This simple-to-make, classic French Yogurt Cake is the perfect accompaniment to your tea or coffee, morning, noon and night. A basic staple in French households, the crumb is tender, light and moist, subtly flavoured with lemon zest.
I love all things French, especially when it comes to French baking. I love their more complex bakes like profiteroles, but I adore the rustic, French home baking that is lesser-known. This Yogurt cake is one such example. I actually used the base of this recipe for my Earl Grey Yogurt Cake and Plum Cake, and they have proven to be reader favourites.
Much like a pound cake, this recipe uses only basic ingredients; eggs, sugar, flour, and oil. Its point of difference is that it also includes yogurt, hence the name 'Gâteau au Yaourt'. Teamed with the oil, the result is an incredibly moist, fluffy cake that whilst humble, will become a family favourite.
The history behind this cake is so utterly charming. French grandmothers would pass on this simple recipe to their grandchildren. To keep it simple to remember, the ingredients would be measured out with the yogurt pot. No scale or measuring cup is needed. It's the first cake that French children learn to make, and using the yogurt pot makes it easy for them to remember the ratios. Whilst ratios may vary from household to household, the sentiment behind the recipe remains.
I've converted the ratios to grams and cups for those who want the regular metric or US customary quantities. If you want to walk down the traditional route, then use a yogurt pot, like they do in France. A standard 4.4oz/125g yogurt pot can be used. If you want to use this method, I have notes in the recipe card.
Why you'll love this recipe
- Uses basic ingredients. All the ingredients are basic pantry or fridge staples. I love its humble simplicity - that's what makes this cake fantastic.
- No fancy equipment is needed. One bowl and one whisk- that's all you need - isn't it fantastic!!
- Your kids can make this. This is a great recipe for kids to learn to bake in the kitchen. They'll be proud as punch pulling this out of the oven.
- It's an adaptable recipe. This recipe forms the perfect 'base' recipe for a yogurt loaf cake. You can create your flavour adventure from here.
Oil - For this recipe, use a vegetable, canola oil or sunflower oil for a neutral taste. You can substitute for olive oil, but the more robust taste of the olive oil will change the taste of the loaf. Either way- it's delicious!
Yogurt - The French would use a natural style yogurt for this recipe, but I tend to use a Greek yogurt- purely because that's what I always have in the fridge!! Alternatively, buttermilk, sour cream or creme fraiche are good options too.
Lemon and vanilla extract - Both these ingredients flavour the yogurt cake. The lemon zest adds a beautiful, subtle citrus flavouring but can be left out. The vanilla extract is a must to add a lovely depth of flavour to the sponge. Vanilla bean paste or the seeds of a vanilla pod can be used as substitutes.
Reason number 14078 to love this cake. The steps to make this cake are so brilliantly simple. If you're venturing into the world of baking or want a cake you can throw together last minute - then this is your go-to cake. I usually share lots of process steps and images in my recipe posts, but as you can see, it's kept at a minimum here!
*Be sure to see the recipe card below for the full ingredients list & instructions!*
1. Prepare pan and lemon sugar. Grease the base and sides of a 2lb loaf pan. Line the pan with parchment paper leaving an inch or so of the paper to overhang the sides to form a sling later on (Image 1). It makes it way easier to lift the cake out once baked.
2. Rub lemon and sugar together. When using any citrus zest in baking, this is my biggest tip to get the most out of its flavour. By adding the lemon zest to the sugar, and using your fingers to rub the two together, you are releasing all the natural oils from the zest into the sugar. And this means more flavour! (Image 2)
3. Whip the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract. In a large bowl, using a whisk, whip the eggs and sugar until they turn light, pale and aerated. If doing this by hand, don't whisk for less than a minute. We want lots of air in the mixture! This is your arm workout for the day! (Image 3 & 4)
4. Mix in yogurt and oil. Add the yogurt and the oil into the mixing bowl and whisk until just combined (Image 5 & 6).
5. Sift in dry ingredients. We're keeping it simple and sifting the dry ingredients directly into our mixing bowl (less washing up). Sift the flour, baking powder and salt through a fine-mesh sieve onto the whisked eggs. Use a rubber spatula to fold through the wet mixture (Image 7 & 8).
There will be small lumps in the batter- this is totally fine - don't be tempted to keep mixing to get them out as you'll end up over-mixing which runs the risk of a firm sponge texture.
6. Pour into prepared pan and bake. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top (Image 9). Give the pan a couple of taps on the work surface to release any bubbles.
Bake in the preheated oven for 50-55 minutes until golden brown. It will be ready when a toothpick entered into the centre comes out with a few moist crumbs but no wet batter. Or the centre of the sponge, when pressed gently, springs back.
Remove the pan from the oven and set it onto a wire rack for ten minutes, then use the paper sling to lift the loaf out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
I prefer to simply dust the top of the cake with powdered icing sugar, but you could drizzle it with a lemon glaze. (Refer to the glaze recipe on my Earl Grey Yogurt Cake and sub the orange juice for lemon).
They often brush the top with a marmalade glaze in France and serve it for breakfast alongside their morning coffee.
My suggestion is to serve with a dollop of yogurt, or sweetened whipped cream, some fresh berries and a drizzle of honey. It's unbelievably tasty!
As mentioned earlier, this is a great base recipe that you can adapt to suit your taste (and what you have at home on the day!). Here are some ideas to get you started.
