick comes out clean—30 to 35 minutes.
Remove the cake from the oven and cool for 10 minutes in the pan. Run a palette knife around the sides of the pan and turn the cake out onto a wire rack to cool. Serve dusted with powdered sugar with some whipped cream alongside, if you like.
• Omit the chocolate and prepare a plain vanilla cake (use vanilla sugar if you have it).
• Omit the chocolate. Rub the zest of 2 small lemons or 1 large lemon into the sugar before whisking the sugar into the eggs. If you like, make a glaze with the juice of two small (or 1 large) lemons (about 1/4 cup strained juice) and 1/4 cup powdered sugar. After the cake has cooled, spoon the glaze over the cake. The glaze will be thin and soak in like a syrup.
• Substitute 1/2 cup almond flour/meal for 1/2 cup of the flour. This can be done for a chocolate marbled, vanilla or citrus version.
• Make the vanilla or lemon version (omit the soaking syrup if you make the lemon cake) and when cooled, split the cake horizontally with a serrated knife. Spread lemon curd or a favorite jam in between the 2 layers and frost the cake with whipped cream.
• Use the vanilla or almond version for strawberry shortcake
The cake would also be delicious with vanilla ice cream, but if you would like to make some lavender honey ice cream, simply make my recipe for Orange-scented honey vanilla ice cream. Replace the orange zest and vanilla bean with 1 T. of dried lavender blossoms and steep in the milk for 20 minutes. If you have access to it, use lavender honey—but any fragrant honey is fine. Reduce the quantity of sugar to 1/4 cup and increase the quantity of honey to 1/2 cup (6 oz.).