Every January, I end up on a citrus tear. I’m not much for resolutions, and January is far from my favorite month (I grew up in Minnesota, and I live in Chicago, after all), but I do love the sunny spectrum of citrus that shows up at the grocery store this month. Weekly, I haul home a heaving bag of ruby red grapefruits. Each morning, I top segments of their tart flesh with yogurt and granola. A pair of clementines accompany me to work every day; a crate of the little orange guys rarely outlasts the stretch between our weekly grocery trips. Less frequently, but still dependably, I get hankerings for key lime pies, the urge to make a citrus-hued curd, and an inexplicable desire to squeeze blood oranges until my hands are stained with their brilliantly-colored juice.
And always, there is a lemon cake.
It might be a towering, layered affair, enrobed in billowy frosting. Or a lemon-swirled cheesecake. Or a pound cake speckled with poppy seeds. Or a blueberry-studded bundt. Or an olive-oil enhanced round, sliced into fat wedges and dolloped with creme fraiche. This January, though, I was in the mood for something simpler. Just a lemon cake, plain and simple. Nothing folded in, no frosting, no unique pairings.
So I opted for an Ina Garten recipe, one that I made a long time ago and one that my mother-in-law makes frequently. I checked my site for the recipe and was surprised to see that it wasn’t in the archives. I figured I’d better fix that, and that’s what I aim to do today. Because this is a recipe that should be in your repertoire, for when you need the perfectly fragrant, light and moist lemon cake—which is to say, every January.
Lemon Yogurt Cake
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup plain yogurt
1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (from about 2 lemons)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup grapeseed oil (or other neutral oil)
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Grease and flour the pan.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into 1 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.