Happy Birthday, Leslie!

Some time last week, I realized that I had never asked Leslie what her favorite cake is. After having known her for a year, I hadn’t asked that question. It felt strange, as we had talked about all kinds of other foods, and being the person I am, I try to know what to make someone for their birthday, or more generally just to make them happy.

At any rate, I did the blatant thing and asked Leslie what kind of cake she likes. Her answer: No Idea. It turns out she had some idea (she always has an idea or at least a hunch, which is one of the amazing things about coming to her with off-the-wall questions – you know you’ll get an answer that will likely prove useful), and her guidelines were such: moist, airy, icing, fruit is always good. At one point she was listing some of her favorite fruits, and I latched onto blackberry. I’m not really sure why, as outside of blackberry cobbler I haven’t really had much experience baking with them. My biggest beef with them is their seeds – small and hard and annoying, and they mess with the enjoyment of the wonderful flavor of blackberries. I let that stew in the back of my mind while I approached the second question – what cake can I make that would stay moist? I ran through all of the cakes and other confections I had made and realized that most of my cakes, while light, tend to be on the dryer end of things. So I went on a hunt.

Lo and behold, my old standby bonappetit.com had a recipe for French yogurt cake. It’s essentially pound cake without all the butter, and the image they selected for it – a thin slice of the cake – makes it apparent it’s quite a bit lighter than regular pound cake. Add to that a nice lemony taste, and it sounded like heaven; just how to integrate the blackberry?

Yet another tidbit Leslie let slip in telling me what she does like in a cake was layers and lots of frosting. Once I had discovered the yogurt cake recipe, my imagination went a little wild; I initially imagined something of a marbled/ribbon cake, with a beautiful purple streak running through it. But I don’t really know how to do that, and I would rather not botch it that much. The previous week we had purchased Allouette crème fraîche from Grocery Outlet so that I could see what real crème fraîche is supposed to taste like (I had only ever made the homemade pseudo-stuff out of heated buttermilk and cream left to culture at room temperature). I got it into my head that blackberry and crème fraîche would make an amazing combination – and suddenly I had my layer filling.

So I made two of the yogurt cakes, figuring it would be an amazingly good idea to actually put one together and make sure that it would actually be as good as my mind was telling me it would be. It was pretty amazing, let me tell you. It has a bit of sweetness, especially if you top it with a simple glaze and let it run down the sides; a little bit of tartness both from the blackberry reduction and the crème fraîche; and the yogurt cake provides a wonderful base for it all.

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French Yogurt Cake with Blackberry-Crème Fraiche Filling

Adapted from BonAppetit

Blackberry Sauce
1 lb frozen blackberries
1 cup sugar

Yogurt Cake
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
3/4 cup whole-milk Greek yogurt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

In a medium sauce pan, heat the blackberries and sugar over medium-low heat until blackberries are fully thawed and turning to mush. Put the fruit into a blender and purée, then pass the liquid through a mesh sieve back into the pan to remove the seeds. Heat the sauce over low heat until reduced by half, then place in a container and let cool in the fridge until you assemble the cake. This can be done much ahead of time – just make sure you start at least a few hours before you’re ready to assemble the cake.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat loaf pan with vegetable oil, dust with flour, and tap out excess.

Whisk 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and kosher salt in medium bowl.

Using your fingers, rub sugar with lemon zest in a large bowl until sugar is moist. Add yogurt, oil, eggs, and vanilla extract, and whisk to blend. Fold in dry ingredients until just blended.

Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until the top of the cake is brown and a tester into center comes out clean, approximately 50-55 minutes.

Let cake cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool completely before assembling.

Once cooled, cut the cake horizontally into two to three pieces – it all depends on how many layers you want. This is where you can have some fun: for my initial cake, I spread blackberry sauce on both faces of the layers, and spread crème fraîche in between them before smooshing them together. This looked good, but was rather messy. I ended up spreading the blackberry sauce on the bottom bit of the bottom slice, then doing a layer of crème fraîche, placing that in the pan, then doing the same on the next slice up. Finally, I topped it with the top slice, poured over a quick glaze of powdered sugar, milk and vanilla, then drizzled more blackberry sauce over the top. It looked pretty darn good, I have to say.

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