Monday 11 May 2009

Cake is my drogue of choice

Yogurt Cake

Ever since we began coming here four years ago, I never feel like I’m really ‘here’ unless - on some pretext, real or invented - I’ve visited the Droguerie Centrale. In part, I’m fascinated by the word, droguerie. Why? And why not the rather beautiful quincaillerie, which also means hardware store. Perhaps once upon a time, in among the carpet beaters, mousetraps, rolling pins, watering cans, fly swatters and bottles of turpentine, there was a corner devoted to medications too? If so, it’s the only thing they no longer seem to stock.

Droguerie, Agde

This year, my pretext is cake, yoghurt cake to be precise - a phrase which, when uttered to any French person, is almost guaranteed to elicit tales of visits to a favourite auntie’s house, after school snacks and many, many suggestions on how to make it. I love its simplicity. A French yoghurt pot holds 125ml (half an American cup measure, I think). Once you’ve measured out the yoghurt, you wash and dry the pretty glass jar and then use it to measure the rest of your ingredients.

So I had my inspiration but what I didn’t have was a tin. A simple question, you’d think, ‘I’m looking for a tin to bake a yoghurt cake in’? It took Monsieur Droguerie Centrale about five minutes to introduce me to his full range. ‘You have the classic, then non stick - here’s a round one, or a loaf tin. Or perhaps the kind with the loose bottom, then you have this one, which is a simple tin but with the insert you can also use it to bake baba au rhum, and this one, you can also use to make a charlotte.’ I followed him around the tiny shop, trying not to trip over a plastic sack of corks the size of a bean bag, a towering Pisa of colourful buckets ... all the time trying to drag French cake tin vocabulary from the baking recess of my brain.

In the end, I decided on a Pyrex loaf-shaped dish because, today, I quite like the idea of fat little slices of cake rather than wedges, and I thought I could also probably make terrines in it too. If I do, you’ll be the first to know.

Droguerie inside deepDroguerie inside

Yoghurt cake

You can make a plain cake, which will certainly be delicious. But I had some lovely, fat sultanas and pine nuts from the market in the cupboard and I wanted to use them. I soaked the sultanas in some Earl Grey for half an hour or so before adding them, which isn’t essential but I like it. You could also, very happily, use simple vegetable oil instead of the olive oil, but I think olive oil gives it a slightly less sweet, more perfumed flavour which I like. If you prefer, orange zest would be lovely in place of the lemon.

1 pot of whole milk yoghurt
2 pots of caster sugar
3 pots of plain flour
1 sachet (11g) of baking powder
A good pinch of salt
2 eggs
½ pot of good, fruity extra virgin olive oil
Zest of a small lemon
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 pot sultanas (soaked in Earl Grey if you like)
½ pot pine nuts
A little butter for greasing the tin

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Lightly grease a cake tin about 24cm diameter by 6cm high, or, as I did, a Pyrex dish about 30cmx6cmx6cm. Line the base with baking parchment and butter the paper.


I like the way that the sugar came in a ‘milk’ carton. It makes it very easy to measure out the exact amount.

In the mix

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and then stir in the yoghurt and olive oil until well combined. Pour the liquid into the flour mixture, beating gently and thoroughly with a wooden spoon as you go until everything is well combined. Fold in the zest, vanilla extract, sultanas and pine nuts. Pour the batter into the tin and bake for about 25-30 minutes until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. (I overcooked mine a bit. I’m not sure if it was the Pyrex or the strange oven which cooks slightly hotter than mine at home – tant pis, it was still delish.) Cool in the tin for 5 minutes and then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

Baking powder

Sometimes, when I’m abroad, I’ll buy ingredients just because their packaging looks pretty. In this case, I actually did need this baking powder for my cake…

Scrap table

I was VERY excited to find this pretty little table dumped by the rubbish outside of a neighbouring house. It’s the kind of modest, distressed little thing which would cost a rather distressing fortune in a London shop. I dragged it into the house, gave it a good scrub and now it’s sitting happily under the window – the perfect place to rest a cup of tea, read a book, write a postcard..


  1. You are lovely - your posting are lovely - and I know that it won't be long before all of the other foodies out in blogland discover your wonders. The vacation sounds so wonderful - and I never would have thaought of soaking the sultanas(raisins to us here) in tea - yum

  2. Perhaps a "Debora Robertson" line of shabby chic furnishings rescued from the back alleys of small french towns is in your future??

  3. The cake sounds simple and delicious. I would love to see a picture of the kitchen where you are staying. Are you going to haul your darling little table home with you?

  4. I make cakes with light olive oil but perhaps I may use extra virgin next time to see about that "fruitiness" you mentioned. The cake sounds really moist, in which case its a winner with me. Gorgeous pick up with the table. You are reminding me a little of Elizabeth David with her Mediterranean adventures. That wouldnt ring a bell now would it.

  5. Hello Lady P,

    YOU'RE lovely. You made my day.

    Hello Marty,

    Well, stranger things have only problem would be not keeping all of the little treasures for myself!

    Hello Penny,

    We just came back to London last night but we return in a few weeks, so I'll take pictures of the kitchen then. In fact, it's very similar to the kitchen in my profile picture. That's in the house next door, which we rent when we go with a crowd, and it's owned by the same lovely woman. Like many of the French kitchens of my experience, it's quite simple with no flashy appliances but very well equiped and laid out for cooking and eating.

    And, yes, plans are afoot to bring the little table back with us if we can find an inexpensive courier. I'm quite in love with its cute little self.

    Hello Mariana,

    I do love fruity olive oil in a plain cake - you want one with a nice, round flavour and not one which is 'grassy' and a bit sharp. And thanks for the ED comment - you know how much I love her!


  6. I didn't know what sultanas were...a great addition to your cake, I'm sure. Love the French kitchen, hardware store and your new table.

  7. I adore those charming little pots for yogurt and use mine to house my makeup brushes. Everytime I do my eyes or blush my waning cheek, I think of the dark, charming man who sold me the "fig et banane" yogurt and just grin. Oh, how I love this post and I think that table is so happy to be beloved again.

    Ta, Karen

  8. Hello Catherine - We often use 'raisins' to cover all kinds of dried grapes, but sultanas tend to be larger, juicier, sweeter and paler. Currants are smaller, sweet too but with an edge of tartness. They're the ones we reach for when making mincemeat and, my own favourite, Eccles cakes(especially with a slab of Lancashire cheese, as they serve it at St John, one of my favourite restaurants).

    Hello Karen,

    Aren't those little pots the best? I brought a whole lot of empties home. I think they'll be perfect for lemon posset.


  9. Lovely table. Somewhere to dream up your next recipe...

  10. Not only did the cake look delicious but it tatsed deilcious too. The smell wafted through the house up to the roof terrace and drew us down just in time to see it emerge golden from the oven.It melted in the mouth and was just one of the many delights served us by Debora at number 11 Rue d'Haute - come back soon please Debora (and Sean) - we are not starving but we do miss your cooking!

    A xx

  11. I love those kind of finds. Your cake sound perfect.

  12. Avril - I'm glad you're not starving! I hope you're putting my market basket to good use and we look forward to seeing you in a few weeks. Remember to water my basil!
    Love, Dx

    Nett's Nook - Thank you so much for visiting my blog. I do love a simple cake, one you can throw together in 10 minutes or so.

  13. i love your blog and the cake sounds lovely with a cuppa

  14. Hello C&C,

    Thanks for visiting my blog! I hope you'll try the cake.



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