Yogurt cake, or “gâteau au yaourt,” is a recipe that every French person has in their back pocket. Talk to someone from France about the cake and they’ll probably tell you a story about how they watched one of their parents making in the kitchen, then they started helping, and now they can make it at the drop of a hat. It’s one of the country’s many fine culinary traditions.
I didn’t actually experience yogurt cake much when I lived in France because I was mostly around small children, and I did not cook much. I taught elementary school and nannied for some kids outside of school hours, and food was basically confined to whatever was lying around the house or whatever I could drum up in a hurry. Still, I do remember people talking about the cake and at least on one occasion, I ate some at holiday party.
Maybe it’s nostalgia, or maybe it’s just because I had a mostly full container of whole milk yogurt after making a marinade for chicken last week, but I decided to make French yogurt cake the other night for dessert. I actually started making it while I was cooking dinner because I’m impatient and I have trouble waiting for dessert.
This cake is one of the easiest things to bake. You essentially mix together some flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and then mix it with eggs, whole milk yogurt, and sugar. I also add some lemon zest because I’m a fan of citrus flavor in cake, but you could leave that out.
You’ll notice that the recipe doesn’t call for much sugar. This runs contrary to American cake, which is mostly full of sugar. French cake is light and delicate. When you bite into it, it springs back a bit but it also melts in your mouth. It is subtle but striking, which I think describes French culture well.
The measurements for the cake ingredients are mostly in milliliters and grams. I’ve been baking more by weight later and I’ve found that it makes a huge difference. Find a good but relatively cheap kitchen scale and you will be rewarded with superior baked goods. It’s worth the investment.
You can serve this cake on its own or with some berries on top. Or, if you’re feeling more American than French and you want to jazz things up, you can serve it with a scoop of ice cream. I’ve eaten it both ways and both are delicious.
Here’s a song to get you started on your yogurt cake journey. It was running through my head as I made this cake.
French Yogurt Cake (Gâteau au yaourt)
250 mL whole milk plain yogurt
2 large eggs
160 g granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
80 mL vegetable oil
250 g all-purpose, unbleached flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 pinch salt
zest of one lemon
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and line a 10-inch cake pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
Beat together the yogurt, eggs, sugar, vanilla extract, and vegetable oil in the bowl of a stand mixer. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined and there are no traces of flour. DO NOT overmix.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and cake in the oven on a middle rack for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let the cake cool for 10 minutes on the stovetop and then let it cool the rest of the way on a wire rack. Make sure to bring the cake to room temperature before you store it or cover it. It will keep for a while in the fridge. Enjoy!