A year ago today, my sister gave birth to a healthy baby boy; the next morning, Maxence and I were on a train to visit them at the hospital. He was the freshest newborn I’d ever held, and for weeks afterward, the most mundane display of emotion I witnessed — in a film, in a book, on the street — could make me weep. I was an aunt, and not just one in a dozen, either: that baby’s one and only aunt.
This unique position comes with great responsibility. Obviously I plan to be the really cool aunt, not the one with the prickly chin and the funny smell, and my strategy includes volunteering as the official birthday cake baker. And when we celebrated my nephew’s first birthday a little early — you can’t get hung up on exact dates when you live a Channel apart — this is what I baked.
The cake was moist, moderately sweet, and nicely aromatic — exactly what I was hoping to achieve.
Paul is too little to care much about a cake shaped like a train or Tintin’s rocket (though my father would certainly enjoy the latter), so I thought I would instead bake a simple one that might please a baby’s palate.
I followed Maxence’s not uncharacteristic suggestion of a gâteau au yaourt — a child-friendly cake if there ever was one — with two modifications: I sweetened it with maple sugar from a package of samples I recently received, and crowned it with thin slices of apple. This produced a moist, moderately sweet, and nicely aromatic cake — exactly what I was hoping to achieve.
And what did the birthday boy think? Well, the birthday boy chose to fall asleep before dessert. And since waking a baby from his nap to feed him cake is not something young parents are wont to do, the grownups partook of the cake in his honor. But my sister did feed him a sliver later that day, and she tells me he kept asking for more, so it seems it was a success — as were the gifts we’d chosen for him, a toy xylophone and a squeaky caterpillar.
Joyeux anniversaire Paul !
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- 240 ml (1 cup) plain yogurt (I used fromage blanc this time)
- 180 grams (1 cup minus 2 tablespoons) finely ground maple sugar, divided (see note)
- 2 eggs
- 80 ml (1/3 cup) vegetable oil (I use grapeseed oil)
- 220 grams (2 cups minus 2 tablespoons) flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- a good pinch salt
- one large apple of a variety that holds its shape when cooked (I used a Charden, which is a cross between the Clochard and the Golden, as the name implies)
- Preheat the oven to 180° C (360° F) and line a 25-cm (10-inch) cake pan with parchment paper.
- Set aside 1 rounded tablespoon of the maple sugar for topping.
- In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the yogurt, the remaining maple sugar, eggs, and oil. In another mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Peel the apple, then core, quarter, and slice it thinly. Add the flour mixture to the yogurt mixture and whisk it in quickly, until just combined. Don't worry about lumps and do not overmix.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan, arrange the apple slices on top, starting from the outside, and sprinkle with the reserved maple sugar.
- Put into the oven to bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the top is golden and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. If you feel the apple slices might be browning too quickly, cover with a piece of parchment paper.
- Lift the cake cautiously out of the pan and transfer to a rack to cool. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.
If maple sugar is unavailable, substitute 180 ml (3/4 cup) maple syrup and use just 180 ml (3/4 cup) yogurt to make up for the extra moisture.