18 May 2012

A Tale of 1 Busy Afternoon, 2 Tubs of Yogurt and 3 Cakes

And the story goes somewhat like this:

ONE afternoon (a crazy, busy afternoon I might add) I discovered, to my dismay, that we had mistakenly kept TWO tubs of yogurt, not just any yogurt mind you, but the very best kind, into the freezer. As anyone who has ever committed this regrettable error can tell you, freezing yogurt has the unfortunate effect of transforming its luscious creamy texture into a grainy, watery, separated mess that looks rather like the curdled regurgitations of a baby.

TWO whole tubs of beautiful Puhoi Valley yogurt gone to waste. Most people, happily possessed of saner dispositions than mine (plenty are it would seem) would perhaps calmly dispose of the spoilt yogurt and make a mental note to buy some on their next grocery trip. And then having let the matter go they would devote their time to the more pressing matters of their day (especially if they were having, like me, a very busy afternoon). Unfortunately, I am not one of those people, as you may have guessed by now. And not only that, but I am also precisely the kind of person who would cry over spilt milk, or mouldy cheese, or, in this case, ruined yogurt. And in my great desire to stop myself from further wringing of hands and blubbering over said yogurt, I decided that I had NO CHOICE but to redeem the damned yogurt. By baking not one, nor two, but THREE yogurt cakes, since that was mathematically the only way I could use up all of it. Don't you just love the inescapable logic of Maths.

And the moral of the story? Waste not, want not? Or perhaps this ... when life gives you ruined yogurt, curdled milk, or leftover sour cream that you simply can't see go to waste ... make yogurt cakes? Because, yes, yogurt cakes can be made with all the above. But more importantly, because making yogurt cakes is easy. Ridiculously EASY. Your kids could do it. And you know I am not lying to you because there is no way I could have made 3 in one afternoon if this was not the case. I am a little unstable perhaps but not THAT crazy.

Each recipe requires really only 2 bowls, one for wet ingredients and the other for dry, which you then mix together and bake and voila! Cake! No need to bring out the mixer. No creaming or beating or whisking.

I followed two recipes. The first is a basic yogurt cake recipe by Chocolate & Zucchini, which though plain, is so light and fluffy it's good enough to eat on its own. There are many ways to vary this basic recipe: To make an Orange Yogurt Cake, I added a tablespoon of orange zest. And for the Strawberry Yogurt Cake, I used strawberry yogurt and also pieces of strawberry fruit. The latter baked up a little denser because of the extra liquid from the fruit and strawberry purée in the yogurt, but it was otherwise still very moist and delicious (and was the kids' favourite). I have found that the recipe is rather forgiving of minor errors, so if you are pressed for time and a little slipshod with your measurements, you will still end up with a pretty decent cake. For the Lime & Almond Cake, I adopted a recipe from Dorie Greenspan instead, swopping the lemon out with lime. The addition of almond flour gave it a pleasant nutty aroma, and although this recipe seemed to yield a heavier cake than the other, I loved its richer flavor. If I had the time I would make a rosewater glaze for this cake, I think it would go beautifully.

We ate our way through 3 cakes that week without any complaint from the kiddos. They were good enough that I almost found myself wondering when I'd have the good fortune to have a yogurt accident again. Well, now that you've heard my story, perhaps you will have one. On purpose. Lucky, lucky you.

Gâteau au Yaourt
from Chocolate & Zucchini [http://chocolateandzucchini.com]

2 eggs
250ml (1 cup) whole milk plain unsweetened yogurt (if you use two 125ml or 4oz tubs, you can use them to measure out the rest of the ingredients)
200g (1 cup) sugar (you can use an empty tub of yogurt and measure the equivalent of 2 yogurt tubs if you used the 125ml or 4oz kind)
80ml (1/3 cup) vegetable oil (or a bit less than 1 yogurt tub)
2 cups all-purpose flour (or 4 yogurt tubs)
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
a good pinch of salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla paste/extract
1 tablespoon light rum

Method: Preheat the oven to 180° C (350° F), line the bottom of a round 25-cm (10-inch) cake pan with parchment paper and grease the sides. In a large mixing-bowl, gently combine the yogurt, eggs, sugar, vanilla, oil, and rum. In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the flour mixture into the yogurt mixture, and blend together -- don't overwork the dough. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the top is golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean. Let stand for ten minutes, and transfer onto a rack to cool.

