Lavender Vanilla French Yogurt Cake

The holidays are coming! The holidays are coming!

And, no, do not read that with a sense of panic in your mind. What I LOVE about the holidays is the chance to make delicious treats that I only make once a year. I don't have a ton of time to bake as much I want to, so family gatherings and holiday meals are great excuses to flex my baking muscles. 

Last year in my culinary skills class I had the opportunity to develop a recipe and write about it. Prior to starting that assignment, we had a visit from Annie Moss of Seastar Bakery, a Portland baked good extraordinaire; and she was kind enough to share a simple French yogurt cake recipe with my culinary skills class. This is an easy flexible recipe that yields a dense, moist, delicious cake.

Dry Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • “a good pinch of salt”

Wet Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk, plain, unsweetened yogurt
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbs dark rum

While I’m sure this recipe as written makes a good cake, I see recipes as guidelines and decided to do some tweaking.

  1. Instead of 2 cups of all-purpose flour, I did 1 cup all-purpose flour, ½ cup whole wheat flour, and ½ cup durum flour (aka semolina flour). I learned from Annie that durum flour provides an amazing texture! I add durum to just about any baked good at this point.
  2. A cursory Internet search showed me that lavender is usually combined with another flavor like lemon or vanilla. I chose to work with vanilla, so I purchased two 6 oz containers of vanilla flavored (and sweetened) whole milk yogurt. I really love Brown Cow's vanilla yogurt. You will end up with left over yogurt.
  3. I substituted vegetable oil for olive oil.
  4. Dark rum is really an optional ingredient that is added to taste. It is not my taste, so I did not include it.
  5. Lastly, adding lavender to anything can be tricky or down right disastrous. According to sources like Bon Appétit, adding too much lavender might make the end product taste like lavender soap. Based on a recipe for lemon-lavender pound cake from Bon Appétit, I decided to use 2 tsp. dried lavender flowers.

My frosting recipe is less a recipe and more a lesson in proportions. Frosting is easily made with powdered sugar, a dash of vanilla extract, butter or cream cheese and milk or alternative milk product. By altering the amounts used, you can change the consistency and flavor. I used powdered sugar, an 8 oz block of cream cheese and almond milk. The whole block of cream cheese was enough to coat the cake. Makes sure to take the cream cheese out of the fridge before you start baking so it has time to soften! (I often forget this step.)

Because I wanted a tangy (to contrast the lavender) and thick frosting, I added sugar carefully and very little almond milk. I add each ingredient just a little at a time until I get it right. 

A word about leaveners: Leaveners are responsible for giving height to the baked good by capturing and/or producing air. King Arthur Flour’s website gives a great break down on leaveners. In this cake, eggs, baking soda, and baking powder all act as leaveners. When the eggs are beaten with the sugar, the eggs get filled with air. Baking soda reacts with any acids in the recipes (an acid-base neutralization reaction, if you will) and creates air. Lastly, baking powder is a two-step leavener, meaning it reacts first with liquids while you’re mixing your ingredients together and reacts a second time to release more air when everything is heated in the oven.

Get Baking

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and set aside a medium sized cake pan. You can line it with parchment paper (per the recipe) or rub it down with a little bit of olive oil.
  2. Set out the ingredients you will use. I have limited counter space, but I try to have appropriate bowls and utensils at the ready too. Mise en place and all that. 
  3. Grind the lavender. I used a mortar and pestle, but if you have a small coffee grinder that you use for grinding spices, that works too. I included an image at the end so you can see about how finely ground the lavender is. 
  4. Combine the dry ingredients, and sift them together. 
  5. Combine the wet ingredients. Start with eggs and sugar only first (to build up air in the eggs), and then add the other ingredients.
  6. Once your wet ingredients are combined, start slowly adding the dry ingredients. If you use a folding technique (imaging folding the batter in on itself) you will preserve those precious air bubbles trapped in the batter. The batter will look pretty thick. Don't worry about it.
  7. Pour the batter into your cake pan, and place in the oven to bake for 30-35 minutes or until you can pull out a clean cake tester. I typically use a fork.
  8. After it's done baking, pull it out of the oven and let it sit for 10 minutes. Then take it out of the pan and allow it to cool. 
  9. Once it's cool, frost and add more lavender as a garnish.

References:

Damuck, J. Lemon-Lavender Pound Cake. Bon Appétit. http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/lemon-lavender-pound-cake.Published 2015. Accessed October 18, 2016.

King Arthur Flour Company. Leaveners in Baking. Leaveners Ingredient Guide. https://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipe/leaveners.html. Accessed October 18, 2016.

Moss, A. Gateau au yaourt (French yogurt cake) in Baking & Pastry. Culinary Skills. Portland. October 2016.

Perry, D. How to Cook With Lavender so Your Food Doesn’t Taste Like Soap. Bon Appétit. http://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/how-to/article/cooking-with-lavender. Published 2015. Accessed October 18, 2016.