Julia Turshen’s Afternoon Lemon Cake

Julia Turshen's Afternoon Lemon 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,” says Julia Turshen about this recipe and I completely agree. I’ve had a little slice of this every day this week, and it’s been delightful.

This recipe comes from the book Small Victories. If you think you’re not familiar with Julia Turshen’s work, you probably actually are – she’s co-authored books with Gweneth Paltrow and Mario Batali, to name a few. During the month of November, she’s teaming up with a bunch of bloggers to share recipes and help raise money for No Kid Hungry’s Friendsgiving program.

She writes: “This cookbook, like most cookbooks, assumes that whoever is reading it has access to food and not only the desire, but also the time, energy, and means to cook. How great would it be if that were the case for everyone? I firmly believe that if you have the privilege of eating however much you want whenever you want, you should spend some time ensuring that others have the same opportunity.” You can click here to read more about it and give a little something!

Julia Turshen's Afternoon Lemon Cake Julia Turshen's Afternoon Lemon Cake

What I love about the recipes in Small Victories is that Julia has spin-off ideas for every recipe (I know how all of you love recipe options and I do too!). Her original Afternoon Cake recipe calls for orange, but since she said any citrus would work, I went with lemon… for obvious reasons.

Each recipe also comes with a little tip (the titular small victory). Here’s a tip she shared for cutting parchment paper to fit in a round pan, which is much easier than the way I used to do it:

Julia Turshen's Afternoon Lemon Cake

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 pan. Unfold the parchment and, voila, you have a perfect circle that fits into your pan.

Julia Turshen's Afternoon Lemon Cake Julia Turshen's Afternoon Lemon Cake Click here to check out this sweet book 🙂

Small Victories by Julia Turshen

5.0 from 10 reviews
Julia Turshen's Afternoon Lemon Cake
Recipe from Small Victories by Julia Turshen. Reprinted with permission.
  • 1 cup [120 g] all-purpose flour (I used spelt)
  • ½ cup [50 g] finely ground almonds (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 lemon, plus ¼ cup [60 ml] fresh lemon juice
  • Powdered sugar for dusting
  1. 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.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, ground almonds, baking powder, and salt.
  3. 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, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Whisk in the flour mixture.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.


If you make this, let us see! Tag your photo with #loveandlemons on Instagram.


  1. This looks delicious and as you say, just right for afternoon tea in my case. I also just got Small Victories and am making my way through this wonderful cookbook. Best of luck with your No Kid Hungry campaign.

  2. A big yes to this cake and to Julia and her book. Love your lemon version and the option to add almond extract. Going on my list to make right after those pumpkin waffles. 😉

    Btw, your photo of the cracked egg is awesome!

  3. Alexandra Cummings on said:

    Thank you so much for raising awareness about No Kid Hungry! I’ve followed your blog for a while now, and seeing your support makes me an even bigger fan. This cake looks so nice. I always crave a little something sweet in the afternoon.

  4. Jan on said:

    I can’t wait to try this. Question- do you have to use a springform pan?

    • nope! I just didn’t have a regular 8″ cake pan.

  5. Ruth on said:

    I guess I have to ask about subbing gluten free flour 😉

    • Hi Ruth, I think an all-purpose GF flour will work in place of the regular flour here.

      • Ruth on said:

        Molte Grazie – yumm!

  6. Natalie from workovereasy.com on said:

    Lemon cake is one of my absolute favourites. This looks like such a good book, with a perfect title, every time I add a recipe to my favourites it truly does feel like a small victory

    – Natalie

  7. Pam on said:

    I’m working from home today, so popped into my kitchen during my lunch break to make this for my afternoon tea. I love that this uses olive oil instead of butter, and otherwise doesn’t have any dairy. I made cashew flour, because that’s what I had. And, used the rest of my whole wheat pastry flour, filled-in with white + regular whole wheat flours for the remainder. Oh, and baked it in a 7″ springform pan, because that’s what I have.

    My arm survived the whisking, despite the organic (larger crystals) sugar I use. The cake baked-up beautifully in the smaller pan. I tasted a tiny fork-size wedge right out of the oven because the smell was driving me crazy, and, it was wonderful.

    • Hi Pam, I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Sounds like a lovely afternoon 🙂

  8. Sandra Lea on said:

    I made this with orange and it is absolutely delicious.

  9. danielle on said:

    Lovely! Wondering if flax eggs would be ok in this recipe to keep it vegan?

    • Hi Danielle, I haven’t tried but I’m thinking they might not work here – in the past I’ve had more trouble substituting recipes that call for 2 or more eggs. Of course, let me know if you give it a go 🙂

      • Julie on said:

        You could try aquafaba (liquid in a can of chickpeas). One egg = about 3 Tbs of the liquid. I’ve had luck with other cakes.

  10. Oh, oh, oh, lemon cake!!
    Looks like I can get all the ingredients here in Spain, where I live during winter time, as well, so this recipe will be used tomorrow for the Sunday tea:-)

  11. Maria from almostproperly.com on said:

    I love the awareness you are raising with No Kid Hungry. Hunger and the fear of hunger is reality for many – even in our country. Its so visible in impoverished international communities but much less visible here. I love Julia Turshen’s recipes and this one looks wonderful, but I really just want to thank you for raising and bringing awareness to the reality of so many kids and families.

