Italian Sponge Cake (Pan di Spagna) is a basic preparation of Italian pastry.
Thanks to its particular soft and spongy texture it’s the ideal base for the preparation of classic layer cakes and an excellent substitute of Ladyfingers in soaked cakes, such as Tiramisu, Zuppa Inglese or Zuccotto.
Its preparation is very simple, however for its perfect success it’s very important to respect the doses and methods of preparation. The ingredients of the authentic Italian Sponge Cake recipe are just 3: eggs, flour and sugar.
It belongs to the category of whipped doughs that do not require yeast. You have to whip the eggs for a long time so that they incorporate a lot of air. This, together with the water vapor developed during cooking, will allow the sponge cake to rise without the need for yeast.
Do not confuse sponge cake with another basic preparation called Pasta Biscotto. The latter resembles the Pan di Spagna for its spongy consistency, which is also suitable for dunking. But the Pasta Biscotto is mainly used for rolled desserts such as Nutella cake roll or Tiramisù Cake Roll.
It looks like one of the simplest and easiest basic preparation to make, with just 3 ingredients: eggs, sugar and flour (often half “00” flour and half potato starch). In reality there are some very important precautions to follow in order to get a good Italian Sponge Cake.
As with many traditional recipes, there are various methods to prepare Pan di Spagna. Some people prepare the mixture hot, others cold, there are those who separate the yolks from the egg whites and then process them separately.
We are going to show you the easiest method to get the best homemade Italian sponge cake for amazing, soft desserts.
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Italian Sponge Cake Recipe (Pan di Spagna)
- Prep Time: 20 Min
- Cook Time: 50 Min
- Servings: 8-10
Doses for a springform cake pan of 22 cm (9 inch). For different doses, calculated according to the diameter of your cake pan, read the paragraph below “Sponge Cake Ratio”.
- 5 whole medium eggs
- 150 g (5,30 oz = 3/4 cup) of granulated sugar
- 75 g (2,65 oz = 2/3 cup) of “00” flour
- 75 g (2,65 oz = 1/2 cup) of potato starch
- 3-4 drops of vanilla essence or the grated rind of 1/2 lemon (optional)
Kitchen Tools and Equipment
Essential for the success of the recipe is a good electric electric stand mixer such as KitchenAid Artisan Series, like the one used to make Pan di Spagna in this recipe.
You can also use an electric hand mixer to perfectly beat the egg with sugar.
Finally you need a cake pan with removable base. Have a look to these professional springform pan set that includes 3 piece non-stick pans (6 inch, 8 inch, 10 inch) and 6 inch, 8 inch, 10 inch parchment paper liners.
Step 1) – First, preheat the oven to 170°C (338 F). Then sift together the flour and the potato starch in a bowl. Mix them well and set aside.
Step 2) – Place the eggs and sugar in a planetary mixer. If you want to flavor the sponge cake, now add 3-4 drops of vanilla essence or the grated rind of 1/2 lemon. This is optional, dependig on the recipe you are going to make with the sponge cake.
Step 3) – Whip at moderate speed. If you have an electric mixer graduated from 1 to 10, the correct speed is 6.
Step 4) – Beat the eggs with the sugar for 15/20 minutes until the mixture has become light and fluffy and has doubled its volume.
Step 5) – When the eggs and sugar are ready, puffy and frothy, turn off the mixer. Take the sifted flours and add them a little at a time to the cream of eggs and sugar. Mix RIGOROUSLY BY HAND and slowly making movements from the bottom up, so as not to disassemble the mixture.
Step 6) – As soon as the flours are completely amalgamated to the cream, set aside and carefully cover your springform cake pan with baking paper.
Step 7) – Pour the mixture into the cake pan and finally use a spatula to level the surface. DO NOT BEAT THE CAKE PAN on a surface to level it, otherwise it will disassemble.
Step 8) – Bake the Pan di Spagna in a preheated oven at 170°(338 F) for about 50 minutes. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN FOR THE FIRST 40 MINUTES! Then you can check the cooking with a toothpick. Stick with a toothpick the center of the sponge cake: if it comes out dry it means that it’s cooked.
Once cooked, remove the sponge cake from the oven. Leave it in the cake pan for about 15 minutes before unmolding. Then let the sponge cake cool completely before using it for your recipes.
