There’s no season in France quite like springtime – and there’s no better way to celebrate springtime in France than with cake and new books! Today I’m thrilled to welcome three beautiful new volumes – a cookbook, an illustrated guidebook, and a memoir – in other words, a book for every room of the house. And because no celebration is complete without something sweet, I also made a lemon yogurt cake with lemon curd and whipped yogurt. Ready? Let’s dive in!
For your kitchen counter:
Perhaps you remember Elizabeth Bard from her charming memoirs, Lunch in Paris and Picnic in Provence? Well, she’s back with Dinner Chez Moi, a new cookbook that’s like a delightful visit to your girlfriend’s Provençal country kitchen, filled with gossipy chat and solid advice. The recipes are easy and down-to-earth and, most importantly, they’re the type of food I want to cook – simple, delicious, and moderately healthy. If you’ve ever wanted to know what French people eat everyday, Elizabeth spills the beans (or should I say chickpeas? Ha ha).
For your coffee table:
Paris is a city of contrasts, of Belle Epoque architecture and 21st-century energy. In The New Paris, Lindsey Tramuta profiles the chefs, patissiers, bartenders, brewers, designers, and more who are “fueling a movement” into the future. Lindsey’s discoveries are exciting and fresh, while her impeccable eye makes this the best Paris shopping guide imaginable. Charissa Fay’s accompanying photographs are like a vacation all by themselves.
For your bedside table:
As How to Make a French Family opens, Samantha Vérant is a new bride eager to begin life with her French husband, and step-kids in a suburb outside of Toulouse. Fast forward a few weeks and Samantha is facing flea-ridden cats, grumpy teens, and monumental language barriers. But Samantha perseveres, and in the end her humor, heart (and great recipes) will leave you cheering her on until the last page. Memoirs about moving to France are a guilty pleasure, and you’ll be captured by Samantha’s fish-out-of-water tale.
For the cake:
If there’s one cake every French person knows how to bake, it’s a gâteau au yaourt – a yogurt cake. Often, they even use a yogurt container to measure out the ingredients, making it less of a recipe than a balance of ratios. As it turns out, a recipe for lemon yogurt cake appears in the books of both Elizabeth and Samantha – and Lindsey’s book kind of reminds me a lemon cake, with its bright and cheerful cover :)
I swapped around a few ingredients, substituting ground almonds for some of the all-purpose flour, because I wanted to use up the tail end of a bag I had in the pantry. Instead of butter, this cake uses yogurt and a bit of vegetable oil, which give it a beautiful, moist texture (and make it healthy-ish). Before mixing the wet ingredients, I took a few extra seconds and rubbed grated lemon zest into the sugar, which is a tip I learned from Dorie Greenspan. The resulting perfume was shockingly intense.
The cake bakes for about 50 minutes, and then cools for a while on a wire rack. You could stop here and eat the cake, just like that. Or you could infuse it with lemon syrup for a drizzle cake. Or you could do what I did, which is really dress it up by slicing it into two layers and filling the center.
Any kind of berry jam would be delicious, but I wanted the full citrus effect and opted for lemon curd (from Trader Joe’s), which I think balances just the right amount of sweet and tart.
And the icing on the cake, so to speak, is a heap of yogurt whipped cream. This is a trick I learned from Food52 – you can whip up to twice as much yogurt into cream, and it will still form a billowy cloud. I eyeballed about one-third yogurt, to two-thirds cream, and the result was lighter than pure cream, with a tangy and refreshing flavor that pairs beautifully with fresh berries – or lemon cake. And, of course, as everyone knows, nothing goes with lemon cake like books about France!
French yogurt cake with lemon curd and yogurt whipped cream
Serves 6 to 8
This is a very forgiving recipe. You can bake it in a round tin, as I have here, or a loaf pan. If you don’t have almond meal, use another 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour. You can fill the cake, or not, or drizzle it with lemon syrup (see variations below).
1/2 cup almond meal
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Zest of one lemon
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup plain whole or low-fat yogurt (not Greek)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup vegetable oil
To fill the cake:
1/2 cup lemon curd (or more to taste)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease a 9-inch round cake tin or loaf pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, stir together the almond meal (if using), flour, baking powder, and salt.
Measure the sugar into a second bowl. With your fingertips, rub the lemon zest into the sugar, releasing an intense perfume (this takes about 20 seconds). Whisk in the yogurt, eggs, vanilla, and vegetable oil.
Slowly combine the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients, making sure everything is incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
Remove the cake from the oven and cool for 10 minutes. Unmold the cake onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely.
To fill the cake, using a sharp knife, slice the cake through the middle to create two thin layers. Spread the bottom half with lemon curd. To prepare the yogurt whipped cream, combine the whipping cream, Greek yogurt, and powdered sugar in a large bowl. Beat on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Dollop about half the yogurt whipped cream on the lemon curd, and replace the top layer of cake. Dust with powdered sugar and serve with the extra whipped cream on the side.
–Elizabeth uses olive oil instead of vegetable oil. She sometimes adds a handful of mini chocolate chips, or tops the cake with raspberries. To make cupcakes from the batter, Elizabeth says: “Bake at 350ºF for 18 to 20 minutes (makes about 15 medium cupcakes).”
–Samantha serves her version with sliced strawberries.
–If you’d like to try a lemon drizzle cake, bake the cake in a loaf pan. Reduce the sugar in the cake to one cup. While the cake bakes, prepare a lemon syrup of 1/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup lemon juice by cooking the two in a small pan until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture turns clear. With the cake still warm, place it on a large plate, and poke holes across the top with a skewer. Spoon the lemon syrup over the cake and allow it to soak in. Cool before serving.