God, my apartment is hot. It’s not even that horrible outside on this sunny Seattle evening, but the kitchen is a blazing inferno. Jess, my dinner guest, will be shortly. The yogurt cake with lemon zest and lemon glaze is resting contentedly on the counter, seemingly oblivious to the heat. The sockeye is roasting ever so gently in the oven. I’ve got the fan firmly parked in the doorway to the thing I optimistically call the balcony, and I’ve got myself firmly parked in front of it. I feel shiny. It may be time to get the wine out of the fridge. Oh, how I suffer.

But I’ve rediscovered the Old 97s album “Wreck Your Life,” and I can sing just like Rhett Miller. I’m so impressed. It looks like growing up in Oklahoma pays off after all; I can get a nice, soulful twang and sway my hips like a two-stepping pro, preferably while wagging a chef’s knife over a pile of steaming potatoes. Too bad I don’t look like Rhett Miller too.

The doorbell will ring any minute, and soon the sockeye and I will be fork-tender. As for you, dear reader: may your apartment possess a powerful air conditioner; may your evening filled with the best of company, and may your cakes be always light and lemony.


Gâteau au Citron, or, French-Style Yogurt Cake with Lemon

adapted from Gâteaux de Mamie

This type of cake is an old classic in France, the sort of humble treat that a grandmother would make. Traditionally, the ingredients are measured in a yogurt jar, a small glass cylinder that holds about 125 ml. Because most American yogurts don’t come in such smart packaging, you’ll want to know that 1 jar equals about 1/2 cup.

For the cake:

1 jar plain yogurt
2 jars granulated sugar
3 large eggs
3 jars unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. grated lemon zest
1 jar canola oil

For the glaze:

Juice from 2 lemons
1/2 jar powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, sugar, and eggs, stirring until well blended. Add the flour, baking powder, and zest, mixing to just combine. Add the oil and stir to incorporate. At first, it will look like a horrible, oily mess, but keep stirring, and it will come together into a smooth batter. Pour and scrape the batter into a buttered 9-inch round cake pan (after buttering, I sometimes line the bottom with a round of wax or parchment paper, and then I butter that too).

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the cake feels springy to the touch and a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Do not overbake.

Cool cake on a rack for about 20 minutes; then turn it out of the pan to cool completely.

When the cake is thoroughly cooled, combine the lemon juice and powdered sugar in a small bowl and spoon it gently over the cake. The glaze will be thin and will soak in like a syrup.

Variations: This type of yogurt-based cake is a terrific base for many improvisations. For a basic yogurt cake, leave out the lemon zest and do not use the lemon juice glaze. For an almond version, try replacing 1 jar of flour with 1 jar of finely ground almonds. You can also play with adding various fruits (if frozen, do NOT thaw before adding) or nuts, if you like. When I add fruit, I generally pour half the cake batter into the prepared pan, top it with a layer of fruit, and then pour in the other half of the batter, sometimes adding more fruit on the very top.

Yield: 8 servings, or thereabouts