Gâteau au yaourt, or rather more prosaically, yoghurt cake, is a beloved French classic and it’s not hard to see why. With its pillowy softness and barely-there sweetness, it makes the perfect goûter – after school snack – and provides the ideal foil for all manner of glazes, compotes or sauces should your fancy be tickled by such embellishments. Indeed, the recipe is so effortless that it’s apparently the first cake that les enfants Français learn to bake – under the watchful eye of a benevolent grandmother, of course – no wonder that it is affectionately termed le gâteau de mamie.
On Sunday, we were running late so plans to visit the seaside were shelved (we live a long, long way from the beach) and, instead, we plumped for an afternoon spent walking with our two dogs. Following several hours of tramping through mossy woods and haring around the labyrinth (an eerie little warren of twisted bowers, thickly carpeted with violet blooms and withered leaves – an unanticipated delight), we returned home tired and hungry. Providentially, I had half a (large) pot of yoghurt leftover from the previous evening’s marinade so put it to good use here. I don’t know if you’ve ever tasted a Japanese Cotton Soft Cheesecake, but the level of sweetness is not dissimilar – although this yoghurt cake has a much drier, firmer crumb and a definite crust. Labouring under the notion that I’d baked a homemade equivalent of a pre-packaged British angel cake, the Biggest Boy queried the absence of pink, yellow and white layers. I can see why he wondered; the flavour is somewhat comparable, although it is less sugary and doesn’t include that cloying, synthetic buttercream that the striped slabs of shop bought angel cake always seem to have.
Not being French and, as such, sadly lacking a Grand-Mère, I’ve cobbled together a nice, albeit inauthentic, version of this charming cake. If any of my French readers would like to share their own (recipe – not grandmother!), I would certainly like to try it. Not being terribly fond of vegetable oil, I opted for olive, though you could use either. I’ve also stumbled across a recipe that utilises melted butter, so there’s another option. However, from what I can gather, butter is not traditional at all and would alter the cake’s pale interior as well as the taste, I imagine. You can play around with the flavours: chocolate, lemon or orange would all work beautifully. Nevertheless, there’s something especially lovely about the snowy-white purity of the plain version.
230g caster sugar
125ml olive oil
125ml natural yoghurt
300g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Splash of milk
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4
Oil a 20cm cake tin (I use a silicon mould for easy removal) and very lightly dust with flour.
Whist together the sugar and eggs until thick and creamy. Still whisking, carefully add the olive oil. Add the yoghurt and vanilla and stir the flour in gently. If the mixture looks a little thick you can add a drop of milk to thin slightly.
Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for around 50 minutes. It tends to brown quite quickly so you may need to cover with foil part way through the cooking time. This cake is deceptive and will probably appear cooked long before the centre is no longer liquid. To test, poke a skewer into the middle – if it hisses and comes out wet, pop the cake back into the oven for another 10-15 minutes at least.
Once baked, cool for 5-10 minutes in the tin before unmoulding.
Perfect with a cold glass of milk for the children and a pot of jasmine tea for grownups.