October 3, 2012

All I want is yogurt cake

Yogurt cake, yogurt cake, there's always room for yogurt cake. The ingredients needed are conveniently readily available, too, in just about any grocery store, excepting perhaps the Greek yogurt. It's the traditional snack cake of choice in many a French household, has been for a long time (I don't know how long exactly), and apparently so because of the ease of preparation. All I can say is: thank you to the French for creating something that I never tire of baking or eating.

The most labor intensive part is zesting a lemon. Then, you need to mash that zest into a cup of sugar to release the oils and all that lemony goodness. This method ensures a really tasty loaf, full of that bright lemon flavor. I find it a crucial step for any recipe involving citrus zest. After that, it's just stirring in some yogurt, oil, eggs, and vanilla until well mixed, whisking together the dry ingredients and carefully folding that in, scraping it all into a smallish loaf pan, and then baking for about fifty minutes or so. I think the hardest part is waiting for the golden loaf to cool completely, because it must, it must cool completely, or else you'll miss out on the best flavor. Some things are meant to be eaten warm out of the oven, like scones, but others need that cooling time for the flavor to fully develop and meld together. After that, it's happy snacking.

Although it is technically a snack cake, it's also excellent for breakfast, so you may want to consider making it at night to enjoy in the morning, because the flavor will only get better by then, and it keeps wrapped in plastic for at least a few days. Any longer than that I wouldn't know because it has never lasted beyond a few days. This recipe is great because it doesn't seem too much like dessert since a glaze or syrup isn't involved like other yogurt cakes I've made before and also because it's baked in a loaf pan rather than a cake pan, so the shape makes for a more humble appearance. Something in the shape of a loaf hardly ever gets mistaken for dessert, unless it's pound cake, which in that case would be dessert. Of course, because of that, it also seems to disappear much more quickly than something that looks like dessert. I don't know why that is. Maybe it appears more "healthy" because it's shaped like banana bread or something. Have you ever noticed how pound cake from a loaf pan goes faster than pound cake from a bundt pan? Or am I imagining things?

Anyway, regardless of my cake-vs.-loaf-shape-ranting, this is my favorite version of a French yogurt cake so far, so much so that I've baked it numerous times after reading about it in the May issue of Bon Appetit, this year's travel issue. Safe to say I love it.

French yogurt cake
Adapted from Bon Appetit, May 2012

-My oven browns rather quickly and I suspect may run a bit hot, so it was done before the 50 minutes were up. I would start checking at least at the 45 minute mark.

-Also, I prefer to use sunflower or safflower oil over other vegetables oils when baking--they're both neutral tasting and have high smoke points, perfect for the oven. I found this chart very useful for comparing different oils.

-Finally, Greek yogurt is called for here, and I highly recommend using it if you can because it creates a really creamy texture that I didn't notice when I used regular yogurt, although regular yogurt will work fine, too, if that's all you can find.

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. kosher salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. finely grated lemon zest
¾ cup whole-milk Greek yogurt
½ cup sunflower oil
2 large eggs
½ tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350° F. Coat an 8½ x 4¼-inch loaf pan with vegetable spray, dust with flour, and tap out the excess. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl, using your fingers or a wooden spoon rub the lemon zest into the sugar until moist and the sugar is infused with lemon oil. Add the yogurt, oil, eggs, and vanilla, whisking to blend and dissolve any yogurt lumps. Fold in the dry ingredients gently, just to blend.

Pour batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until top of cake is golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 50-55 minutes.

Let cake cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Invert cake onto rack, and allow to cool completely. Slice and eat.

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