- Raspberry and Lemon: Add a tablespoon or two of lemon juice into the batter along with a ½ cup of fresh raspberries.
- Blueberry and Almond: Add a ½ cup of blueberries and ½ teaspoon of almond extract to the batter. Sprinkle the batter with flaked almonds before baking.
- Chocolate: Mix chopped chocolate or chocolate chips into the batter. Once baked, make a simple chocolate ganache to pour over.
- Orange Blossom and Thyme: One of my favourite iterations of this cake. Add a teaspoon of orange blossom water to the batter and decorate with a sweet orange glaze. Sprinkle some fresh thyme leaves for a subtle herbaceous taste. I've served this on our speciality coffee van, Dear Coco and it always sells out quickly.
Top tip when adding fruit to a cake, toss the fruit through a tablespoon of the flour before adding the fruit to the batter. This prevents the fruit from sinking whilst the cake is baking.
Frequently asked questions
Yogurt adds moisture through the extra fat content. Along with the oil, this results in a cake that will always be moist. This then makes it last longer! Bonus!
The process of making yogurt is different from French and Greek yogurt. French yogurt is set in individual pots, while Greek is made in a large vat and then portioned out. This results in a different texture and taste.
For our recipe today, both types of yogurt can be used.
To store: This cake keeps exceptionally well due to the extra moisture from the oil and yogurt. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days. It actually develops in flavour as the days go by! It makes a great make-ahead treat!
To freeze: Either freeze as a whole wrapped well in plastic wrap or placed in an airtight container. Or slice and wrap individual slices in plastic wrap. The yogurt cake can be frozen for up to 2 months. Leave out on the countertop to thaw.
Absolutely! Bake in a (17cm-23cm) 7 to 9-inch cake pan -whichever size pan you have on hand. The bake time will change according to the size of your pan. Also the thickness of the cake will vary. A smaller pan will result in a thicker, taller cake which means a longer bake time. A larger pan will result in a thinner cake which means a smaller bake time.
You can see in the images below, I baked this in a 17cm (7-inch) springform pan and baked it for 55 minutes.
- Max out the flavour of your lemon zest. Rub that sugar and zest together. This step makes such a difference - a may seem a small step but it makes a mighty difference!
- Don't overmix. Once the dry ingredients are added to the mixture, fold through gently. Mix until a few flour streaks remain. It's tempting to keep mixing the beautiful batter, but it'll result in a chewy sponge, and we definitely don't want that.
- Don't overbake. We've added yogurt into our sponge to create extra moisture and then we've been careful not to over mix the batter. It would be such a shame to overbake the loaf and ruin it. Insert a toothpick into the sponge and it should come out with a few moist crumbs only. Cover with foil if the top browns too quickly and continue baking.
Equipment you’ll need
- Large mixing bowl: You only need this one bowl to prepare the batter for ultimate ease.
- Whisk: I make this cake by hand but if you prefer to use an electric hand-held beater, go for it.
- Rubber spatula: This allows you to scrape right to the bottom of the bowl when folding in the dry ingredients, making sure there are no remaining pockets of flour.
- 2 lb loaf pan 23x14cm (9x5.5inch): The ideal pan for the loaf shape. Bake in a (17cm-23cm) 7 to 9-inch cake pan also. The bake time will change according to the size of your pan.
This cake is so versatile and such a winner on so many levels. With its delicately sweet taste, it has that nostalgic feeling when eating that only a humble vanilla cake can create. I truly hope that you love it as much as I do.
More simple cake recipes
If you tried this French Yogurt Cake or any other recipe on my website, please let me know how you go in the comments below. I love hearing from you. Also, please leave a star rating whilst you're there!
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French Yogurt Cake Recipe
- 2 lb loaf pan 23 x 14cm (9 x 5.5-inch) or use round cake pans
- 200 g granulated sugar
- 1 lemon, zest
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 240 g Greek yogurt (or plain natural)
- 120 ml vegetable oil (or canola)
- 250 g plain flour (all-purpose)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon fine salt
- Heat oven & prep pan: Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F) Grease with butter a 2 lb loaf pan 23 x 14cm (9 x 5.5-inch) and line the base and sides with parchment paper.
- Rub lemon and sugar together. Add the lemon zest to the bowl of sugar and rub the two together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist, lightly lemon coloured and filled with the lemon fragrance.
- Whisk eggs & sugar: In a large bowl, add the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract and whisk until pale and light - this takes approximately one minute.
- Mix in yogurt & oil: Add the yogurt and oil and whisk until fully combined.
- Sift in dry ingredients: Sift into the bowl the flour, baking powder, and salt. Fold together gently: Using a spatula, fold gently until a few streaks of flour remain. Small lumps in the batter is totally fine.
- Bake: Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake on the centre shelf for 50-55 minutes until golden brown and the sponge springs back or a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. If the cake is browning too quickly then cover in aluminium foil and continue to bake. Cool on a wire rack for ten minutes, then using the paper sling, remove from the pan to cool completely.Serve with a light dusting of powdered icing sugar (optional).
All recipes are developed and tested in Metric grams. I strongly recommend that you bake using digital scales for a more accurate result. I have provided a conversion to US customary in the recipe but please note that I haven’t tested using this method.
- 1 pot oil
- 2 pots sugar
- 2 pots yogurt
- 4 pots flour