I don't do a lot of baking, but I do like to make simple cakes and breads from time to time. Yesterday, I realized we didn't really have any desserts or other sweets in the house. I was in the kitchen working on other things, it was raining outside, and I had time, so I baked a cake.
The recipe I chose is an old French standby — Gâteau au yaourt. This yogurt cake is something French children have learned to make for generations. Making it is very simple and straightforward, and you don't even need a kitchen scale or measuring cup. Yogurt comes in containers that hold 125 milliliters — that's about half a cup in American terms — and you can use the yogurt container to measure the other ingredients that go into the cake batter.
Here's my translation into English of the recipe I used yesterday. I don't remember where I got it; it's just one of several Gâteau au yaourt recipes in our collection.
1 pot plain yogurt (one-half cup)
2 pots sugar (one cup)
1 pinch salt
3 pots flour (1½ cups)
½ pot vegetable oil (¼ cup)
1 tsp. baking powder
Mix together the yogurt, sugar, and eggs until the sugar is dissolved. Add the flour, oil, and salt and mix to make a smooth batter. Finally, mix in the baking powder just before pouring the batter into a buttered cake pan. Bake at 180ºC (350ºF) for 25 to 30 minutes or until done.
I had made the batter (except for adding the baking powder) and was doing other things when Walt came into the kitchen. "What can I put into this cake batter to make it better?", I asked him. "Raisins? Cranberries? Walnuts?" I didn't feel like cracking and shelling walnuts. Walt said we had a can of pear halves and a can of peaches down in the cellar.
"What about a pear upside-down cake then?" That was my idea — gâteau renversé aux poires caramélisées. I made a caramel syrup on top of the stove in a sauté pan that I could bake the cake in, using maybe half a cup of cassonade (raw unrefined or light-brown sugar, that is), a splash of the syrup the peaches were packed in, and about 2 tablespoons of butter.
When the syrup had thickened slightly, I put the pear halves in it cut side down and let them cook for a couple of minutes. Then I took the pan off the heat and let it cool slightly while I added the baking powder to the cake batter and stirred it one last time. Finally, I poured the batter over the pears and baked the cake as per the recipe above. Yum.
It's important to turn the cake out of the pan while it's still hot. If it cools too much, the caramel will seize up and the cake won't fall out. But one thing you can always do is heat the cake back up over a low fire for a minute or two. When the cake will move in the pan, it's ready to be turned out and served, pears upwards.