"Small Victories" with Julia Turshen
Small Victories with Julia Turshen
One of my favorite weekend activities is to pick a cookbook from my collection, flip to a random page and create a delicious surprise. To date, the cookbook that I have found to be the most approachable and full of fun, non-intimidating recipes is Small Victories by Julia Turshen. Julia is a wonderful chef, based in New York, who has co-authored many cookbooks throughout her career and most recently released this one which is her first solo cookbook to be published. In Small Victories, Julia is all about eliminating home cooking fears and has included recipes, tips, spin-offs to each recipe and “small victories” for all cooks - beginners to advanced - that are sure to be a huge hit with anyone that you welcome into your home. The thing that I love most about Julia’s approach to cooking is that it doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t have to be scary - it can be a fun, joyful and empowering experience.
Another wonderful addition to Small Victories is the “Seven Lists” section that gives seven ideas for ways to use items that you may have in your kitchen. For example, seven easy-but-memorable desserts or seven things to do with leftover roast chicken. It is genius and makes those unprepared moments seem like you have been planning for days.
One of my favorite recipes is Julia’s Afternoon Cake because it is super simple and the best treat to share with friends over a cup of tea.
MAKES ONE 8-IN [20-CM] CAKE
This not-too-sweet, very simple cake is perfect for that “it’s four o’clock and I need a little something with a cup of coffee” moment. Fragrant with orange, rich with ground nuts, and not at all dry since there’s plenty of olive oil, the cake needs nothing, though a spoonful of crème fraîche on top of a slice certainly wouldn’t be unwelcome. The only thing more satisfying than eating this cake is making it—it is seriously easy and therefore hard for even a complete baking novice to screw up. It’s also one of those baked goods that just gets better if it sits for a few hours, even a day or two. The small victory is not just having a straightforward cake up your sleeve but also embracing parchment paper, one of my favorite kitchen tools.
To cut a piece of parchment paper into a perfect circle to fit your cake pan (which is like an insurance policy that your cake won’t stick), rip off a piece of parchment that’s a bit bigger than your pan. Fold it into a square, then fold it in half to make a triangle and fold it in half again to make an even more narrow triangle. Place the tip of the triangle in the center of the pan. Use scissors to cut off the excess parchment that extends beyond the sides of the pan. Unfold the parchment and, voilà, you have a perfect circle that fits into your pan. Another small victory for parchment? Put a piece on your work surface and use it almost like a placemat when you are measuring a dry ingredient like flour. Then you can pick up the edges of the paper when you’re done and scoot the excess flour back into its container.
1 cup [120 g] all-purpose flour
½ cup [50 g] finely ground nuts (see Note)
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp kosher salt
½ cup [120 ml] extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup [100 g] granulated sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
Grated zest of 1 orange, plus ¼ cup [60 ml] fresh orange juice
Powdered sugar for dusting
Preheat your oven to 350°F [180°C]. Use your hands to butter the bottom and sides of an 8-in [20-cm] cake pan, then line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper. For good measure, butter the parchment paper. Set the pan aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, ground nuts, baking powder, and salt.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until the whites and yolks are fully combined. Add the olive oil and granulated sugar and whisk until the sugar is dissolved (test by rubbing some of the mixture between two fingers). Whisk in the vanilla, orange zest, and orange juice. Whisk in the flour mixture.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, being sure to use a rubber spatula to get it all out of the bowl. Hold the pan just a little bit above the counter and then drop it on the counter to eliminate any air bubbles.
Bake until the cake is beautifully golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer the cake, still in its pan, to a wire rack and let it cool completely. Once cool, use a dinner knife to loosen the edges of the cake from the pan and invert it onto your work surface (you might need to give the pan a little whack). Peel off and discard the parchment. Invert the cake one more time onto a serving platter so the flat side is down and the domed side is up.
Just before serving, dust the cake with powdered sugar.
Note: Any nut works well in this cake. To make ground nuts, just put whichever type of nut you’d like (I’ve made this cake successfully with walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and pistachios, and am sure pecans and pine nuts would also be great) in the food processor and blitz until they’re as fine as cornmeal. Or use a mortar and pestle. Or purchase ground nuts, which often go by the name “meal” or “flour” as in “almond meal” or “almond flour.” For a nut-free cake, simply omit the ground nuts and add an additional ½ cup [60 g] flour.
Feel free to SUBSTITUTE ANY CITRUS in place of the orange. Clementine, tangerine, blood orange, and grapefruit zest all work very well.
FOR A LEMON–POPPY SEED CAKE, use lemon zest and juice instead of orange and add 1 Tbsp poppy seeds to the batter.
If you’re using ground almonds, add ½ tsp ALMOND EXTRACT to the batter for a more intense almond flavor.
Just before you put the cake in the oven, dot the top with ¼ cup [80 g] RASPBERRY JAM and use a fork or the tip of a paring knife to swirl in the jam.
Julia, thank you for empowering CHEFS to experiment and play in the kitchen! For more amazing recipes, pick up your own copy of Small Victories. (Recipe from Small Victories, by Julia Turshen, with permission of Chronicle Books. Photos by Gentl & Hyers.)
- 1 cup [120 g] all-purpose flour
- ½ cup [50 g] finely ground nuts (see Note)
- 1 ½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup [120 ml] extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ cup [100 g] granulated sugar
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- Grated zest of 1 orange, plus ¼ cup [60 ml] fresh orange juice
- Powdered sugar for dusting