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Yogurt (Recipe: lemon-yogurt cake)


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...

Lemon-yogurt cake

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.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

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I used to make my own yoghurt and yes I do have the plug-in yoghurt maker. Hubby has it every morning for breakfast. I have never used it in cakes before. I do use it to make Persian rice to make tah-dig that coveted crust ...yoghurt gives it a nice rich brown color.

Oh, that's the cake! Imagine what this would taste like with the creamy yogurt you find in France, but not in my little midwestern town.

Thanks, Lydia, for the inspiration.

I'm getting closer and closer all the time to buying myself another yoghurt maker. Why did I ever give mine away? That is an excellent cake.


I love yogurt but have never tried to make it at home - I don't know why, but I've never thought I could pull that off.

We don't have Greek yogurt here but a friend of mine who lived in the States for years taught me how to make it with regular/plain yogurt. I'll try it sometime.

I'm always drawn to baking recipes that call for yogurt - I'm amazed by how much moisture it adds to cakes, muffins, bread.

This lemon cake sounds fantastic - 2 glazes?? I'm tagging it right now. ;)

I always loved yogurt growing up, particularly those flavored with blueberry or strawberry. When I was in high school, my older brother went to work for a yogurt company, so I was in heaven. That was in the days of waxed cardboard yogurt containers and Russians who lived to a grand old age on a diet of yogurt!

I make yogurt at least 3 times a week, both soy and dairy. It is such a great food!

Just reading the recipe makes my mouth water and remember the cakes we made with the cooking groups. Oh Yum!!!

Lydia, you don't need to find that old yogurt machine - I make yogurt once a week with a metal bowl, a plate and a heating pad (the kind you put on your aching back). It's to the point now where, if I forget to make it or we eat all of it all without saving some for starter and have to get store-bought, we are kind of shocked at how much less tang and flavor it has.

mmmm....turkish yogurt soup.....

Veron, have you posted that delicious-sounding rice recipe? If so, please share the link!

Mimi, I promise that this cake will make you swoon. And do what I do -- make it when you have lots and lots of people around to eat it up so you are not tempted to eat it all yourself....

Tanna, I lost track of that old yogurt machine years ago. Now I think it would be fun to have it back.

Patricia, I'm just starting to learn about yogurt in baking. This cake is a particularly delicious example of that moistness.

TW, didn't one of the yogurt companies (Dannon, maybe?) run a series of ads featuring very elderly Russian or Balkan people who supposedly lived to old age because they ate yogurt? Now that I'm getting older, I can't remember the specifics -- maybe I need to be eating more yogurt!

Melody, I'm in awe! Do you use your yogurt in cooking or baking?

Pauline, I've made this lemon cake many times since we tried it in cooking group. It is a definite winner.

Scott, you must tell us more about your yogurt-making method. If you've blogged about it, please share the link. I'll be standing by with my metal bowl and heating pad!

Lydia, a friend of mine said that he would just take whole milk and stir in a spoonful of "real yogurt" and then set the mixture in an oven overnight at warm. I have never done this, but the results are supposed to be superior to the stuff we buy. Hopefully i remember this recipe correctly!

It was Dannon, indeed!

Eons ago, I made all our yogurt (and granola too). First I started off making it in a huge Best Foods mayo jar. Then I swtiched to a Salton yogurt machine. Now I'm hooked on Greek yogurt.

That Barefoot Contessa cake is making me drool!!!

i want to be a good little hippie and make my own yogurt. i didn't evern know you could. scampering off to google plug in yogurt machines........... :)

This sounds delicious! I'm not sure what the property of yoghurt is that gives such moist, tender cakes but I love it. I've tried before Clotilde's gateau au yaourt waaaaaay back in the archives at Chocolate & Zucchini and that was fantastic, so I can't wait to try this one too...

I started using yogurt in baking when we move to Europe - I could never find sour or buttermilk and you can't sour 'long-life' milk. (God, that's awful stuff)
And I use it in cooking instead of sour cream. Plus I eat vanilla (with live cultures) and fruit almost every day for lunch... Locals eat it with cereal instead of milk.
Hmmm we're big yogurt eaters, here. I have a photo on my blog somewhere of the yogurt section of the store where I shop - It's a huge, long aisle - both sides, nothing but yogurts...
And I had a record player in my dorm, too - Women only, I might add...

Callipygia, I'm getting some great ideas for making yogurt -- see Scott's comment about his method, too. I'm not sure my oven can be set low enough for this to work without baking the yogurt culture, but it will be fun to try it!

TW, thanks! Glad I still have a few memory cells....

Sher, you're so lucky to have good Greek yogurt available. I have to travel some distance to find it in the middle eastern market.

Aria, I think yogurt-making is addictive, so be careful -- once you start eating homemade yogurt, it's hard to go back to storebought!

Zoe, definitely want to try more yogurt cakes -- I'm so impressed with the creaminess of this lemon cake.

Katie, please feel free to post the link to your blog. Of course it will make those of us in the US completely jealous to see an entire aisle of yogurt.

