Italian lemon sponge cake, or Pan di Spagna, is the reason why I am a baking/cooking addict, the main character of my first attempt at baking a cake, when I was a teenager. This story could be entitled “The big disaster”, since it is exactly what that cake was!
Well, lemon Pan di Spagna is not the easiest recipe for a teen baker to start with, I must confess. After many attempts at baking this, though, I’ve realized that if you follow some secrets, it’s not that difficult to get the softest base for many traditional Italian sweet recipes.
Italian Sponge Cake has a delicate flavour and a spongy texture, so it is usually soaked with liquor or other liquids and used as a base for many different desserts, such as Zuppa Inglese, Tiramisu, Torta Diplomatica or any other traditional birthday cakes, if filled with Italian custard (find out its recipe here!), chocolate cream or other mixtures. It can be flavoured with vanilla or lemon zest, and I personally prefer the latter.
How to make Italian lemon sponge cake
Eggs, sugar and flour: these three ingredients are the ones you need for this recipe. There’s no baking powder in here, since raising power is given by the air incorporated by the eggs when beaten with the whisk, and there are no fat ingredients, but the result will be a moist and soft cake anyway.
Forget taking paper and pen to write down long recipes here, you just need to remember that for each medium sized egg you use, you will need to add 30 gr. (1/4 cup) of flour and 25 gr. (2 Tbsp) of sugar, and that the number of eggs strictly depends on the diameter of the cake pan you’re going to use. Here’s my recipe for a 18 cm (or 7 in) Ø Italian lemon sponge cake, for which the right number of eggs, in my opinion, is 4.
Please note: the bigger the pan, the higher the number of eggs (and consequently, of flour and sugar). Count approx. 1 egg, 30 gr flour and 25 gr sugar more for any 2-3 cm (or 3/4 to 1 inch) more diameter of the pan. For example, use 5 eggs for a 20 cm pan, 6 eggs for a 24 cm pan, etc.
ITALIAN LEMON SPONGE CAKE
Ingredients (for a 18 cm Ø – 7 in Ø cake pan)
- Room temperature whole eggs, medium sized, 4
- All purpose flour, 120 gr (or 1 cup)
- Sugar, 100 gr (or 1/2 cup)
- the grated zest of a lemon
- a pinch of salt
Pour the cake dough into the pan, be sure it is well leveled and put it in the pre-heated oven, at the lowest position, since the cake should raise thanks to the heat coming from the bottom.
Do not open the oven for the first 30 minutes. After this time, if you think the cake may be ready (slightly golden brown on top), sting the centre of the cake with a long toothpick, then take it out. If it comes out clean, the cake is ready. If not, you’ll need to wait a few minutes more. Keep checking the cake every 5 minutes until it is ready, then turn off the oven and leave the cake inside of it for about 20 minutes, in order to avoid it cools down suddenly. At this step, you should take the oven half-open. To do this, you can put a spoon between the oven and its door.
Take out the cake and leave it cool completely, then remove it from the pan. Your Pan di Spagna is now ready to be filled with your favourite cream (what about a Lemon custard?) and topped with whipped cream, or cut into pieces and used for your Tiramisu or Diplomatica.
As you can see, Italian Sponge Cake is not that difficult to be made, if you follow a few secrets, that I recap here:
- Use medium eggs, of approximately 60 grams of weight, at room temperature. The amount of flour is chosen depending on the eggs size, and the temperature influences their likelihood to incorporate air (the colder the eggs, the longer the whisking process).
- Always add a pinch of salt to your eggs in your sweet preparations. It will enhance their flavour and make faster the whisking process.
- Be patient, whisk the eggs and sugar for at least 15 minutes in order to get the firmest foam you can get, as the air they incorporate will be the only raising factor.
- Combine the flour and eggs gently but surely, with a bottom-up movement, in order to maintain the mixture well whipped.
- Never open the oven before 30 minutes of cooking, otherwise your cake may deflate!
- You can make your Pan di Spagna whenever you want and freeze it to preserve it.
Italian lemon Sponge Cake – Pan di Spagna
- Prep time: 20-25 minutes
- Cooking time: 30 to 40 minutes, according to the oven
- Yield: serves 8-12
- Tips: Always make your dessert with passion. It’s the only secret ingredient for your sweet recipes!
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