french yogurt cake.

March 7, 2018

My current favorite part of the week comes when we get an emailed summary detailing how Faye spent the morning at school. Accompanying photographs include messy haired kids with socks hanging halfway off chubby feet and bellies peeking above elastic waist bands. Blurred hands and feet are in motion in every frame. Last week’s email included a photograph of Faye hard at work painting in an upside down tiara. She’d spent the morning making a French yogurt cake from scratch. (Oh, to be three.)

Together with her tiny classmates she rubbed sugar and lemon between her fingers and then spent the rest of the week repeating the process with imaginary ingredients.

“Do you want some sugar with lemon, Mama?” she’d ask with her fingers held up in a pantomime. I ate a dozen imaginary cakes before deciding I needed to recreate the real thing.

This is not the first recipe for a lightly sweetened, perfect-for-a-gloomy-afternoon cake that you will find on this blog. It’s my favorite kind of treat and in the midst of riding out a particularly gray week, we needed something a little extra sunshine-y to eat. You’ll forgive me if I needed to cut into it before it had properly cooled.

French Yogurt Cake

adapted from Bon Appetit

What you need:

Olive oil to coat a loaf pan
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon zest (approximately the zest of one lemon)
3/4 cup whole-milk yogurt
1/2 cup olive oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

What you need to do:

+ Preheat oven to 350°. Coat your pan with a thin layer of olive oil and dust with flour, knocking out any extra. 

+ Mix 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.

+ Use your fingers to rub sugar with lemon zest in a second bowl until the sugar is moist. (Or, whenever the smallest among you has had enough of rubbing her fingers in sugar.) Add yogurt, olive oil, eggs, and vanilla extract and whisk to blend. Fold in dry ingredients, without over-stirring.

+ Pour batter into your prepared bread loaf pan and smooth the top. Bake until the top of the cake is golden brown and a straw inserted into center comes out clean, 50–55 minutes.

+ Let your cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Turn cake out onto rack and let it cool completely. (Or don’t. It’ll be just fine.)

For the curious:

Daffodils from the neighborhood bodega.

Pitcher, a gift from Notary Ceramics.

Dish towel from Fog Linen.

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  • Reply Heather March 7, 2018 at 10:48 am

    My goodness, what a magical school Faye attends!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 7, 2018 at 10:54 am

      We’ve been so lucky. It’s the very sweetest thing—just a handful of kids in a friend’s home.

  • Reply Katie Erin March 7, 2018 at 11:01 am

    I love this recipe but never thought to substitute olive oil for veg. Thank you for the suggestion! And for the sweet image of toddlers rubbing lemon zest into sugar.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 7, 2018 at 11:07 am

      Faye’s teacher’s idea! I never have vegetable oil at home, but we always have olive! Even more delicious this way!

  • Reply Lauren March 7, 2018 at 12:12 pm

    I made a Sicilian Orange cake a couple weeks ago on a grey Sunday and it was just what I needed. I’m all about a simple cake!

  • Reply Ashley March 7, 2018 at 12:37 pm

    Love the addition of lemon zest! My kids have loved a version that uses only one glass yogurt container for all of the measuring (one serving of this, two of that). I made a visual recipe a few years back, and perhaps Faye would enjoy it. I hope you’ll forgive my adding the link here:

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 7, 2018 at 12:51 pm

      So great! Thanks for sharing, Ashley!

  • Reply Rhon March 7, 2018 at 12:51 pm

    How many servings does this make? Just wondering how much sugar would be in each serving.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 7, 2018 at 12:53 pm

      I guess it depends on how big you make your slices! I used a typical 8.5×4.5 inch loaf pan to bake this!

  • Reply Alie March 7, 2018 at 1:40 pm

    Looks so good! Sounds like a lighter olive oil cake. Want to try it with GF flour! 🙂

  • Reply Rebecca March 7, 2018 at 8:55 pm

    After struggling home through the slushy NYC streets, I decided I had the ingredients to make this(albeit with low fat yogurt and I didn’t have enough zest so I threw in some juice as well). I’m sure sticking to the recipe would have been even better. But it was quite perfect – especially to make it during this storm without a trip to the grocery store. Had a delicious first piece now and looking forward to having it pass as breakfast tomorrow. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 8, 2018 at 9:34 am

      Never say no to cake for breakfast!

  • Reply Delphine March 7, 2018 at 9:15 pm

    Un grand classique, easier if you use the pot de yaourt as your a measuring cup !

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 8, 2018 at 9:33 am

      Totally! We buy our yogurt in big containers, but I love the idea of using a single measure for the whole process!

  • Reply Erin March 7, 2018 at 11:41 pm

    Just made a version of this myself this week. Try subbing almond meal for 1/2 cup of the flour – quite nice as well!

  • Reply Anna March 8, 2018 at 1:28 am

    This is the cake preschoolers learn to make “maternelle” (Kindergarten) in France!
    Only, as the yogurt comes in 125ml containers here, all ingredients are measured with the container.
    No need to say that this cakes is also wonderful with fruits, such as pears.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 8, 2018 at 9:33 am

      Yes, so sweet! Ashley linked to her post in the comments above that does just that!

  • Reply CRISTINA March 8, 2018 at 4:48 am

    Thanks for this, it looks delicious. A big yes to good cakes with no butter.

  • Reply Amy March 8, 2018 at 7:54 pm

    I love yogurt cakes, which make me feel very French and grown up. Also, I basically want to go to Faye’s school. For what it’s worth, I don’t eat gluten (by choice not allergy), and I make a yogurt cake that is similar to this but with almond flour. I like that it doesn’t have gluten-free flour (which can be so dodgy). Anyway, just a tidbit for anyone looking for a gluten-free version. It’s lovely to have a little treat to look forward to.

  • Reply ganching March 10, 2018 at 2:36 pm

    I just made this and it’s currently cooling on a rack. It smells delicious and I reckon if tiny children can make it then it must be foolproof.

  • Reply jacqueline March 10, 2018 at 3:36 pm

    This looks so delicious!

  • Reply Kim March 12, 2018 at 12:28 pm

    Hi Erin! Thank you for posting this delicious recipe! My kids and I made it this past weekend and it turned out SO good! Thanks again 🙂

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 12, 2018 at 12:43 pm

      So glad!

  • Reply Katrina March 17, 2018 at 5:05 pm

    Thanks for this, my mother-in-law just sent us 10 pounds of lemons from her tree in Phoenix and I had already preserved and juiced and lemonaded my heart out when this was published. It was the perfect treat for us during a recent snowstorm. I just added poppyseeds and the lemon juice from the one I zested (and decreased the yogurt a touch to compensate) since it was such a special lemon and had journeyed so far.

  • Reply Felicita March 23, 2018 at 4:20 pm

    a very similar recipe, but next level in amazingness, is the italian olive oil-ricotta-lemon cake, which rachel roddy writes about here: I make it once a week and it’s the softest, most delicious and most fragrant of the kind.

  • Reply Cat May 5, 2018 at 7:57 am

    My family and I love this cake! Thank you. We’re making it again this morning (one for a bake sale, one for us) with the addition of tiny blueberries.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 5, 2018 at 10:04 am


  • Reply Kaci March 21, 2020 at 11:30 am

    It seemed like a great morning for a revival of one of my favorite spring cakes that I have made countless times since this original post 🙂 I am a physician working in a hospital with +cases. These are scary times. But this cake made me happy. Thank you!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 21, 2020 at 11:37 am

      i’m so glad! sending wishes for good health your way (and more lemon cake!).

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