Aleksandra Crapanzano is a James Beard–winning writer and dessert columnist for The Wall Street Journal. Here she shares the secrets of the cakes Parisians bake at home.
Every child in France learns this recipe in their maternelle, or nursery school, as it could not be easier to memorise or to make. French yogurt is sold in little half-cup jars, and these jars serve as the measuring cups in this recipe. You can find them now in the US, or you can use a half-cup measuring cup.
The yogurt and oil make this a forgiving and moist recipe. It will be just as good on day two as day one, if you make sure it is well wrapped once it comes fully to room temperature. To dress a yogurt cake up, glaze it or dust with confectioners’ sugar.
My biggest advice is not to overlook this simplest of recipes. I can’t tell you how many times French friends have made a last-minute gâteau au yaourt from memory, adding whatever citrus zest or fruit they have on hand, maybe sneaking in a splash of rum or kirsch for good measure, or perhaps coating the surface in a little warm apricot jam. The cake offers a tasty trip down Nostalgia Lane, for sure, but it makes easily as many appearances at casual dinner parties as it does in the classroom.
Before baking powder became a cake staple, eggs provided the lift. They’d be whisked with the yogurt and sugar until pale and thick, but never so much so that I’d recommend using electric beaters. Likewise, vanilla is a more recent addition and, by recent, I mean in the last hundred or so years. Amazingly, you can add the ingredients in whatever order you’d like, but never let egg yolks sit long on sugar, as they will form a skin. When in doubt, I remember this recipe as 1, 2, 3, then 1, 2, 3.
Almond flour has been a pantry staple in Paris for as long as anyone can remember. It happens to be less expensive than it is in the US and, perhaps because of the turnover, usually quite fresh. In the States, it’s still seen primarily as an alternative to flour for people with gluten sensitivity or for the health conscious, who like it for its protein content. Almond flour provides texture and taste, and it keeps a cake moist, as almonds are naturally high in fat. It’s for this reason that I use less oil than in an all-flour yogurt cake. The downside is that almond flour cakes don’t rise quite as high. Made with equal portions of flour and almond flour, however, lets you capture the best of both worlds. This cake is light, tender and moist and lasts for days. Like the classic yogurt cake, it plays well with spices, extracts, liqueur, syrups and floral waters. Here I’ve added some sliced almonds to the top for crunch.
Almond yogurt cake
- 2 large eggs at room temperature
- 1 cup 245 g whole yogurt
- 1 cup 200 g granulated sugar
- ⅓ cup 80 ml vegetable, canola or grapeseed oil
- 1 teaspoon almond extract or 2 teaspoons dark rum
- 1 teaspoon orange blossom water optional
- The zest of a lemon or orange
- 1 cup 96 g almond flour
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 cup 120 g all-purpose flour
- ⅓ cup 30 g sliced almonds, optional
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF/180ºC/Gas Mark 4. Butter and flour a 9 x 5 in loaf pan, or a longer French loaf pan, or line it with parchment paper.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, yogurt, sugar, oil, almond extract, orange blossom water and zest until smooth. Add the almond flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and whisk thoroughly until completely smooth. Sprinkle the flour onto the batter and fold it in with a rubber spatula until no streaks of flour remain.
- Pour the batter into the loaf pan, then sprinkle the top with the sliced almonds, scattering them over the entire surface.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. (If your oven runs hot, start checking after 35 minutes.)
Recipe extracted from Gâteau, The Surprising Simplicity of French Cakes By Aleksandra Crapanzano is published by Scribner (2023).