French-Style Yogurt Cake, Muscat, and Philip Glass

It was the yogurt cake that did it. Philip Glass also played a major role, but we'll get to that in a minute. About a month ago, as I was finishing my dinner, I had a craving for cake. Not cake with icing, just cake. How peculiar because I usually don't have cake lying around, nor had I been inspired to cook anything besides pad thai for weeks. But I remembered this French-style yogurt cake that Molly Wizenberg wrote about in her book A Homemade Life. I checked all the ingredients, deciding to use oranges instead of lemons, and set to work. When it came out of the oven, I made the glaze, poured it over top, and waited for it to cool. Around 10 PM, I cut myself a piece, leaned my back against the counter, and ate it in three bites. It was simple and moist and honest. If someone had served me this cake for tea, I would have jumped on the table to do a dance. I put half in the freezer and ate the rest for breakfast with scrambled eggs, after lunch, and late at night with a small glass of muscat (a sweet French white wine that keeps a long time and is delicious with yogurt cakes, I discovered).

One afternoon, I was translating and listening to Julie Nesrallah's show Tempo on CBC Radio 2, a to-die-for afternoon classical program, when Philip Glass came on. I'd been listening to Steve Reich for months and Glass studied under Reich. The piece she played was from the Hours soundtrack, a film about Virginia Woolf told through the eyes of three woman in different eras, inspired by the book by Michael Cunningham. I loved the movie when I saw it almost six years ago, and I loved it just as much when I watched it again last week. Virginia Woolf is one of my heroes and now so is Glass. He wrote the soundtrack and it is phenomenal. The music is dominated by string instruments that soar through these emotional repetitive passages that some how all tie together. We so often listen to music as background noise, but this was impossible for me to ignore. Then, I ordered three CD's online and haven't listened to much else since. I still come home from a long day and put on this soundtrack, flop down in my big orange kitchen chair, and listen listen listen. Glass has accompanied me while I eat, walk, and sleep. A great match for a late night slice of yogurt cake.

It's spring and I feel like I can write again, not to mention cook again. What joy!

French-Style Yogurt Cake with Orange

As adapted from M. Wizenberg

Yogurt cakes were made in France using a 125 ml yogurt jar for a measuring cup. Since we don't have yogurt jars like that anymore (sob) Molly's measured it out for us.

She calls for all canola oil but also suggests using a light, fruity olive oil. I used half and half, and it was wonderful. Next time I'd be tempted to use all olive oil.

The cake

1 1/2 C white flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
2 tsp orange zest

1/2 C well stirred plain whole-milk yogurt (not non-fat!)
1 C white sugar
3 eggs
1/4 C vegetable oil, such as canola
1/4 C good, fruity olive oil

- Preheat oven to 350 F
- Grease a 9-inch cake pan with butter, line it with parchment paper, and grease it too. (If you don't do this, it's alright, you'll just have to be extra careful about taking the cake out of the pan.)
- Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Add the orange zest.
- In a large bowl mix together the yogurt, sugar, eggs, and stir well.
- Add the flour to the large bowl and stir until just combined.
- Add the oil and stir well. It will look like a big oily mess, but it'll come together.
- Pour it into the pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the top is lightly brown, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and invert it first onto a plate and then back onto the rack. Place the rack over a rimmed baking sheet.

- Make the syrup

The syrup

1/4 C powdered sugar
1/4 C orange juice

- Combine sugar and juice with a whisk.
- Pour the syrup over the cake. Let it the cake cool completely. The syrup will sink into the top layer.

*Molly calls for a little icing made from 1 C powdered sugar and 3 TBS of orange juice, but really, I'm not sure this cake needs it. But if you feel so inclined, be my guest. You pour it on right before serving.

* You could also substitute 1/2 of ground almonds for 1/2 of flour.


  1. My favourite blogger is back!! And with such an enticing recipe I want to put my apron on and get straight to baking.
    I love love love you lady!!!


  2. Cooking, cake, great literature and film and music. Now that's a great blog post.


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