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.
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.
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
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 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.
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…
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..