p2: French Yogurt Cake

The Sweet

French-Grandmothers-Lemon-Yogurt-Cake-5I do love when a recipe ends up convening with an appropriate get-together, and with a day of hangout following my cousin’s birthday it only made sense to tackle one of the many cakes on my list. To make things even more perfect, one of the more simple ones I’ve been meaning to make comes out like the classic birthday-favorite white cake, but of course with a little twist and some added flavor. French Yogurt Cake takes a simple sweet batter and mixes in that classic Mediterranean ingredient for added moisture, texture, and a little bit of tang in the cake itself; definitely helps with leavening too when combined with baking powder.

There’s little history to find on this, but what is known is rather interesting; not because of anything that ties into world events, local sourcing requirements, economics, fun accidents or whatever, but due to the homey simplicity. For one thing, the actual French name of the cake is ‘Gateau de Mamie,’ or ‘Grandmother’s Cake.’ This is due to the long habit, truthfully I don’t know how far back it goes, of this recipe being made by old French Grandmothers; or maybe it was just one generation that did it and it stuck. What makes it stick out is HOW they made it though. First, yogurt in France was actually bought in these small glass jars, like many things were packaged. This was dumped out into the bowl… and the jars re-used to measure everything else! So instead of weighing or leveling things by specific milligrams or liters, it was ‘one jar’ or ‘two jars’ etc, thus the recipe was ever a simple game of proportions, easy to make no matter what size jar or measuring devices one had on them.

Which made it easy to do recipe conversions; for though many would try to justify if these jars were exactly ½ cup or more, less, etc, at the end of the day all the ingredients just had to stay in these proportions. Most of the ‘conversions’ I found were exactly the same; and considering the jar-based source of this recipe, I almost wonder if it originally came off a company’s package a-la the famous Hershey Chocolate Chip Cookie. That said, there was one which looked absolutely delightful, the only difference being an extra egg, and I can’t say no to that.

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

20151025_122414Obviously I don’t have, and am too lazy to go find, the little French yogurt jars this recipe is based off of, but any decent Greek or Greek-style will do. Though I didn’t realize the one we had at home was Vanilla flavored, as opposed to plain, until I started, and I’m rather squeamish with the idea of any ‘flavored’ yogurts… make one wonder how properly yogurt-ish it actually is. But at least vanilla is simple, and I could just use THAT instead of adding extract like recipes usually do.

Speaking of additions, there is of course the classic ‘vegetable oil’ necessity in the recipe, providing a full liquid fat for texture and moisture. A few recipes allow, and even suggest, substitutes for Canola or Grapeseed, even Coconut, oils. None of which I had, and truthfully I didn’t like the state of my cheap-ass vegetable oil. Thus I made the decision, since there IS noted flexibility here, to use Olive Oil instead; which I think would be rather fitting, considering the region’s Mediterranean ties, the use of olive oil and yogurt together, and just the fact that it would only make it taste BETTER.

Finally, one particular requirement leads to a fun little lesson in a daily kitchen cheat! This, like many cake recipes, requires lining just the bottom of the pan with a circle of parchment paper. We could try cutting out a circle to fit, but the bottom we trace for it would be too big. I’ve learned an easy little trick where we take our decently-sized sheet of parchment paper, fold it in half, then again in quarters, and again and again… until one ends up with one thing, triangular sliver of multiple layers. Hold this above the pan, with the point at the center, and cut it just a bit under the inside edge of the cake pan, giving it a curve as you do. Unfold and there you go: perfect fit.

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Recipe
½ cup Greek-style Yogurt
1 cup Sugar
3 Eggs
1½ cups AP Flour
2 tsp Baking Powder
½ tsp Salt
Zest from 1 Lemon (optional)
½ cup Vegetable, Olive, Sunflower, or Other Oil

