My mother sent me a book for my birthday called French Children Don’t Throw Food. Its author, Pamella Drukerman, believes that French children adapt more quickly to adult social norms than English children. This is possible, Drukerman attests, because French parents expect children to exhibit patience and independence far earlier than their English counterparts. Apparently, French parents make clear their expectations by ignoring their children for much of the day.
Having lived in France as an exchange student and an au pair, I know for certain that French children do throw food on occasion and that they aren’t possessed of infinite patience. However, there is a certain structure to eating and sleeping that seems to be a common experience for French children. French children eat at 8am, noon, 4pm and 8pm, after which they go to bed and sleep for 12 hours. I haven’t witnessed anything like this rigour, which is calming rather than militant, among my friends with children in the UK. I certainly haven’t managed to introduce it into my own house.
Drukerman advises that one of the earliest lessons in patience that French mothers teach their children is through baking. At least here I can equal the Parisian supermamans of Druckerman’s acquaintance! She mentions the gâteau au yaourt as the first cake that French children learn how to bake. Having baked this cake innumerable times in 1998 with my Breton host-sisters, I decide that a wet Sunday afternoon is perfect for Ila’s first lesson in patience.
My host sisters loved this recipe because it didn’t require any measuring apparatus other than the individual-portion-size tub of yogurt and a teaspoon. As well as teaching patience, this cake is very good for learning about ratios. I notice that my recipe is almost exactly the same as Drukerman’s, and that of my favourite Parisian food blogger Clothide Dusoulier. This clearly is a French classic – at least for as long as yogurt has been sold in 125ml tubs.
Even though she is only 18 months old, Ila is delighted to be able to pour and mix and slosh. Her enthusiasm results in the addition of rather more rum than I’d usually add, but it only seems to improve the final product.
Gâteau au yaourt
- 2 eggs
- 2 tubs (or 1 cup) plain full-fat yogurt
- 1 tub (or 1/2 cup) plain sugar – increase this to two tubs or a whole cup if you have a sweet tooth
- 3/4 tub (90 mls) canola/rapeseed oil
- 4 tubs plain flour
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
- 1 teaspoon rum
- a pinch of salt
Beat the eggs. Add the yogurt, oil, sugar, vanilla and rum. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and salt. Fold the dry ingredients gently into the wet mixture. Pour into a lined and floured tin and bake in a preheated 180C oven for 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let cool briefly in the pan before turning onto a wire rack.
This cake can be adapted by adding a tubful of chocolate chips, two tubs of mixed frozen berries, or two tubs of chopped apple and a teaspoon of ground cinnamon just before baking.