During my freshman year in college, I lived in a small on-campus house with fifteen other women, a couple of stray cats, a telephone in the hall, a record player (gosh, I'm old...), and a tiny kitchenette.
It was in that freshman dorm that I learned about the "domestic arts": how to knit during classes without clacking my knitting needles; how to butter up my adorable-but-humorless math professor (a rare male figure on a feminist campus) with homemade cookies; how to roll a cigarette by hand; and how to drive a stick-shift car.
I also learned how to make yogurt.
My roommate received one of those plug-in-and-forget-it plastic yogurt machines for her birthday, and — good little hippies that we were — we made yogurt every single week. We fancied ourselves quite the gourmets, eschewing the dining hall in favor of breakfasts of homemade yogurt and granola.
An ancient food product, yogurt (originally named yoghurmak, the Turkish word for "blend" or "thicken") probably originated at least 4,500 years ago, in the Balkans. According to Aliza Green's Starting with Ingredients, yogurt was spontaneously (and accidentally) fermented by wild bacteria inside a Bulgar settler's goatskin bag used for transporting milk.
The basic process of making yogurt hasn't changed, though the method is a bit more scientific now. At least two kinds of bacteria are introduced to unpasteurized, unhomogenized milk; the bacteria ingest the milk sugars and expel lactic acid as a waste product; and the increased acidity causes the milk proteins to form a solid curd. The acidity also prevents other harmful bacteria from forming. Depending on the combination of milk and bacteria used, the same basic process creates yogurt, buttermilk, sour cream, mascarpone, creme fraiche — or good old cottage cheese.
Be sure to read labels carefully:
- Contains active yogurt cultures means that the yogurt has not been heat-treated. Check to see that it does not contain starch or gelatin, which are used as stabilizers. Best choice if you want to get the full benefit of eating yogurt cultures.
- Made with active cultures means that the yogurt was probably heat-treated, thereby killing the active cultures that produced it. Usually done to prolong shelf-life.
Yogurt's health benefits are long-established: it's a good source of calcium, potassium, iodine, phosphorus and vitamin B2. It may help prevent arthritis and ulcers, reduce the risk of colorectal cancer, and raise levels of good cholesterol.
Ever since my college days, I haven't really enjoyed yogurt on its own, but, more and more, I love it in curries, cupcakes, sauces, salads, fruit and soups. Bulgarian and Greek yogurts are rich and thick, with cream on the top and a mild flavor; but even in my small town, there are many good choices of organic and specialty yogurts in the local grocery store.
Now if only I could find that old yogurt machine...
A one-quart container of yogurt makes four of these cakes — and believe me, it's so good that you'll want to make four cakes! Adapted ever so slightly from Barefoot Contessa at Home, by Ina Garten. Serves 8-10.
1-1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs (original recipe calls for extra-large eggs)
Grated zest of 2 lemons
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
For the first glaze:
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
For the second glaze:
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray an 8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan with baking spray. Line the bottom with parchment paper, and spray again.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into 1 bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, the eggs, lemon zest, and vanilla. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. With a rubber spatula, fold the vegetable oil into the batter, making sure it's all incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes, or until a cake tester placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean.
Meanwhile, make the first glaze: Cook the 1/3 cup lemon juice and 1/3 cup sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Set aside.
When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Carefully place on a baking rack over a sheet pan. While the cake is still warm, prick it here and there with a toothpick; then, pour the first glaze over the cake and allow it to soak in. Let the cake cool.
For the second glaze, mix together the confectioners' sugar and lemon juice until you achieve a pourable consistency, and pour over the cooled cake, allowing the glaze to dribble down the sides.
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