I have a dinner coming up, and I want to make a delicious but simple cake for dessert. I considered plenty of options and settled on an old favorite, Yogurt Cake. This, as those of you who have read On Rue Tatin, is a cake I discovered one day at my son’s school during a birthday party for a girl named Audrey. I’d been to lots of school birthdays and tried lots of cakes, homemade and otherwise. This one made my taste buds sit up and take notice because it was lightly, perfectly vanilla scented, marbled with flavorful chocolate, rich with eggs, not too sugary. In short, the perfect cake, for me and every other person in the classroom.
It turns out that it’s the most banal cake in the French repertoire, made by school children since the 1950’s when some brilliant soul – I suspect someone who worked at Danone, but I haven’t been able to prove that – came up with the idea of having all the ingredients measured in an empty yogurt pot. So, it was perfect for kids who loved mixing together 1 pot of yogurt, three pots of butter, four pots of flour, two pots of sugar and one pot of eggs and getting a cake to eat out of the whole exercise, for their afternoon snack, or gouter.
The reason I imagine Danone may be responsible for this cake is because thanks to an enterprising Spaniard named Isaac Carosso, yogurt was first made industrially in Barcelona through a system he invented. His son Daniel brought yogurt to France in the form of a pill, called a “Vygardine,” which had little success. So, in 1929, Mr. Carosso junior launched a yogurt company called: “Société Parisienne du Yaourt Danone,” and the rest is history, in terms of French – and western European – yogurt. And, this is why I think someone at Danone invented the ever popular yogurt cake.
The cake endures not because kids love to make it by measuring the ingredients in little yogurt pots, though moms I know tend to find this pretty fun and easy too. It’s because it tastes so good. After all, I live in a country where gorgeous pastry shops are on every street corner offering delicate, shattery pastries that send you to heaven. Yet yogurt cake is eternally in vogue and always popular. It not only appeals to the French palate, but it appeals to the French home cook who can whip it up – with or without the children – in minutes and present its tender loveliness moments later. It was a frequent offering for the afternoon snack, or goûter, at my house because it’s so quick and easy but you can fold into the batter everything from chocolate to apples to fresh cherries to raisins to…well, you see that the possibilities are endless.
For my dinner, then, I choose to make the chocolate swirl version, which I will dust with confectioner’s sugar and present with a small, sparkly amount of bitter orange marmalade, issue from my kitchen. There will be accolades, I know, because I’ve done this before. And while there would also have been accolades for the patissier’s wonderful pastries they wouldn’t have been the same. Because everyone, no matter who they are or where they come from, loves a home-made cake.
The recipe is below. Note that I’ve translated the quantity of ingredients from the yogurt pot, to a more universal measure!