Italian Sponge Cake Recipe in 25 Minutes
Italian Sponge Cake is a versatile dessert which can be enjoyed in many different forms. Even if you may serve it by itself, in most of the cases it is considered a base for various sweets.
What is Italian Sponge Cake?
Italians call it “pan di spagna”, although it was invented by an Italian chef. In the 18th century, chef Giovan Battista Cabona from Genoa followed the Spanish ambassador, Domenico Pallavacini, back to Madrid.
The latter was amazed by the cooking skills of Giobatta (the chef’s nickname) and invited him to join the Spanish court. Cabona accepted the invitation and this is a great thing. Otherwise, who knows if we’d still eat sponge cake nowadays. The Genoese chef impressed the ambassador’s guests on the occasion of a banquet. He prepared a sophisticated and soft dessert.
It was something entirely different from what they were previously eating. The Spanish royal family liked the dessert so much that they named it “pate génoise” or “pan di Genoa” to honor the birthplace of the talented chef.
In time, the “pate” separated somehow from the sponge cake due to the preparation method. For the “pate génoise” eggs and sugar are prepared in a hot water bath, while you don’t need this for the sponge cake.
An inspiration source for the Lingurian chef could be “biscoutos de la reyna”, a cake that looked similar to the “pan di Genoa”. In 1683, the Portuguese royal cook, Domingos Rodriguez, described this dessert in his book “Arte de cozinha”.
Now that you know a little bit of history about the dessert you must not be scared. Even if only royal families savored it two-hundred years ago, these days everyone can prepare the nice and smooth cake base. The recipe is not that complicated and requires a minimum of ingredients. Yet, it takes some time to prepare the batter.
But let me tell you something. You may place the ingredients in a mixer, set it on medium-high speed and also set a timer. The time for beating the eggs together with the sugar is about 15-20 minutes. The machine will do all the work. You just need to check from time to time to see if everything is well combined.
Some of you may not have such a food processor. It works well with a hand mixer too. In fact, this is what I used too because my other device only processes large quantities. So I combined the ingredients, took a sit, placed the bowl in my lap and started mixing. I was doing that with one hand while I was holding a book with my other hand. I didn’t have time to get bored. Actually I didn’t even notice when the time passed by.
So when the timer beeped I was a bit confused.
The Italian sponge is used as a foundation for many… guess what… Italian desserts. Like Tiramisu, Cassata, Zuppa Inglese or Zuccoto. You should know that I’m a big fan of Italian cuisine therefore all these names make my mouth water.
What Do You Need for Vanilla Sponge Cake?
Only few ingredients are required: flour, eggs, sugar, vanilla and lemon zest.
Experts advise to use a flour with low protein content, between 7% and 8%. It will help the batter remain airy and make the final texture remain light. Also, cake flour is bleached with an additive named chlorine. This addition helps the cake rise and also creates a binding with the fat in the batter easier. So the best choice is to use cake flour.
However, it that’s not possible and you want to replace it with all-purpose flour, keep some things in mind. If the recipe calls for one cup of cake flour, use with one tablespoon less. Another option would be to add four tablespoons cornstarch to a cup, and then fill it with all-purpose flour. The starch helps in reducing the protein content.
The type of eggs is very important for pan di spagna. Ideally, you should buy extra-large eggs. But we’re not living in an ideal world, right? You have the option of weighing them. One egg should be of about 2.25 ounces, but you have some smaller eggs. For example, the size of your pan requires three eggs. You’ll need approximately 6.75 ounces. The alternative is to replace them with four medium eggs which weigh around 7 ounces.
Sugar plays a big role in any cake. In this particular sponge cake recipe, it adds moisture and tenderizes the batter. While the original recipe uses granulated sugar, I took the liberty of replacing it with light brown sugar just to see what happens. The brown sugar granules are larger and they dissolve harder. But I took into consideration the fact that you have to beat the eggs with sugar for at least fifteen minutes. That would make enough time for it to soften and melt completely. The only difference I noticed is that the end result was a little bit darker due to sugar color.
Vanilla and lemon zest bring a nice and exquisite flavor to the cake and that is why we’re using these two spices.
How to Make Italian Sponge Cake?
I suggest that you prepare and measure all the ingredients in advance so you have them at hand.
