Julia’s Afternoon Cake

Julia's Afternoon Cake | A Sweet SpoonfulThis cake came about around 8:30 a.m. this past Monday, a window of time in which many things seem to get done as it’s when Oliver goes down for his first nap. Sam had made a legendary fried rice with lots of mushrooms and fish sauce for dinner the night before, so I was snacking on leftovers with a cup of coffee and racing around the kitchen trying to finish measuring and whisking before Oliver woke. The goal was to bake something sweet (but not too sweet) to take with me to work the next day, and I knew of just the thing. In no time, the oven was preheating, I was on my second cup of coffee, licking the spoon, and patting myself on the back for pulling together homemade cake batter in under twenty minutes  — all while silently deeming Sam the fried rice master of the universe. Or at least, our house. 20161018_blogafternooncake-157 We’re entering one of my favorite seasons for baking: I love pumpkin desserts, holiday cookies and any excuse to bake for other people. But the season can get stressful too, as time gets tight and — if you’re anything like me — you start to become overwhelmed with the number of things you’re excited to bake (German apple pastry! Nutmeg logs! Cardamom rolls!) that ultimately you end up baking none of them. If this rings true, I think you might just like Julia Turshen’s new cookbook Small Victories as much as I do.

Small Victories isn’t a baking book – Julia covers your typical day, from breakfast to dessert and everything in between. But what I love about the book is its warm, encouraging tone: instead of feeling overwhelmed or daunted, Julia encourages you to just dive right in: “cooking doesn’t have to be complicated to be satisfying, or over-the-top to be impressive.” In fact, sometimes the best thing to come out of the kitchen all week is a fragrant afternoon cake that I’d argue is very well suited to be a morning cake, too. Or with a little whipped cream, it’s got evening cake written all over it.

20161018_blogafternooncake-151Julia Turshen has helped write a number of cookbooks with folks including Gwenyth Paltrow, Mario Batali and Food and Wine’s Dana Cowin. She is a real-deal cookbook writer and I always trust that her recipes work and that her headnotes will guide me to where I need to go. The gist of her most recent project is that we should be celebrating all the small things that make up our journey in the kitchen: things like using fresh spices or cooking vegetables you normally serve raw. We’re talking small steps, tips, and even more philosophical ideas about cooking that ultimately make us all better. Because really, as Julia points out, “the only way to become a cook is to cook, and the road to becoming a good cook is paved not only with repetition but also with the intuition you gain along the way.” 20161018_blogafternooncake-174And this cake is a great place to start. According to Julia, “it’s seriously easy and 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 here is getting comfortable using parchment paper – for the cake pan, but also for your work surface: Julia cuts a piece and keeps it there while measuring flour and then simply picks up the edges of the paper when she’s done  and scoots the excess flour back into the container. I like it.

I couldn’t help but tweak the recipe a bit, using a little buckwheat flour instead of 100% all purpose flour. For me, a small victory is incorporating whole grain flours into a great looking baking recipe and seeing it succeed, so I have a feeling Julia will forgive the futzing. Feel free to follow my lead here or go the 100% all-purpose flour route if you’d like. You can also swap in any citrus for the orange (grapefruit, clementines or blood oranges would work very well, Julia notes) or turn this lovely lady into a Lemon Poppy Seed cake by adding lemon zest and juice instead of the orange and adding 1 tablespoon of poppy seeds to the batter. If you’re generally hesitant to tweak a recipe to accommodate your own tastes or preferences, maybe this recipe can be your small victory? It’s so forgiving that I think it’s a great candidate. And when it’s done baking and you’ve popped it out of the pan, I’d like to suggest the following routine: Walk by the kitchen counter, slice off a tiny sliver, keep walking. Repeat.

Julia's Afternoon Cake

Julia's Afternoon Cake

  • Yield: One 8-inch cake
  • Prep time: 20 mins
  • Cook time: 25 mins
  • Total time: 45 mins

A fragrant, humble, not-too-sweet cake that’s perfect with afternoon tea or a late morning cup of coffee. While Julia uses all-purpose flour, I used a little buckwheat flour as it’s earthy flavor compliments the citrus and almond meal so beautifully. The color of the cake is a darker brown because of the buckwheat flour — if you use 100% all-purpose flour it will be more of a light golden brown. To make the cake nut-free, simply omit the ground nuts.

Recipe slightly adapted from: Small Victories


3/4 cup (90g) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (30g) buckwheat flour
1/2 cup (50g) finely ground nuts (I used almond meal; see note below*)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup (120 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Grated zest of 1 orange, plus 1/4 cup (60ml) fresh orange juice
Powdered sugar, for dusting


Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter the bottom and sides of an 8-inch cake pan, then line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper. For good measure, butter the parchment paper. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together both flours, 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 a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25-30 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: Julia notes that any nut works well in this cake: walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios. Or purchase nut meal or nut flour at the store instead of grinding your own.


  1. Lydia

    As soon as I saw the recipe was from Small Victories, I knew it would be a winner! I really have to get that book. And will defo make this cake. I'd love to hear more about that fried rice, too!

  2. Lea

    Is there a substitute for the buckwheat flour that your would recommend?

    1. megang

      Hi, Lea. Julia uses 100% all purpose flour so you could certainly do that (replace the buckwheat flour with all-purpose instead). Otherwise, I think spelt or whole wheat pastry flour would be great. Enjoy!

  3. Lea


  4. Ashley

    I love an afternoon cake. This one seems like the perfect base recipe for so many glorious variations.

  5. Sandra Lea

    I made this cake today and it is delicious. There's not too much sugar but yet it was sweet enough and the orange was not overpowering. I used whole wheat flour instead of white and buckwheat. This is perfect for breakfast or afternoon tea.

  6. englishtea60

    My baked goods always smell eggy. What am I doing wrong? Also, is it possible to make this eggless?

    1. megang

      Hi, there. Gosh I'm not sure why that would be to be honest. And I haven't tested this cake without eggs but I will say they definitely are serving a leavening purpose here so I wouldn't go without them altogether. Wish I could offer a better alternative but since I haven't tested it without eggs, I just wouldn't feel comfortable advising you either way.

  7. anja

    hi megan, i made this cake today and- encouraged by you:-) - I tweaked it a little and made it completely gluten free: I stuck to the almond meal and buckwheat and added white rice flour, brown rice flour and a little potato starch. also cut the sugar down to 50 grams. it`s really lovely, will make it again, I´m sure- Thank you!

    1. megang

      Oh wonderful, Anja. I'm so glad you liked it and your version sounds delicious! I'll have to try it (and I'm always a fan of cutting down the sugar when I can). Thanks so much for sharing.

  8. Rachele

    This is an AMAZING cookbook! Have you tried the lasagna? So simple, so delicious. This cake just got bumped to the top of my list...thanks!

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