  12. Addison S on said:

    I didn’t have a round cake pan so I made these in a muffin tin. I used 9 out of 12 and got quite a bit of rise out of them but not a lot of color on the top. So I would either cut back on the baking soda or make them in the same tin but spread them out into all twelve muffins. Kept at the same baking temp. Checked every minute after 11 minutes of baking for a total of about 14, rotating half way through. Any thoughts on if this would work with a loaf pan or other tips if not baking in a round cake pan?

    The flavor is great and well suited in a muffin format for the presentation and bite sized nature.

  13. Aleksandra on said:

    That’s probably the best cake I’ve made (and eaten) in a decade or so! The substitutes I used:
    – tigernut flour instead of almond flour (it’s cheaper where I live)
    – an orange instead of a lemon
    – 1 tsp of orange blossom water instead of vanilla extract
    – almond flakes instead of powdered sugar for topping
    Additionally: 1 tsp of ground cinammon & ca. 50 g chopped dark chocolate added to the dry ingredients.

    Now I’m planning to experiment changing the proportions of tigernut flour vs spelt flour and using lemons instead of oranges. In the lemon variant, chopped rosemary should work amazingly (maybe instead of dark chocolate).

    • I’m so glad you loved it! Ooh, chopped rosemary sounds delicious 🙂

  14. Cordula on said:

    This sounds absolutely delicious and I would love to bake it for tomorrows tea :). However I have a quick question: I would like to make a 9″ springform cake. What should the measurements be? I think the 8″ might be too little for us! Thank you, much appreciated.

    • Hi Cordula, the cake will be more flat in a 9″ pan, I’d use an 8-inch regular (non-springform) baking pan if you have one. If you want more cake, I’d recommend just making 2 🙂

  15. Hemal Shah on said:

    Hi…!! Wont to try without eggs..any idea how it’s works and what’s the substitute for eggs ..
    Photography is so clear and perfect you use perfect light great

    • Hi Hemal, I’m not sure this one will work without eggs.

  16. Chocolatebaker from Love%20and%20lemon on said:

    Hi the lemon cake was a great addition to my moms tea.i had to use pecans.no almonds.it came out great thanks.

  17. Heather on said:

    Fantastic. Made it for a light dessert and it is oh so good. Easy to make too.

  18. Tatiana on said:

    Ohh, thank you for sharing! its delightfull!

  19. I adore lemon cakes. I haven’t tried baking one with the almond meal in it so I’m keen to try this recipe. It looks delicious. Thanks for sharing.

  20. elgoog from thedigitalbridges.com on said:

    This is a great recipe! Thank you so much for sharing! Lemon cake is one of my favorite desserts. I will definitely be trying this out!

  21. I cannot wait to make this! It’s a beautiful, yet simple dessert and perfect for spring and summer! <3 Thank you for sharing!

  22. Mattie on said:

    This was AMAZING!!! So good and light. Will definitely be making it again. Husband said he had a love/hate relationship with this cake. He loved it (and ate most of it), but he hated it because it had fruit (I guess lemon zest and juice counts as “fruit”) in it which makes it healthy, which means its not really dessert. Men.

    • Ha! I laughed so hard at this comment, thank you! I’m so glad you both loved the cake 🙂

  23. Aline from novodocelar.com on said:

    I just made this cake (1/2 recipe like I usually do for cakes when it is only for me and my husband) and it is delicious! I regret making only 1/2 recipe 🙂
    Thank you so much for sharing.

  24. Aline from novodocelar.com on said:

    New comment because I forgot to rate it 😉

    • Thank you! I’m so glad you both loved it!

  25. Aina Sebastià on said:

    I just did it yesterday and it didn’t last 24h!!! It has become ont of my favourites, thanks for sharing 🙂

  26. ali raza on said:

    Lemon Cake is my favorite cake. I just made it with my mom and enjoy. Taste so delicious and yummy. Same lemon cake recipe i found on one website sharing a link with you try this:: https://pakistanirecipesinurdu.wordpress.com/

  27. Sahar Gerstel on said:

    Hey! I just wondered how was the spelt flour, and was it white or whole? Would love to use spelt instead of ap but wondered if it got less fluffy

    • Hi Sahar, I used whole spelt flour (the Arrowhead Mills brand), and it was delicious.

  28. Chris on said:

    I made this cake for a pregnant co-worker who is not supposed to have too much sugar. I followed the metric ingredients carefully and used the original recipe(w/ orange). I did not make any alterations to the recipe except for using a 9inch springform cake pan as it was all I had. I swirled in bonne maman rasberry jam and added the almond extract as advised in the “spinoffs.”

    There was no problem with the size of the cake pan and the cake had a good rise to it. I just checked it after 15 minutes but it needed the full 20 minutes in the oven. I didn’t have any baking paper so I buttered and floured the pan and it came out easy and I let it rest for over 12 hours. Cakes definitely need a resting period.

    It was gorgeous by itself but very suited to go with a cup of tea. My pregnant coworker had 2 slices, one for her and one for the baby!

    This recipe is a keeper!

  29. Sue on said:

    Easy, delicious, and dairy-free (if you grease the pan with non-dairy). I’ve made it several times exactly as written, always comes out well and is well received by family and friends.

    • Hi Sue, I’m so glad the cake has been a hit!

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