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and generously spray 8” Cake or Springform Pan with oil, lining the bottom with your circle of parchment paper (discussed earlier)20151025_122921
  2. Whisk Yogurt, Sugar, and Eggs together in bowl20151025_121335
  3. Add in Flour, Baking Powder, Salt, and Zest if using, mixing until just combined20151025_121727
  4. Add Oil, stirring until fully incorporated20151025_122555
  5. Pour into pan, tapping to remove any potential air bubbles20151025_123114
  6. Transfer to oven and bake anywhere from 30-50 minutes depending (check early), or until toothpick stuck in center comes out clean20151025_144740
  7. Remove and cool on wire rack, turning over from pan or releasing sides after about 10 minutes to continue cooling20151025_173542
  8. Cut into wedges and enjoy as desired, perhaps with some homemade ice cream…

My Thoughts

20151025_173805Just like a classic white birthday cake, on its own it’s soft, tender, with that great extra cake flavor and a base that allows any addition, like that lemon zest, to shine. And it may not be very distinct, but one CAN get a little bit of that yogurty sense if one looks for it. Also like any other white cake, one almost craves to pile it in whipped cream, frosting, dessert sauce, fresh/cooked fruit, whatever you can find to make it even BETTER, because you know it’d work as an awesome base. And the recipe itself turned out well, no issues I could see besides taking an extra 10 minutes of baking time than the original recipe called for.

Though let me say that a big attraction of this recipe for me was the picture of a perfectly flat, even, browned top on the cake. Which sadly did not get reproduced in this attempts, one of two reasons: either I should have given the pan an EXTREME amount of buttering so it didn’t rise in the middle, a-la soufflé technique. OR, and I’m now very heavily suspicious of this considering how the pictures on the original website are angled… they probable cut the domed top off and just turned the damn cake upside-down! The conniving old bastards! Tricking me with promises of caramelly cake crust deliciousness… I mean, I guess I got that anyway, but with a curve…

Possible Pairings

Ugh, I started this a couple weeks ago, had a brilliant idea on what would be perfect with this, and then went on vacation and forgot what it was! Not fair!

mlkThough I will say the idea of a Milk Shake seems fantastic. This IS totally the cake+ice cream kind of thing, sort of, so I could see myself going for that. Perhaps with a boozy addition of Cream Liqueur to boot; either that or just do it straight with ice. No Bailey’s, something purely cream/vanilla-focused alongside the supporting flavors… I used to love soaking my Tres Leches with Tres Leches Liqueur, or Rum Chata.

Speaking of liqueurs, keeping things simple is definitely the name of the game for this not-complicated dessert, and a nice, chilled glass of Limoncello would be a great way to match and improve the sweet cake without overriding any subtle flavors; matches the lemon zest too. Not to mention the recipe I got this from DID have a lemon icing glaze.

Though truthfully I think any simple, sweet fruit or creamy liqueur or non-complicated liqueur-based cocktail would work wonderfully with this, especially if one took the cake up a notch with some frosting or whipped cream and any accompanying toppings. But if one wanted to try something a bit off-base and fun, then perhaps a nice, simple glass of demi-sec or other semi-sweet sparkling wine, a regional French Cremant or Prosecco or something. Interestingly, I might actually AVOID Champagne, as I think the fruity-fresh-tart flavors are more preferential than the very yeasty-toasty-buttery notes that are so predominant with the classic methods so prevalent in that region.

I do wish I knew what my idea was though… pretty sure it had something to do with the yogurt aspect of the whole thing…

p2, Kouglof

kouglof_The Sweet

With Easter coming up (or having come up) and my family being asked to contribute a dessert, I got the chance to tackle one of my French sweet recipes, and I’ve had a few that I wanted to save for holiday parties of sorts. These are often those brioche-based or light cakey favorites normally saved for celebrations as-is. Now that I finally have a mixer with a dough hook, too, I can tackle these recipes with even more enthusiasm than before!

After some deciding, and a noted dismissal by the mother against the idea of a certain cake made with Pastis (anise-flavored liqueur), I settled on Kouglof… or, much like Flammekeuche, one of the other tens of European names which this dish goes by. Hailing mainly from Alsace, this bread-like dessert made in a special ceramic ring-mold features an inclusion of raisins, almonds, and booze (typical additions for bread-based desserts). And, much like quite a few dishes from this highly Germanic-influenced region, one can safely claim that France is NOT the country of origin for this. No, we see various other cakes going by the same name and same or similar recipe in various countries; It’s kuglof in Hungary, guguluf in Romania, babovka in Czech-Slovakia, babka in Poland, and wacker/wacka in Austria.