French Yogurt Cake 
Adapted from "Baking From My Home to Yours" by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton-Mifflin, 2006)

Yield 8 servings
Time About 1 hour and 20 minutes

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup ground almonds (or, if you’d prefer, omit the almonds and use another 1/2 cup all-purpose flour)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon (or 2 limes)
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup flavorless oil, such as canola or safflower
  • Getting ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter an 8 1/2-x-4 1/2-inch loaf pan, place the pan on a lined baking sheet and set aside. Whisk together the flour, ground almonds, if you’re using them, baking powder and salt and keep near by as well.
  • Put the sugar and zest in a medium bowl and, working with your fingertips, rub the zest into the sugar until the sugar is moist and aromatic. Add the yogurt, eggs and vanilla to the bowl and whisk vigorously until the mixture is very well blended. Still whisking, stir in the dry ingredients, then switch to a large rubber spatula and fold in the oil. You’ll have a thick, smooth batter with a slight sheen. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top.
  • Slide the baking sheet into the oven and bake 35 to 40 minutes for the round cake or 50 to 55 minutes, or until the cake begins to come away from the sides of the pan; it will be golden brown and a knife inserted into the center of the cake will come out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack, cool for 5 minutes, then run a blunt knife between the cake and the sides of the pan. Unmold and cool to room temperature right-side up.
  • Serving: In France, this cake is usually served with a little sweetened crème fraiche, but it lends itself to other toppings as well. Fresh soft fruit, like sliced peaches or plums, is a natural with this as is berries with a touch of sugar. And, because the cake is plain and just a little tangy from the yogurt, it pairs happily with lemon cream, curd or mousse and is delicious with chocolate mousse or chocolate sauce.
  • Storing: Wrapped well, you can keep the cake at room temperature for at least 4 days and, like many pound cakes, it will be better one day later than it was the day it was made. If you do not glaze the cake, you can wrap it airtight and freeze it for up to 2 months; glazed it’s best not to freeze the cake.

01 February 2012

World Peace Cookies

It all started when Sugababe 2 read her Richard Scarry book. There was a picture of some small cute animal (I forget which one, the book's full of them) munching on a plate of chocolate cookies. Somehow the moral lesson of the story was eclipsed by that tantalising illustration of tiny chocolate chip cookies, because after that, she kept begging me to make her some. I know how it feels to have a craving, and more so, how important it is to satisfy one, especially when chocolate is involved. So, busy as I was, I immediately set about to make her the best chocolate cookies in the world. Of course, the fact that by that time I was experiencing the onset of the same craving may also explain why I went straight to the kitchen instead of saying "Shoo!".

Thankfully, I DO know the recipe for the best chocolate cookies ever. Seriously. You don't have to look elsewhere. Nothing beats this for an intense hit of chocolate. It's ridiculously good for very little effort. Just use really good dark chocolate, like Valrhona or Callebaut, and enjoy with a tall glass of cold milk. And because I love that salted chocolate thing going on there, I sometimes sprinkle some extra flaked Maldon sea salt on top before popping it into my mouth. Heaven. Bless Richard Scarry and his cute animals.

Recipe for World Peace Cookies

Excerpted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin, 2006).

"I once said I thought these cookies, the brainchild of the Parisian pastry chef Pierre Hermé, were as important a culinary breakthrough as Toll House cookies, and I've never thought better of the statement. These butter-rich, sandy-textured slice-and-bake cookies are members of the sablé family. But, unlike classic sablés, they are midnight dark — there's cocoa in the dough — and packed with chunks of hand-chopped bittersweet chocolate. Perhaps most memorably, they're salty. Not just a little salty, but remarkably and sensationally salty. It's the salt — Pierre uses fleur de sel, a moist, off-white sea salt — that surprises, delights and makes the chocolate flavors in the cookies seem preternaturally profound.
When I included these in Paris Sweets, they were called Korova Cookies and they instantly won fans, among them my neighbor Richard Gold, who gave them their new name. Richard is convinced that a daily dose of Pierre's cookies is all that is needed to ensure planetary peace and happiness."


175 grams all-purpose flour

30 grams unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

150 grams unsalted butter

180 grams light brown sugar

50 grams sugar

1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

150 grams bittersweet chocolate


1. Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.

2. Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more.

3. Turn off the mixer. Pour in the dry ingredients, drape a kitchen towel over the stand mixer to protect yourself and your kitchen from flying flour and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each time. Take a peek — if there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of times more; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough — for the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, and don't be concerned if the dough looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.

4. Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you've frozen the dough, you needn't defrost it before baking — just slice the logs into cookies and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)

5. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 160C. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

6. Using a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. (The rounds are likely to crack as you're cutting them — don't be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them.

7. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won't look done, nor will they be firm, but that's just the way they should be. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.


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