I have lovely memories of eating yogurt for breakfast(or any other time !) in Greece. We spread some thick Greek yogurt on a saucer and drizzled a little thyme honey on top. With a piece of fruit and a slice of bread we had a complete meal. I thicken yogurt by straining out the water using a coffee filter - takes a couple of hours.

I love yoguhurt and it really does a great job of keeping on trim.

Ha! I learned to make youghurt at my neo-feminist all women's college too, but not for the same reasons. I made mine for an anthro class about ancient technologies. I also made tofu. The guy that got the best grade in the class (yes we had guys on our all-women campus, they came over from our brother school) made beer of course. Suck up. ;-)

Lydia, here is the link to my blog post about making yogurt: http://needsmoregarlic.typepad.com/needs_more_garlic/2006/07/now_thats_cultu.html

Despite the fact that I have NO room in my kitchen for another gizmo, I want a yogurt maker!

Thanks so much for pointing out the difference on the labels. As someone who reads labels obsessively at the market that's so good to know! I just love yogurt, on its own or in other dishes, and Ina Garten's cake sounds light and fresh, perfect for springtime.

Mary, what a wonderful way to start the morning -- yogurt and thyme honey. Yum.

Tom, I'm for anything that helps in the trimming!

Ann, maybe there was something about yogurt and feminism in one of the classes I skipped to learn how to drive a car with a stick shift! We had a couple of token guys, too, from the university across town.

Scott, thanks so much for the link. Everyone, read Scott's post, and then get those heating pads out of storage!

Brilynn, see Scott's post -- maybe we don't need those yogurt machines after all.

Susan, the labeling on yogurt is tricky, isn't it?

Wow! I'm impressed that you made your own yogurt. Cool!

The Contessa's cake recipe sounds really good.


great post and great pick on recipe! Yes, will get heating pad!

As a turk I cannot have a single meal without yogurt. I never made my yogurt back in Turkey, but here for some reason I started to make yogurt and it's not difficult at all. Actually, I was working on a post on how to make yogurt. Maybe I should go ahead and post it. It's easier than using a yogurt maker.

Something else, along with Sourdough Bread, that I have wanted to make but not yet gotten around to!

Paz, this cake is really easy -- in fact, I just made one last night! It takes only 10 minutes of working time.

Gattina, I can't wait to try the heating pad method. Could get me back into the yogurt-making habit again.

Burcu, I love learning about all the wonderful Turkish recipes that use yogurt. Seems like many people have their own method for making it. When you post about yours, please send me the link or leave it in the comments here.

Freya, sourdough bread is high on my list of things I've never tried to make but always wanted to try. When the La Brea Bakery book came out years ago, I tried to make Nancy Silverton's grape starter, but I don't remember ever actually using it!

I just finished my breakfast of homemade yogurt with honey. I don't use a plug in yogurt maker, just a heating pad in a cooler. I've posted about it here: http://www.ceresandbacchus.com/archive.php?name=20070210
It's really easy. I eat if for breakfast, in cakes and muffins, in Indian curries and to make savory dishes like tzatziki.

Mary, thank you for sharing your post. Another heating pad method to try. I'm beginning to feel the urge to make yogurt again...

Based on the thundering response, there are a lot of people who love yogurt out there. I couldn't ever figure out why I loved the yogurt so much in Europe when we vacationed, and when we came home I'd try brand after brand after brand. Nothing but disappointments. I haven't tried making my own, I must add. But about a year ago I discovered Greek yogurt at Trader Joe's. It is absolutely out of this world. It's imported - the brand is Fage - and my Trader Joe's carries it in full fat and fat free. We mix a container of each, add a little bit of Splenda (my husband is diabetic so we can't use honey or sugar) and it's a very important part of our breakfast. I simply adore this yogurt. Thick, creamy, rich, with a huge depth of flavor. And there isn't a bit of sour or bitter flavor that can sometimes bite you at the end, like the finish on wine.

Carolyn, welcome to The Perfect Pantry! Mixing full fat and nonfat yogurts -- a great idea. I often buy the full fat for baking, but it's too rich to eat on its own. And yet, the nonfat has no flavor. I never thought to combine them. I'll check for the Greek yogurt at Trader Joe's on my next shopping trip.

I love this post. I love yogurt, and I've always wanted to make my own because I consume so much of it. Thanks for all the interestin facts and tips. Hope you find the machine ;)

Christine, thanks -- and now I'm moving on to the heating pad method after reading all of these great comments and suggestions!

hi lydia, i just wanted to let you know i ordered a yogurt maker today. it has separate cups, looks really neat. also a yogurt cheese maker. i'll post on it as soon as i make some flavors. i fear you've created a monster, muah! :) -aria

Wow. What a great post. I so want to make my own yoghurt now too like Aria. Just need to get me a yoghurt maker. :)

I shall come back to this post when i'm ready cos i'd like to taste that cake so badly.

I can't wait! Thanks! :)

Mae (and everyone!), check out the results of Aria's yogurt-making:

So glad she was inspired by The Perfect Pantry!

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