It’s this last country which most likely made the biggest introduction of the recipe to France, Marie-Antoinette having supposedly introduced the pastry to her friends in Versailles. After which it became one of the most fashionable cakes at the time. Though the popularity may not be as big now (at least in the US), it still proves why, when made right, it’s such a much-loved dish, the smell of warm toasty bread mixing with the sweet notes of kirschwasser and almonds.

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

It’s difficult for me to narrow down different bread-based recipes when I don’t have too much experience with the formula effects, not to mention no clue given in research towards how that particular brioche traditionally leaned. Luckily, though, I was able to find certain requirements that I just had to have in the final mix, so that helped eliminate possibilities.

F20150404_215933irst, obviously, there had to be Raisins; Golden, in my opinion, since the wine grapes that would be most abundant and likely dried in Alsace, Germany, and the other countries that make this dessert would most likely be White varieties (I could be wrong, maybe they use a different variety which is red, but if anything I found a really good looking bag of organic Californian goldens at Trader Joe’s). But more importantly, it had to have some Alcohol to soak these in.

Speaking of which, though many recipes call for Rum (likely as it’s the most handy for home cooks), Kirsch or Kirschwasser (cherry brandy) is most properly utilized, a classic spirit distilled near the regions. And French Brandy would pose a reasonable substitute. But do please get in some booze, it’s not a proper dessert without the use of good alcohol!

Finally, I had to have a recipe that used Almonds (surprisingly not all did), the higher quantity of this, raisins, and kirschwasser in the recipe the better, so as to properly display the additions and not just make a plain, simple brioche. I wanted to make sure these elements actually COUNTED with the flavor they brought in. Which is why, instead of following recipes which just sprinkle all of them on the bottom of the pan (to top the cake after baking), I moved all required inside, after having previously chopped and toasted them in the oven. Extra was utilized for ‘garnish’ of course; gotta try making it pretty.

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Besides required must-haves, there were also things I avoided; mainly, those recipes that made really small versions of the cake and/or glazed it with an icing of sorts. Though I bet they would get the idealistic cake-ish or high-butter brioche crumb that I was ideally looking for, it just didn’t feel like it embodied the kind of kouglof I wanted today. I want the big cake, unadorned but for the raisins and almonds already inside, sliced thick and only sweetened by any fruit or whipped cream one would top it with.

As for final recipe notes, I tried finding one that didn’t seem TOO bread-y (we’ll see how that worked out), but in particular I found interest with one yeast-starter strategy, where instead of simply leaving with warm milk/water, one made a little dough-ball to rest and rise for a bit before mixing the whole batch in. Not really sure what it did, but the idea seemed intriguing, so I just had to do it. It also had me cover the dough in flour as it rose/’proofed’… not sure what reason that is, besides maybe being a natural substitute for covering the bowl with plastic/a towel?

20150405_100220Oh, speaking of rising, creating the optimum slightly-warm and moist environment is ideal for any bread-type preparations. The best way to do this, if not privy to some ideal location in your own house, is to boil a pot of water and place in the oven along with the covered dough. So sayz Zool, all hail Zool! (da-na-nana-na-na)

Final note: no matter the country, this pastry has a traditional fluted, round pan in which it is baked in. I am TOO LAZY to go out and buy one of these for this one recipe that, as much as I want to, I will likely never make again. Luckily for us, bundt pans work just as well.

Kouglof
100g Golden Raisins
40ml Kirschwasser
20g Active Yeast
320ml Lukewarm Milk
550g AP Flour
2 Eggs
80g Sugar
1tsp Salt
130g Butter, Diced and softened
80g Chopped, Toasted Almonds
Whole, non-toasted Almonds for display
Butter