You could even take the eggs out of the fridge a night before so they could reach the room temperature. It is possible that you don’t have much time or decide that you want to prepare the sponge cake recipe in an hour. In this case, feel free to place the eggs in a bowl and cover them with warm water. Set aside for 30 minutes and they’ll be ready to use.
Make sure you beat the eggs and sugar for the suggested amount of time, no less than 15 minutes. This stage is extremely important because it’s the moment when air is incorporated and it will reflect in the final result. If, for some reason, you spend less time for this phase, your cake will have a more solid structure instead of fluffy one. It will still taste good though…
When you start adding flour, make it slowly and mix after each inclusion. It is better to sift the flour to obtain that silky structure in the end.
The baking temperature is essential. A high temperature may cause the batter to burn while a lower one will increase the baking time and quality. The ideal is to preheat your oven to 340F. Leave it closed while cooking the vanilla sponge cake. A sudden change in the heat conditions can make the cake to collapse.
It's the reason why it is not desirable to take the pan out of the oven when the baking time is done. Leave it inside for 10 more minutes, with the door open. After that, take out the pan and allow the cake to sit for another 10 minutes. Only now you can transfer it to a wire rack to cool completely.
How to Store the Vanilla Sponge Cake?
This dessert remains soft and tender for about two days when kept properly. This means that you have to wrap it in plastic foil and store at room temperature. If it’s too hot, it would be better to place it in the fridge.
This cake can also be taken to the freezer and sit there for several months. When you need it, just take it out, unthaw and use for whatever you desire.
How to Make Dessert with Italian Sponge Cake?
Just like the name shows, this cake base can be soaked in syrups, liqueurs or juices. If the base is round, you can cut it to make a layer cake and combine it with fruity or chocolate fillings. Adding fruits or jams will make it look delightful and it won’t seem a beginner recipe at all. When baked in a rectangular pan, this foundation will be cut in squares and used for British trifles, for example. It is possible that you don’t have a clear idea of what to do with your pan di spagna. You can take it to the freezer and leave it there until a revelation about desserts comes to you.
And remember, even if everything sounds a bit complicated, it really isn’t. The sponge cake recipe only requires a bit of attention and time.
What Baking Pan Should I Use?
Depending on the size of the baking pan, you have to adjust the quantities of the ingredients.
Now… I know that this article contains a lot of “technical” and “historical” facts. And I remember the days when I was sitting next to my mother and was asking her to cook that sponge cake faster because I couldn’t wait to eat it. She used to smile and tell me to have patience if I wanted something delicious. Those were times when I didn’t know that this dessert was called “pan di spagna” and it was created by a famous Italian chef from the 18th century. I was pretty sure that my mom invented it and gave the recipe to some of her friends. Because their children should enjoy it too, right?
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 3 pcs
eggs, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup cake flour
- 3/4 tbsp cake flour
Pinch of salt
- 2/3 tbsp grated lemon zest
- 1/2 tbsp vanilla extract
- Take the eggs out of the fridge at least 2 hours ahead or place them into a bowl with warm water so they reach room temperature.
- Preheat the oven to 340F.
- Grease the pan with some soft butter and then flour it.
- Place the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, salt and vanilla extract into the bowl of the mixer.
- Beat on medium-high speed for about 15-20 minutes until they become pale and silky.
- Sift the flour in a separate bowl.
- Add 1-2 tablespoons of flour at a time to the egg mixture. Incorporate with a spatula or wooden spoon.
- Transfer the batter to the pan.
- Bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Do NOT open the oven until the baking time is done or your cake may collapse.
- Turn off the heat and slightly open the oven door. Leave the cake like this for 10 minutes.
- Take the pan off the oven and set aside for 10 minutes more.
- Use a knife to unstick the edges from the pan and move the sponge cake to a wire rack to cool completely before cutting it.
- Cut the cake with a bread knife so it doesn’t crumble or lose its shape.
- I served it as it is, decorated with some powdered sugar and forest fruits. It was delicious!
- Don’t forget that you can prepare some fruity filling out of mascarpone and strawberries, soak the sponge into a little bit of espresso and get a sophisticated dessert that will astonish you guests.
- No matter how you prepare the sponge cake, make sure you enjoy it!