I am an avid cookbook collector – cookbooks are a big part of my work after all – and have collected quite a few bookshelves over the years. I receive many Dutch books, but also regularly buy cookbooks from abroad. With such a broad collection, it’s rare that I am truly impressed by a book, but Julia Turshen’s ‘Small Victories’ did just that. It’s an honest, real and uplifting cookbook filled with very doable recipes.
The name Julia Turshen might ring a bell, because she co-authored many cookbooks and stepped into the spotlight when she co-wrote Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘It’s all good’. I know for my own experience what it’s like to write cookbooks for others and I also know that writing your own book after that is so much different. In Julia’s case, it turned out very, very well.
Julia’s experience as a chef is very notable, with precise recipes (including metric measurements, oh the joy!) and little kitchen victories (a kitchen towel underneath your chopping board, the perfect way to remove an avocado pit, using pickle brine for other things). Each recipe also ends with a few creative spin-offs (using the lasagne sauce for a rigatoni dish with ricotta(!), substituting yogurt or creme fraîche in the sour cream pancakes), which is something I absolutely love.
Julia’s wife Grace wrote a loving review online, mentioning how Julia “cooks not to impress or get attention, but to nurture and care for the ones she loves”. I think that is the essence of this book that truly stands out from every single page. It’s that genuine love for food and for cooking. The true understanding that food is so much more than what is on your plate. This isn’t a fancy chef book, but a real cookbook with approachable recipes and fun stories that will undoubtedly be used in many kitchens, including mine.
I usually make a list of must-try recipes and for this book I made a long one. I definitely want to try the lasagna (with crème fraiche in the sauce, very clever), the avocado kimchi toast and the turkey and ricotta meatballs.
But the first thing I made from Small Victories was this chocolate & raspberry cake, a little variation on Julia’s ‘Happy Wife, Happy Wife chocolate cake’, that’s Grace’s favorite cake. No mixer needed, the ultimate simple frosting and lots of chocolate flavor. I was sold.
I followed the recipe perfectly, but replaced the raspberry jam by fresh raspberries and a little extra frosting.
I absolutely loved the result. This chocolate cake disappeared in a day, no joke. It’s a moist, dark, soft chocolate cake with a wonderful not-too-sweet frosting (just melted chocolate + sour cream, based on Smitten Kitchen, love that!) and tart raspberries to counterbalance the chocolate. It’s a winner, just like the book.
makes one two-layer 8-inch cake
For the cake:
1¼ cups (150 g) flour
1 cup (200 g) sugar
¾ cup (75 g) Dutch-process cocoa powder, sifted if lumpy
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup (1 stick/110 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup (240 ml) strong black coffee, at room temperature
1 cup (240 ml) buttermilk or plain yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the frosting:
¾ cup (130 g) semisweet chocolate chips or roughly chopped semisweet chocolate
¾ cup (180 ml) sour cream, at room temperature
1 tablespoon maple syrup
½ cup (120 ml) raspberry jam OR fresh raspberries (my variation)
Make cake: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Use your hands to butter the bottom and sides of two 8-inch cake pans, then line bottom of each with a circle of parchment paper. For good measure, butter the parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add melted butter, eggs, coffee, buttermilk, and vanilla and whisk until batter is smooth. Divide batter evenly among prepared cake pans.
Bake in preheated oven until cakes are firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Transfer cakes, still in their pans, to a wire rack and let them cool completely. Once cool, use a dinner knife to loosen edges of cakes from pans and invert them onto a work surface. Peel off and discard parchment.
Make frosting: Meanwhile, bring a small pot of water to a boil and then lower heat to a simmer. Put chocolate chips in a large heatproof bowl and set it over the pot (the water should not touch the bowl — if it does, simply pour some out). Stir until chocolate is melted. (Alternatively, you can melt chocolate in a microwave in 15-second increments, stirring between increments.) Remove from heat and whisk in sour cream and maple syrup. Frosting should be smooth and silky. Refrigerate frosting until the cakes have cooled. It will thicken as it cools (a good thing).
Once the cakes are cool, put one on a serving platter upside down so that the flat side is facing up. Spread jam over the top. Put second cake on top of the jam-slathered cake, again flat-side up. (My variation: replace the jam by fresh raspberries + some extra chocolate frosting underneath).
Using a small offset spatula or a dinner knife, spread frosting all over side and top of cake. There’s no need to be perfect with this; I like it kind of rustic looking. But if you’re more of a type-A person, go ahead and smooth the top and sides (and you could even stick strips of parchment paper under the bottom of the cake before frosting it to keep your serving platter clean). Whatever makes you happy.
Let the cake sit about 1 hour before serving. There’s something about letting each element get to know the others that serves this cake very well. In fact, I prefer to make it the day before and refrigerate it overnight, and serve it cold. Either way, slice and serve with some fresh raspberries alongside, if you’d like.
* Recipe is reprinted from Small Victories, by Julia Turshen.