Whenever I find myself away from home for an extended period, I often enjoy taking the time to explore the local grocery stores. You can tell a lot about the people and food culture of the area from what you find in a supermarket. For example, American grocery stores are massive. It is not uncommon to find them coupled with retail stores to form supercenters. Our produce section often pales in comparison to the frozen section and countless shelves containing prepared meal helpers.
Across the nation, we value convenience and ease in cooking. There are even many regional differences such as the presence of organic, fair trade, or ethnic products depending on how liberal, affluent, or multicultural the neighborhood is. The differences become even more apparent when comparing grocery stores between countries. European grocery stores tend to be smaller than their American homologues and devote a much larger percentage of the store to fresh produce and ingredients — as opposed to prepared mixes.
During my time in France, I was constantly in awe of their dairy section. Whereas Americans have a dairy section comprised of milk, eggs, various cheeses, and a few different flavors of yogurt, the French could occupy the same amount of space with only yogurt.
Yogurt is an essential component in the French diet. While the French do not typically drink as much milk as us, they certainly make up for it in their consumption of this tangy, creamy, dairy product. Unlike American children who must be coaxed into eating yogurt with saccharine, French children regard it as almost as common as eating bread. It is eaten as breakfast, after dinner, or even for a mid-afternoon goûter (snack). I don’t really blame the American kids for trying to make our plain yogurt taste better. If you think about it, yogurt is nothing more than intentionally, and highly controlled, soured milk. Even the adults cheat with their sugary fruit-on-the-bottom, strawberry, or vanilla flavors. However, in France, the yogurt can stand by itself — although, a dab of honey or mixing in a handful of fresh fruit never hurts. There’s something about French yogurt that simply makes it taste better. I won’t claim to know what it is exactly, but there is a difference.
Today, Americans are starting to increase their yogurt purchases because of its numerous health benefits. It is high in calcium, and as far as snacking goes, it is certainly one of the healthier alternatives. In the morning, it has the perfect balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat to get you started. Used to replace mayonnaise, sour cream, or buttermilk, it can cut the fat in a recipe to a third of its original content.
In addition to the being good for you, yogurt is incorporated into an endless array of dips, dressings, and even desserts. One of the traditional cakes of a good French childhood is the Gateau au Yaourt or Yogurt Cake. You can think of it as a sort of lighter, healthier pound cake. It is a cake so simple, anyone can do it. Below you can find Ina Garten’s recipe for a Gateau Au Yaourt au et au Citron aka Lemon Yogurt Cake.
Gateau Au Yaourt au et au Citron (Lemon Yogurt Cake)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
3 extra-large eggs
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
For the glaze
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8 ¼ by 4 ¼ by 2 ½-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Grease again and flour the pan.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, the eggs, lemon zest, and vanilla. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. With a rubber spatula, fold the vegetable oil into the batter, making sure it’s all incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes, or until a cake tester placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean.
Meanwhile, cook the 1/3 cup lemon juice and remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Set aside.
When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Carefully place on a baking rack over a sheet pan. While the cake is still warm, pour the lemon-sugar mixture over the cake and allow it to soak in. Cool.
For the glaze, combine the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice and pour over the cake.
Michelle Hum is a self-proclaimed Francophile and foodie. Michelle has been fortunate enough to visit countries on three continents and live in France during a semester abroad. In order to stay connected with many of the cultures she experienced, food has become very important to Michelle. A student at the University of Minnesota pursuing double majors in Psychology and Advertising and a minor in French, Michelle advises the digital aspects for A Woman’s Paris. Outside of school, you can find her perfecting her signature white chocolate fruit tarts and other treats.
You may also enjoy A Woman’s Paris® post, Alsace Asparagus, Best in April, by Michelle Hum who shares the first time she tried the very best white asparagus from Alsace while a student living in Montpellier, France. An unforgettable dish of asparagus dressed with a simple olive oil, balsamic, mustard vinaigrette. Recipe included for white asparagus by Alsatian Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten from Food & Wine magazine.
Tartiflette: French Comfort Food, by Michelle Hum who shares the traditional hot dish for warm, savory comfort enjoyed during ski season in the Alps. Tartiflette: a French dish of potatoes, bacon, and Reblochon cheese. Recipe and video guide included from Head Chef of London’s Coq d’Argent, Michael Weiss, who provides his own version of this Alpine specialty.
French Onion Soup – a Paris meal to remember, by Michelle Hum who recalls the aroma of sweet, caramelized onions, dry wine, and rich broth carried with the steam rising from her bowl. With the first taste — serendipity. Recipe included for Julia Child’s Soupe à l’oignon (French onion soup), from her cookbook, The Way to Cook.
La Chandeleur – Le Jour des Crêpes, by Michelle Hum who introduces us to the celebration of Chandeleur, also know as Le Jour des Crêpes, and her new found favorite spread, Crème de Châtaigne (Chestnut Jam). Recipe included for crêpes by Ginette Mathiot from her book, Je Sais Cuisiner.
Text copyright ©2012 Michelle Hum. All rights reserved.
Illustration copyright ©2012 Michelle Schwartzbauer. All rights reserved.
Illustration copyright ©2012 Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.