Simple Spanish yogurt cake

“If you show me how to make a cheesecake, I’ll show you how to make a Spanish yogurt cake,” my friend Arturo said. After his first Shavuot in Israel, he’d developed cheesecake envy. And how could I refuse an offer like that?

So first we made a cheesecake. I prepared the most basic cheesecake possible, with only light cream cheese, sugar, lemon and eggs, and we popped it into his itty, bitty toaster oven for an hour at 150 degrees Celsius. Out came the most perfect cheesecake I’ve ever seen — glossy and creamy on top, no brown spots and no cracks.

Inspired by the success, I decided to make one at home the following day. As I plopped my cake into the oven, I threw in a thermometer too, on a whim. After a few minutes at 150, the thermometer read 200. I turned down the oven to 130, and the thermometer shot up to 250. Needless to say, I was astounded — and let the cake finish baking with the oven off entirely.

Now, let’s go back to the Spanish cake. One of the things that makes it charming is that it contains very basic ingredients, in very straightforward ratios — in fact, the ingredients are all measured out in the disposable cup the yogurt came in. Another thing that makes it charming is that this is a recipe that Arturo’s grandmother’s grandmother made — meaning, Spanish grandmothers have been making this in one form or another for two centuries. Apparently the recipe developed in times of war, due to a lack of food, and hence the simplicity.

While the cake is leavened by yeast, unlike bread, you don’t need to knead it. Basically, the first rise occurs in the oven, and it’s what gives the cake its crumb. Since the yeast doesn’t have time to multiply like it does with bread, you add a lot more of it.

And what to do if your oven, like mine, tends to charge into turbo mode without asking you? Lower the temperature as much as possible, and cover the cake with tinfoil, to keep it from burning or getting too crusty.

For an 8×4 inch (20×10 centimeter) loaf:

3 eggs
1 container of yogurt (200 grams)
3 yogurt containers’ worth of flour (a.k.a. 2 1/4 cups)
2 yogurt containers’ worth of sugar (a.k.a. 1 1/2 cups)
1 yogurt container worth of oil (a.k.a. 3/4 cup)
peel and juice of half a lemon
one package of yeast (2 1/2 teaspoons)

Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius (that is, if your oven isn’t insane like mine).

Crack the eggs into a bowl and beat until fluffy. Mix in the rest of the ingredients, until you get a smooth batter.

Oil your pan, and fill it with the batter. If your oven is extra hot, loosely cover the pan with tinfoil.
Stick the cake into the oven for 45 minutes to an hour, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out dry.

Grandma says you can check on the cake only after 45 minutes have passed. Before that, it could deflate.

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