I am not a baker.
I say that to my friends all the time, and they shoot back with particular instances: “what about the peanut butter cookies that one time?” or “how about the blood orange polenta cake you made for the dinner party?” And it’s true – there have been isolated occasions when I’ve produced relatively competent desserts for potlucks and for company. But my attempts at baking most often result in a missing cup of flour, an attempt to spread brownie batter between three tiny pans, or banging my head against my kitchenaid when I realize I’m an egg short and the sugar syrup is already burning on the stove. I don’t read recipes all the way through. I am not careful or meticulous. I lose count halfway through stirring the batter 50 times and adding three quarter cups of water. I don’t level off my measuring cups of dry ingredients and I don’t own a sifter.
I am not a baker.
But the produce store had big bags of key limes on Thursday, which I’d never bought before, but had always meant to, and since I wasn’t about to make a key lime pie . . . I kept drifting back to all of the yogurt cake recipes I’d been reading, recipes that claimed that yogurt cake was the kind of cake that you could just waltz into the kitchen and “throw together” with barely any measuring and barely any thought (never mind that this kitchen was supposedly stocked with cake-baking ingredients year-round and inhabited by French people). Even children bake yogurt cake in France, and it turns out just perfectly! (Of course, these are the same children who can speak French by age 6, so I was understandably skeptical.)
So on Friday morning, before I had breakfast, before I had coffee, I, too, made my attempt to become the kind of person who just waltzes into the kitchen and “throws together” a cake. And you know what? One mixing bowl later, with no leveling off, no sifter, old baking powder, and a leaky springform pan . . . it worked. Not only am I the kind of person who can “throw together” a cake, I’m now also the kind of person with a “go-to cake,” the kind that’s endlessly adaptable to what you have on hand, the kind that makes as little mess as baking a cake can make, the kind that couldn’t be dry if you tried, the kind that’s casual enough for brunch but fancy enough for a dinner party, and sweet enough for dessert but fruity enough for breakfast.
I’m a cook with a cake.
Key Lime Yogurt Cake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
1 cup plain yogurt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
zest of 5-6 key limes
1/4 cup key lime juice (about 8 key limes)
1 2/3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan or springform pan with oil or butter. If it’s not springform, or you’re particularly concerned about it sticking, you can add a coating of flour or sugar over the oil or butter, making sure to tap off any extra.
Add the yogurt, sugar, oil, lime zest, and lime juice to a large bowl. Whisk to mix. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking between each one. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir.
Pour into the cake pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the top is brown and a tester comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, then gently remove from the pan to prevent sticking. Serve warm or at room temperature.
A few notes:
- The original recipe calls for whole milk yogurt; I imagine it would be fantastic with that, but since I had fat free in my fridge, that’s what I used. The cake didn’t seem to suffer.
- The basic recipe is an awesome platform for whatever ingredients you want to use – any citrus would be exactly the same as above, but you could combine a citrus recipe with a layer of fresh or frozen (not defrosted) fruit in between layers of batter, make it an almond cake with ground nuts and almond extract, or really take the flavors in any direction you’d like.
- Lots of recipes suggest some kind of sauce or syrup for the cake. I needed something portable, so I didn’t do anything this time, and I can say that it’s perfectly wonderful plain. A berry sauce wouldn’t be a bad thing, though, if you wanted to fancy it up.