Even when there's no pasta, bread, fruit or veg in the house, you can count on my fridge being stocked with butter. There are blocks of it stacked neatly like bricks and yet more fitted snugly into the shelves of the fridge door. It's not as though I'm eating all of it - much of it goes into the cakes, biscuits and pastries desperately palmed off on anyone who braves a house visit - but just the sight of so much fat in the fridge is unnerving even for me. Yoghurt, I recently discovered, can be an excellent substitute -an unlikely baking saviour.
A dollop of full-fat yoghurt contains fats for tenderness, proteins for structure and it has plenty of moisture, allowing for the same kind of impact on texture that butter brings. Resulting cakes are moist and tender, and breads clothed in a soft crust. It's no compromise on flavour, either: yoghurt's bright taste and slight tang also results in vibrant and fresh flavours.Orange and fennel fougasses
These leaf-shaped breads are surprisingly easy to make. Fougasses are usually served plain or with a savoury twist - perhaps a few needles of rosemary, some chopped olives or some olive oil - but this version uses orange, fennel seeds and a dusting of crunchy demerara sugar. The result is a bread that's sweet without being sickly, pretty but not fussy and ideal for mid-afternoon snacks.
The light aniseed edge of the fennel seeds sits perfectly with orange, but if you don't like them you could try swapping them with a handful of currants or a few poppy seeds instead.
300g strong white flour
1½ tsp instant dried yeast
½ tsp salt
2 tsp fennel seeds
Zest of two oranges
115g full-fat natural yoghurt
130ml warm water
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp milk
4 tbsp demerara sugar
1 Stir the flour, yeast and salt together in a large bowl. Using a pestle and mortar, grind the fennel seeds until no whole seeds remain - or simply pulse in a coffee grinder, if you have one. No need to worry about reducing the seeds to a perfectly smooth powder - in fact, it's nice to see flecks of fennel in the finished dough. Stir the fennel into the flour along with the orange zest.
2 Whisk together the yoghurt and water then add this to the dry ingredients. Roll your sleeves up and get stuck in: mix the ingredients with your hands to form a rough dough. Knead the dough on an unfloured work surface. Although it will be sticky to start with, adding extra flour at this stage will leave the dough stiff and dry. There's no right or wrong way of kneading, but you can tailor your technique to the sort of dough you're working with. If the dough feels particularly wet and heavy, it's prone to stick to the surface so try to hold it up as you knead - stretch it out between your hands, slap it quickly down on to the surface then fold it over and lift again. Repeat, rotating by 90° each time to evenly build up elasticity in the dough.
If the dough is drier, you might find it easier to just knead straight on to the surface, stretching the dough out away from you under the heel of your palm then folding and rotating.
Whatever method you use, tAfter 10 minutes or so, the dough should be ready - it will become smoother, less sticky and more elastic
3 Leave the dough to rise for 1-1½ hours. It should roughly double in size during this time as the feeding yeast fills minuscule air pockets in the dough with carbon dioxide. Once it's risen, tip the dough out and divide into 6 pieces. Grease a couple of large baking trays with a neutrally flavoured oil.
4 It's now time to shape the fougasses. Lightly dust the work surface with flour and roll out one of the pieces of dough thinly to a rough oval shape, 15-20cm long. Dust the top with more flour if the rolling pin sticks. Use a sharp knife to make a long incision down the length of the oval, leaving the ends intact to avoid bisecting it - this is much like the central vein of a leaf. Now make three or four diagonal slits either side of the central cut, sloping up and away from the middle but touching neither the central cut nor the dough's edges. Gently stretch the dough leaf to open these incisions, and set the shaped fougasse to rest on one of the prepared baking trays. Repeat with the remaining dough.
5 Leave the fougasses to rise at room temperature for 30-45 minutes, or until visibly puffier. This will take longer in a cool kitchen, and less time in a warm one. There's no need to cover the rising dough, but it helps to put it in a draught-free spot. Preheat the oven to 200C/400FC/gas mark 6.
6 Whisk together the egg yolk and milk and brush lightly over the risen fougasses with a pastry brush. Sprinkle the sugar generously over the top of each one then place them in the oven to bake. How long you cook them depends on the texture you like: for soft fougasses, 10 minutes will suffice; for chewier ones with a crisp crust, 13-15 minutes should do it.Blueberry yoghurt loaf cake
This is one of my favourite cakes for lazy days, when creaming butter and sugar, strenuous whisking and fussing around are off the cards. The method is as basic as they come: stir the ingredients together, spoon the batter into the tin and, just under an hour later, remove the light, blueberry-studded cake from the oven. I've suggested almond oil for the fat in this cake because its mellow flavour is such a good partner for the blueberries and lemon, but you can use cheaper sunflower oil if that's what you've got in the cupboard, in which case you could add an extra drop of vanilla extract, or even a splash of almond extract to add depth.
75ml almond oil
125g full-fat natural yoghurt
150g caster sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of 2 lemons
210g plain flour
1½ tsp baking powder
A pinch of salt
1 Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Grease and line a 900g loaf tin about 20cm long.
2 In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, yoghurt, sugar, eggs, vanilla extract and lemon zest. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. Pour the dry ingredients into the yoghurt mixture along with the blueberries and fold the lot very gently together, taking care not to mix any more than is necessary: overzealous stirring at this stage could result in a tough cake later.
3 Pour the batter into the prepared loaf tin and bake for 50-55 minutes, or until a small knife inserted into the middle comes out clean. Leave to cool on a wire rack before cutting into fat slices to serv.
A dollop of yoghurt will stand in nicely for butter any day... Photograph: Kim Lightbody/Guardian