Baking for Zuzu

Yogurt cake with lime zest and strawberries

A few months back there was an article in The New Yorker about food allergies called “The Peanut Puzzle”  by medical writer Jerome Groopman. Needless to say, my husband and I read the article with avid interest and at least a dozen friends and relatives called or emailed to ask if we had seen it. (We had.) The article was well-written and informative for anyone who has not parented a child with food allergies for seven years, and I recommend it.  As we are the parents who have spent seven years living and breathing food allergies, we did not learn much that was new.

The one thing from Groopman’s article that grabbed my attention was information about a new approach to treating food allergies at the Jae Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. I had actually first heard about Mount Sinai’s work on food allergies from Lori Sandler, the founder of Divvies Bakery. (Divvies is a great company that makes delicious nut, egg and dairy-free baked goods and candies for kids with food allergies, like Zuzu and the Sandlers’ son Benjamin.) What Lori had explained to me, and the article outlined in greater detail, is that at Mount Sinai, when previously allergic kids can tolerate small amounts of eggs and dairy in baked goods, the doctors then ask the parents to make sure that the kids eat a safe food containing these ingredients every day. The idea is that after several months of this regimen, the children might be able to tolerate the allergen even better than before. One dairy-allergic child who was profiled in the article was able to eat cheese after six months of regularly eating baked goods that contained milk.

I found Groopman’s description of Mount Sinai’s protocol very interesting and I was really inspired by the story of the girl who was able to eat cheese after years of reacting violently to dairy. Cheese! The food that my son lives on and that my daughter can’t tolerate. I had this happy vision of my darling Zuzu biting into a slice of cheese pizza or enjoying a Caprese salad on a summer day. If she could eat cheese, what a miracle that would be! So, without consulting my allergist — which I do not recommend, although it turned out to be fine — I decided that I would follow the protocol on my own and make sure that Zuzu eats some safe food containing dairy every day in the hope that this might improve her dairy allergy.

For practical purposes, this meant that I was going to be doing a lot of baking. Zuzu can tolerate eggs and dairy that are mixed into batters and baked, but not these ingredients on their own. I don’t dare rely on processed foods for these purposes because I just don’t know how much dairy these foods contain. But my homemade muffins, quick breads and cookies that contain small amounts of milk, buttermilk or yogurt have proved to be safe for her. (Cookies made with butter instead of dairy-free margarine caused a reaction however, so I have not done that again.) So, I put myself on a baking schedule and resolved that Zuzu’s daily snack for school would be something that I baked for her that contained a safe amount of dairy. From Zuzu’s point of view, this was great. What kid wouldn’t want a homemade baked treat for snack every day?

I started by making a weekly batch of one of Zuzu’s favorites: chocolate chip banana bread. (You can find my banana bread recipe here, in this post about baking with JR. Banana bread is a great project when baking with kids, and it freezes well, so it is a staple in my house.) But after reading Elizabeth Bard’s charming memoir, Lunch in Paris, I became intrigued by her recipe for yogurt cake, which is a childhood favorite of her husband’s and indeed, many French adults. I gave Elizabeth’s recipe a go — as did my friend Chef Druck — and learned that yogurt cake is 1) shockingly easy to make, 2) relatively healthy as baked goods go, and 3) infinitely adaptable. Plus, Zuzu loved it. So, I began making a cake every Sunday night and packing a piece into Zuzu’s bag all week long — plus having a slice for breakfast several times a week myself.

If you are looking for an easy, not-too-sweet baking project for a brunch or a breakfast event, this yogurt cake is worth a try. Note that this recipe is very open to experimentation. I have made it with fresh strawberries and frozen blueberries. Elizabeth Bard’s original recipe calls for a 16 ounce can of chopped apricots, but she also notes that you can use almost any fruit or even add a streusel topping. I like to pair different citrus zests with different fruits: lime with strawberries and lemon with blueberries, for example. Orange zest would be good with apples or pears.

Yogurt Cake
Adapted from Elizabeth Bard’s book Lunch in Paris

1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup plain yogurt (whole milk preferred)
1 cup sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs, room temperature
Zest from one lemon or lime
Chopped fruit

Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour a Bundt pan, or spray it with a non-stick baking spray.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, the baking powder and the baking soda. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the yogurt, sugar, salt and vanilla until smooth. Add the oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking continuously. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing to combine after each one. Add the flour mixture and gently combine. Lastly add the lemon or lime zest. 

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and spread it evenly. Top with chopped fruit. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack and dust with confectioner’s sugar. The cake will keep well, loosely wrapped, for several days.

One quick note: the randomly-chosen winner of the three month’s supply of Cottonelle Ultra is Jocelyn! Thanks to all who commented and thanks to Cottonelle Ultra for sponsoring my Ultra Date Night.


  1. Kelly says

    Sounds like an interesting approach to food allergies and a nice excuse to do a little baking. Here’s to hoping it works.

  2. Lunch in Paris says

    Thrilled that the yogurt cake is becoming a family regular! I’ll be very interested to see how the baking/allergy regime works. The French approach to allergies is very different. Pregnant and nursing women do not obstain from certain foods, and children eat most foods from the beginning – even nuts and cheese – and alot of yogurt. Good luck! EB

    • Emily says

      Yes, some of the doctors here are studying other countries’ approaches. In Israel, for example, one of the first food kids eat is bamba, which is made with peanuts. They have a lower incidence of peanut allergies than we do. Allergists will admit that they are at a loss to explain a lot of what is going on with the increase in the number of severity of food allergies.