To celebrate, I baked myself a cake. And because, in my humble opinion, lemon always wins the epic lemon v. chocolate debate, it is this beautiful French-Style Yogurt Cake with Lemon, brought to us by Molly Wizenberg, that I decided to bake.
Admittedly, my decision to make this cake might have had mostly to do with the story Molly penned about it in her cookbook, A Homemade Life. The story tells us how some random guy, who lived all the way across the country, emailed her about this very cake. And how she responded, asking just a couple questions, either to appear polite, or perhaps, to slyly keep the conversation going. And then how emails became text messages, which became phone calls, that turned into that first, in-person rendezvous, which led to a relationship, and then a marriage. Maybe that’s how I’ll meet the love of my life, the one my parents seem to think I’m hiding from them. Little do they know, online dating is looming in my future.
Maybe if I bake this cake often enough though, I’ll be able to avoid that fate. I’ll leave my windows open one sunny, spring afternoon and let the intertwined aromas of lemon and sugar drift through the air. The beautiful man, who will just happen to be walking past, will smell the wafting scents and, unable to resist, make an immediate detour for my apartment. “Excuse me, but that cake…I just have to have a piece!”. Alright, so maybe not, but I wouldn’t be entirely surprised. This cake is that good.
Moist and light, the cake itself is delicious. The syrup soaks perfectly into it giving the cake an extra lemony kick. What seals the deal though, is the icing. Oh man, that icing. Gently encasing the cake with a shiny, smooth, sugary shell, the icing adds a simple complexity to the cake, making it at once luxurious and homey. Its sweetness, which flawlessly contrasts the tartness of the lemon, transforms this cake from one that might last a day or so on your kitchen counter to one that is lucky to survive the evening. While you may be tempted to eat this cake, in its entirety, yourself, it is a cake that ultimately must be shared.
And share I did, because, through the endless reflecting that has defined this quarter, I’ve come to one conclusion: What’s made me love Northwestern, love love love, are the people. The random kid I sat next to in class who happened to have the most incredible stories and insights. The casual acquaintance who always gave me the biggest smile and the brightest hello. The best friend who pulled all-nighters with me, taking study breaks to discuss those big question of life that are best confronted when anyone with an ounce of sanity is asleep.
To all my fellow Northwestern students – from the strangers I wish I’d met to the best friends I’ve known since freshman year – you are who I will miss. Thank you for giving Northwestern a special place in my heart. Now, lets eat cake.
French-Style Yogurt Cake with Lemon
from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg
Molly suggests a couple of variations: “Instead of making a lemon-flavored cake, try orange or tangerine, or Meyer lemon, when in season. You can also try replacing the vegetable oil with a fruity, round-flavored olive oil; it brings a subtly richer flavor and wonderful fragrance. And for an especially delicate, sweetly fragrant cake try replacing 1/2 cup flour with 1/2 cup very finely ground blanched almonds.” Next time I think I’ll try some olive oil and ground almonds. And there will definitely be a next time.
Makes 1 9-inch cake
For the cake
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/2 cup well-stirred plain whole-milk yogurt (not low fat or nonfat)
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil, such as canola
For the syrup
1/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 cup lemon juice
For the icing
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
3 tablespoons lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan with butter or cooking spray. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper, and grease it too.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add lemon zest and whisk to mix thoroughly.
In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, sugar, and eggs, stirring to mix well. Add the flour mixture and stir to just combine. Add the oil and stir well. At first, it will look like a horrible, oily mess, but keep going, and it will come together into a smooth, pale yellow batter. Pour into the prepared pan.
Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Do not overbake.
Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edge of the pan, and invert the cake onto a wide, flat plate or pan. Remove and discard the parchment paper. Invert the cake back onto the rack so that it sits upright, with the shinier, slightly domed side facing up. Set the rack over a rimmed baking sheet.
In a small bowl, whisk together the syrup ingredients. Spoon the syrup slowly atop the warm cake. Some of the syrup will run down the sides and onto the baking sheet; don’t worry. Cool completely.
In a small bowl, combine the icing ingredients. Whisk well to dissolve the sugar completely. Spoon the icing over the cooled cake.
Serve immediately–the icing will still be soft and a bit juicy–or wait until the icing has firmed up, about 1 hour. Whichever way you like.