In a clever and charming new book on French pastries, you’ll find all your favorites and more.

This yogurt cake is very easy to memorize and barely more effort to bake. For starters, French yogurt is sold in a small, half-cup jar, which conveniently serves as a measuring cup in the recipe. The author remembers the proportions as “1, 2, 3, then 1, 2, 3”. Translation: 1 pot of yogurt, 2 pots of sugar, and 3 eggs, followed by 1 pot of oil, 2 teaspoons of baking powder, and 3 pots of flour. She offers two versions, one slightly more garnished with additions of vanilla, citrus zest, and sea salt. It’s a genuinely lovely cake, with a nice golden top and split down the middle, a hint of citrus, and a nice, slightly chewy texture.

Cover of the jacket for “Gateau” by Aleksandra Crapanzano.distribute

Crapanzano, who lives in New York, writes about desserts for the Wall Street Journal and won the 2009 MFK Fisher Award for Distinguished Writing from the James Beard Foundation. His prose is delightful. He has an intimate relationship with the best tea shops and cafes in Paris and with the way the French market, cook, bake, entertain and eat. “The world’s captivity to all things French, particularly all things Parisian, is not something I want to dispel,” he writes. “I fall squarely in the camp of Francophiles.” She goes on to say that whether someone is tying a silk scarf or making a genoise, “much less time is spent than would seem fair to get such fabulous results.” Her secret, she suggests: master the classics, and then skillfully improvise on top of them.

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You need recipes that you know by heart and can execute intuitively, advises Crapanzano. “When you know what you’re doing, there’s no need to overthink it. It seems easy because it is easy.”

I started with the Gateau au Yaourt, then made the Gateau a l’Huile d’Olive (olive oil cake), another winner, baked in a springform pan, made with buttery olive oil, orange and lemon peel, and orange freshly squeezed juice. It is lighter than yogurt cake, with a firm crumb, a golden crust, and a delicious flavor.

Aleksandra Crapanzano, author of “Gateau: The Surprising Simplicity of French Pastries.”melissa foreman

I read about other favorite sweets of mine: clafoutis with apples (a kind of airy pancake encrusted with fruit), Gateau Basque (two rounds of dough sandwiched with custard), Gateau a la Pistache (“almost pudding-like” and “rich beyond imagination but light as a feather,” she writes), and Bouchons au Chocolate (made in cork-shaped moulds).

Then I found the Visitandines, little almond cakes, baked since the 17th century, when nuns of the Order of Visitandines in western France made them with almonds, sugar, butter, flour, and eggs. Crapanzano adds kirsch or dark rum or vanilla and almond extract to the almond flour-based buttery egg white batter. She leaves it overnight to harden and bakes it in mini muffin tins. I ran to buy the pans because Visitandines sounded so intriguing.

The dough is unusual. Fold lightly beaten egg whites into a bowl of almond flour, some all-purpose flour, sugar, and salt (no yeast). Then add enough melted butter, the aromas and another egg white beaten until stiff. After the dough chills overnight and is placed in the tins, the little cakes are baked at 425 degrees. I thought the temperature was too high, but when I try, I always bake according to the exact instructions in a book.

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The recommended oven temperature is too high, perhaps due to a typo. It was probably supposed to be set high initially, then turned down when the tins went into the oven. I took them out when they smelled burnt and turned the heat down to finish them off. The flavor was delicious and the size lovely. I’ll make them again and play with the oven temperature.

But first, there’s a chocolate marquise I’ve been eyeing. “It’s a mousse, it’s a cake, it’s a semifreddo, it’s a chocolate ice cream, it’s a slab of the good stuff,” Crapanzano enthuses. I can not wait

The book has no photographs, but beautiful little illustrations of Cassandro Montoriol. Cover liner notes come from the author and part-time Paris resident dorie greenspanco-founder of Alimentos 52 amanda hesserLos Angeles restaurateur Nancy Silvertonand co-owner of Poilane Bakery Apollonia Poilane.

Do you feel like baking and at the same time immersing yourself in French culture? “Gateau” you will love it.


Sheryl Julian can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @sheryljulian.