labneh loaf with orange syrup
This week, I played a new game of my own invention called “how many things can I possibly put orange zest in” (if you think that’s “not a game” I invite you to consider the very real game “goat simulator” for reference). Anyway, the result of my orange bender is this suspiciously creamsicle-like loaf, in which orange zest appears not once, not twice, but thrice (batter, frosting, garnish), all topped with a super-simple orange syrup. Meanwhile, tangy labneh—basically double-strained Greek yogurt—lends its creaminess to the batter and forms the base of our frosting. Behold my orange-obsessed, no-sift, one-bowl (okay, two if you include the frosting) loaf that—especially with a cup of black tea—has carried me through many an afternoon slump.
I first tried labneh in Edinburgh of all places, when a Lebanese friend graciously put out one hell of a breakfast spread on the morning I was due to leave. (The yogurt-cheese hybrid is common throughout the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East; it’s also, thankfully, relatively easy to find on grocery store shelves in North America*. Canadians: Farm Boy has a very decent storebrand). My friend’s labneh, as is common in Lebanon, came topped with pools of golden olive oil, with flatbread and zaatar for dipping and sprinkling. It’s lovely with crudites, or on toast, or subbing in for yogurt with muesli, to name a few of its many possible uses.
Oddly enough, I haven’t seen much talk of its use in baking, but I can’t imagine why. Like its Greek yogurt cousin, labneh’s creaminess keeps things delicate and moist—but since it’s even thicker and richer than the former, the effect is exaggerated. While its tang mostly fades into the background, enough sticks around to add a nice but non-obtrusive layer of depth. Here, it also echoes the pleasant sourness of oranges, so everything gels and feels cohesive.
Mixed with orange zest and a nominal amount of icing sugar, labneh also makes for a very grown up frosting that makes the loaf more breakfasty than birthday-cake-sweet. Also, labneh doesn’t split when heated. This is important when you (me) get impatient and decide to frost your loaf before it’s completely cool (not recommended but, things happen). It didn’t melt, split, or otherwise spoil the party. We love a patient, minimally-finnicky ingredient.
And because I’m apparently developing some kind of orange complex—I’ll probably get over it when at least one other fruit comes into season—I also boil down the juice from our zesting oranges with a bit of sugar to make orange syrup, which we’ll drizzle over top and sprinkle with (somebody stop me) more orange zest. There are a few steps here, but they’re all more or less no-brainers, making this loaf an easy weeknight win. I hope it gets you through a grey day or two.
*If you can’t find labneh, you can make it, for which numerous guides exist on the internet. All you need is Greek yogurt, salt, cheesecloth, and 24 hours of patience.
labneh loaf with orange syrup
granulated sugar 3/4 cup (160g) plus 3 tablespoons, divided
egg yolks 2, large
olive oil 1/3 cup
labneh 1.5 cups, divided
kosher salt a pinch
vanilla extract 1 teaspoon
baking powder 1 tablespoon
flour 2 cups (250g)
powdered sugar 1.5 tablespoons (12g)
butter just a smidge, for greasing the pan (or just use more olive oil)
Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter the sides of a standard-sized loaf pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Zest and juice two oranges. Set the juice aside in a small saucepan.
make the loaf
Whisk the egg yolks, olive oil, salt, 1 cup labneh, and 3/4 cups of the sugar till mostly smooth and well-combined. Then whisk in the vanilla extract, baking powder, and about 3/4 of your orange zest.
Using a rubber spatula, mix in the flour till just combined. Transfer the batter to your lined loaf pan, more or less smooth out the top, and put it in the oven for about 50 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a tester stick comes out clean. Cool on a rack, if you have one; on a plate if you don’t.
make the orange syrup
While the loaf is baking, add 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar to the orange juice you’ve set aside in a saucepan, bring to a spirited simmer, and simmer away until the liquid reduces by about half and it’s—well—syrupy.
make the frosting
Mix the powdered sugar with the remaining half cup of labneh and most of the remaining orange zest, leaving behind a little for garnish. (You can sift in the powdered sugar if you’re after a really smooth frosting texture—personally, I can’t be bothered).
put it all together
Wait till the loaf is mostly cool before you smother the top with frosting. Pour the orange syrup overtop and sprinkle on a little more zest.
Keep this in the fridge. It’s best on the first and second day, but will keep for several.