You can keep the Italian sponge cake at room temperature, completely sealed with cling film or in an airtight container. It will remain soft for about 3 days.
If you want to freeze the sponge cake you can do it immediately after preparing it when it’s completely cold, wrapped in foil, so it will keep for about 2 months.
When you want to use it, gradually let it thaw in the refrigerator for about 8 hours.
We recommend cutting it while still cold: the cut will be even more perfect and the sponge cake will be even easier to use.
Once thawed, proceed with the stuffing and consume it within a day.
Italian Sponge Cake: With or Without yeast?
The classic recipe for sponge cake, as we have seen, is without yeast. The recipe requires only three ingredients: eggs, sugar and flour (all “00” flour or half “00” flour and half potato starch, as we did).
The secret to making yeast-free sponge cake is to beat the eggs with the sugar at medium speed for a long time.
This allows the eggs to incorporate a lot of air and make the sponge cake very soft.
However, if you want to play it safe and not risk failure, you can add a teaspoon of baking powder to the flours.
Eggs at Room Temperature
Another very important advice for the perfect success of the Pan di Spagna is to always use eggs at room temperature. Take them out of the refrigerator at least 3 hours before.
What Type of Flour to Use to Make Sponge Cake?
As for the flour, it’s better to use half “00” flour and half potato starch which makes this basic prearation lighter and fluffier.
In the absence of potato starch we can just use “00” flour. In this case we will have an equally soft Pan di Spagna but a little more compact.
It’s very important to sift the flours well to prevent lumps from forming.
Sponge Cake Ratio
How do you calculate the correct amounts of ingredients to make sponge cake based on the size of the cake pan?
The doses we have indicated in this recipe are to make a sponge cake with a diameter of 22 cm (9 inch). But what if you want to make a smaller or larger sponge cake, based on the number of people?
To prevent the mixture from escaping during cooking due to having chosen a pan that is too small or, on the contrary, it remains too low for having chosen a pan that is too large, we give you a table in which you will find all the doses based on the size of the pans.
How to Cut Italian Sponge Cake
We recommend that you only cut the sponge cake when it’s completely cold! Do not cut it hot or it will crumble.
Use a long knife with a thin, sharp blade.
You can cut it in the middle for a cake with central filling or make several thin layers.
Or you can cut it into smaller or larger rectangles depending on the cake you want to make.
What Filling to Put in Sponge Cake
The sponge cake is a compact and dry base, so it must be first wet and then filled, to be moist and soft to the bite.
We recommend stuffing the sponge cake a few hours before consuming it, even better the day before. So that the sponge cake is evenly wet and compacted well with the creams.
You can wet it with alcoholic solutions (rum, limoncello or alchermes for example) always diluted with milk, water or coffee. Or with non-alcoholic solutions with fruit or vanilla.
For the fillings, you can choose to give vent to your imagination. The most traditional fillings are with the classic Italian Pastry Cream, also with chocolate, or with Mascarpone cream. You can add the creams alone or together with chocolate chips or pieces of fresh fruit!
Pan Di Spagna
Although the most common use of Pan Di Spagna is as a base for making other desserts, in reality this dessert is delicious even alone.
Pan di Spagna is perfect for morning breakfast with milk, tea or coffee. It’s also perfect for children given the simplicity of its ingredients and its lightness.
If you are going to enjoy the Pan di Spagna alone, we recommend flavoring it with lemon or orange peel or vanilla and sprinkle it with powdered sugar at the end of cooking.
Origins and History of Pan di Spagna
Pan di Spagna was born in the first half of the eighteenth century, in the Republic of Genoa.
The ambassador of the Republic, the Marquis Domenico Pallavicini, was sent to Madrid for commercial matters. Here he remained for about two years and with him the house staff, including a young pastry chef, Giobatta Cabona known as Giobatta.
On the occasion of a reception at the Spanish court, the Marquis commissioned a special dessert from the pastry chef, able to amaze the guests.
The host and diners were pleasantly surprised by the light consistency of that cake with such a delicate flavor.
This is how Pasta Genovese Cake or Genoise sponge cake was born, so called precisely to pay homage to those who created it.
The name “Pan Di Spagna” was coined later, to honor the Spanish court that had so much appreciated the dessert.