Directions

  1. Place Raisins and Kirschwasser in container together, let macerate overnight20150404_220058
  2. Combine the Yeast and 70g of Milk, mixing briefly, letting sit for 5-10 minutes to activate.20150405_094932
  3. When soft, lightly foamy, and smelling distinctly of the yeast, add to 100g of flour. Knead briefly into a ball20150405_100123
  4. Cover in some of the remaining flour. Set aside for ½ hour in an oven alongside pot of boiling water to briefly rise, about ½ hour20150405_105620
  5. Combine remaining Flour, Eggs, Sugar, Salt, Kirsch (drained from raisins), and the starter ball in mixing thoroughly by hand for about 10 minutes, or with a stand mixer dough hook 4-6, until the ball is fully incorporated (dough should start stretching a bit)20150405_110508
  6. Add Diced Butter, mixing on medium-high until incorporated (or hand-kneading about 10 minutes) and dough becomes smooth and elastic20150405_110830
  7. Toss in Raisins and Chopped almonds, kneading briefly to distribute as evenly as possible20150405_111035
  8. Cover bowl with clean towel, let rise in warm area of your choice for 30 minutes20150405_113617
  9. Butter the desired Kouglof or Bundt Pan mold thoroughly, placing a whole almond in the grooves for a decorative top20150405_113928
  10. Punch down, BRIEFLY knead again, and transfer dough into desired pan. Cover and let proof again for 30-60 minutes, until doubled in size20150405_114138
  11. Turn oven to 360F20150405_121902
  12. Move pan to oven, back 30-45 minutes, until top is crusty, brown, and a knife inserted comes out clean (Note: may want to cover top with aluminum foil partway through if browning too fast)20150405_124422
  13. Remove, let cool 2-4 minutes before upending over cooling rack, allowing it to sit 5-10 minutes before serving.20150405_131424
  14. Slice and enjoy as desired20150405_162700

20150405_155426My Thoughts

I think it came out exactly as it was supposed to (maybe a TOUCH over, there was a bit of a dryness to the crust, which came out exceptionally golden brown, beautiful, and crispy btw omg lol afk yjk… okay I’m gonna stop that now), but it didn’t fit my ideal goal; I clearly kneaded it too long for my preferences, as it really came out more brioche-y than sweet bread/cake-y like I was hoping to get. Not complaining completely though, this is one of the completely acceptable outcomes; it IS a brioche-style recipe.

On its own it’s a nice, rich little slightly eggy bread, as I said with an awesome crust, I love how it came out looking! The almonds and raisins added a nice touch; not fully transforming the flavor as if you were eating something stuffed with marzipan or almond extract, just a subtle little addition so it’s not plain bread. With the maceration, those raisins provide a happily little pop of flavor in the pieces of kouglof we find them in.

20150405_155538At the end of the day, though, this guy is just so much better eaten with other stuff. A big dollop of hand-whipped vanilla cream and some raisin-fig-strawberries soaked in balsamic, sirup, and other yummy stuff. Sweetens it up and adds some much needed moisture, for what’s the best use of sponge and breadcakes but to use them to soak up delicious fruit compote things. Not to mention the leftovers make for EPIC Bread Pudding the next day (which this one did as well, topped with chopped almonds and leftover soaked fruit).

kirschPossible Pairings

Obviously we can’t consider eating a slice of kouglof without a sipper of the same Kirschwasser we used to cook it with; it makes sense regionally, culturally, and deliciously. Gotta love that combination of deep fruit and almond-y tones from cherries with this lightly nutty and fruit-jeweled bread.

Though since we’re technically in Alsace, for the French purposes of this recipe at least, we should consider one of their delicious sweet wines… or at least what I’d say for any other dessert from there, I would love to consider a proper VDN (basically a special late-harvest, sometimes botyrized, awesome). But kouglof (this version anyway) really is barely sweet, so this isn’t an ideal pairing. Instead, I would so love to try one Alsace’s rare Moscatos. Fermented dry or, more realistically, a bit off-dry (the Alsace wine Region and Germany have shared much history, and have slowly started affecting each other’s styles; certain German vintners are starting to make drier, more robust bottles while the traditionally bone-dry Alsace is starting to incorporate more sweetness in some Grand Crus), with that distinctly floral, naturally sweet and raisiny/grapey flavors the wine exudes, perhaps with a bit of fleshiness from their long, full fermentation to go with those baked bready notes. Doesn’t that just sound like it’d be perfect with these flavors?

musc