Follow this three-ingredient sponge cake recipe and master the art of the classic Italian sponge cake (pan di Spagna). You will love this light, airy and delicious cake that is fat and dairy-free. Enjoy it plain for your afternoon tea or upgrade it to a celebration cake.
This classic sponge cake is a perfect base and an essential preparation of Italian pastry, such as cassata, zuccotto, and zuppa Inglese.
It can simply be sprinkled with confectioners' sugar for a simple sweet delight and enjoyed on its own.
Or this airy sponge cake can be upgraded into a layer cake. Just slice it into two, soak the bottom layer with sugar syrup.
Then fill it with your favorite jam, whipped cream, pastry cream, chocolate ganache, or other cream fillings.
Place the second layer and decorate the top of the cake with fresh fruit.
Yes, it is a plain sponge cake that could be colored and flavored in the way you desire.
- What is an Italian sponge cake?
- History of sponge cake
- What is the difference between sponge and Genoise cake?
- The main secret of Italian sponge cake
- Other secrets to baking sponge cake
- How to cut sponge cake
- Why you should try this recipe
- Ingredients of sponge cake
- How to make sponge cake
- Expert tips
- Frequently asked questions
- Love cakes? Try these next!
- Recipe card
What is an Italian sponge cake?
Italian sponge cake (Pan di Spagna in Italian) is a simple biscuit made with three basic ingredients: eggs, sugar, and flour.
History of sponge cake
Originally, back to the middle of the 18th century, the sponge cake was called Pâte Génoise, or Genoese pasta.
The famous Genoese chef, Giobatta Cabona, was invited by the Genoese ambassador to go to Madrid to prepare a banquet for the Spanish court.
He made an incredibly light cake that was named pan di Spagna to honor the court.
Over the years, the authentic recipe was slightly modified and simplified.
Originally, the cake was made hot when all the ingredients were added to a bowl over boiling water (bain-marie or water bath).
There are five methods for preparing sponge cake: two hot, two cold, and one with emulsifiers.
What is the difference between sponge and Genoise cake?
A true sponge cake is made with only three ingredients such as eggs, sugar, and flour.
Genoise cake is made with the same ingredients, but melted butter enriches the cake batter. Both cakes are of Italian origin.
The main secret of Italian sponge cake
Also, the sponge cake recipe does not require the use of yeast.
Instead, the eggs must be whipped correctly to incorporate and develop much air to prevent the cake from deflating during baking.
Other secrets to baking sponge cake
Heating the eggs and sugar mixture
Heat the egg and sugar mixture over a bain-marie (water bath), a saucepan over simmering water until warm to the touch or 104 degrees F/40 degrees C. Check the mixture's temperature with a cooking thermometer.
Whisk the egg and sugar mixture the entire time. Do not overheat the mixture; otherwise, it will make it impossible to beat air into the mix.
Whisking the eggs and sugar mixture
Use an electric or stand mixer with the whisk attachment to properly whisk the mixture.
It usually takes about 10 to 15 minutes to beat until the mixture reaches the ribbon stage.
Once you lift the whisk, the batter should run off, producing ribbon patterns that will hold their shape on the surface of the mixture for a few seconds.
The beaten mixture becomes whitish and light, and it doubles in volume.
Folding in flour
Sift flour over the beaten egg and sugar mixture in thirds, very gently folding after each addition.
Using a rubber spatula, work in a circular pattern, going over and under, slightly rotating the bowl. Fold flour just to combine.
Sponge cake pan
To make the perfect sponge cake, use a round cake pan 20 cm wide and 6.5 - 7.5 cm high (8 x 2.5 - 3 inches).
Generously butter and flour it without the use of parchment paper.
Another way to prepare the pan is to brush some softened butter to the bottom and sides of the pan and line them with the parchment.
Cut a circle equal to the diameter of your pan from the parchment and line the bottom of the pan.
Then line the sides of the pan with the parchment as well.
How to use a different size of cake tins
Baking the cake
Bake sponge cake in the center of the oven until the top is golden brown.
Do not open the oven door while baking; otherwise, the cake will collapse.
Test the cake for readiness: a toothpick of the knife's blade inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
How to cut sponge cake
To obtain a precise and regular cut, wrap the cake in plastic wrap and chill overnight.
Cut the sponge with a serrated knife, a nylon thread, or cake leveler.
How to cut the cake with a knife
To cut the sponge into two disks, first, use the smallest knife and cut a mark along the entire circumference of the cake, half its thickness, to outline the area where to cut further.
Then insert the blade of a long serrated knife following the guideline and cut the cake completely to get two equal-sized disks.
You can also cut the cake into three disks if you desire.
How to cut the sponge with a nylon thread
To cut the sponge cake with a nylon thread, make a guideline with a small knife in the way described above.
Then pass the thread through the track and, holding it parallel to the cake, pull it to finish the cut.
How to cut the cake with a cake leveler
It is one of the easiest ways to cut the sponge. The tool has several notches to adjust the cutting wire.
Watch the video about how to use the cake leveler and to get the perfect cake layers.
Why you should try this recipe
- It is a simple Italian sponge cake recipe for beginners and experienced bakers: it works every time, and everyone will succeed in making the perfect cake.
- The basic cake recipe could be altered and personalized in the way you desire: color, flavor it, or make it gluten-free.
- It is a light cake with a unique soft and honeycomb-like texture.
Ingredients of sponge cake
Here is a quick overview of what ingredients you will need. Follow the full recipe below for detailed amounts and instructions. I recommend making this recipe as written for the best results.
Eggs: use large eggs at room temperature: take them out of the fridge 1 to 2 hours before starting.
If you are short on time, soak whole eggs for a few minutes in a bowl of warm water.
There is no need to separate egg whites from egg yolks: the recipe uses whole eggs.
Sugar: the recipe calls for granulated white sugar.
Flour: use all-purpose flour. If you have store-bought cake flour, got for it: it contains less gluten, and you will end up with a very soft, fluffy cake crumb. But, of course, you can make cake flour yourself.
How to make sponge cake
Preheat the oven to 355 degrees F/180 degrees C. Generously butter and flour an 8-inch/20 cm round cake pan and set aside.
Continue to whisk and bring the bowl over a bain-marie/water bath to warm the mixture up to 104 degrees F/40 degrees C (warm to the touch).
Remove the bowl from the bain-marie/water bath and beat the eggs/sugar mixture with an electric mixer until the volume is doubled for about 12 to 15 minutes (photo 3).
Add sifted flour and mix with a rubber spatula (photo 4).
Pour the dough into the prepared pan (photo 5) and bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes (photo 6).
Check the readiness of the biscuit with a toothpick or a cake tester: once it comes out clean out of the sponge, the biscuit is ready.
Let it cool for 10 minutes in the oven off (keep the door slightly open using a wooden spoon) to prevent deflating the sponge cake.
Remove the sponge from the oven, let it cool for the other ten minutes. Then remove it from the pan by flipping it upside down and cool on a cooling rack, also known as a wire rack.
- Do not over whip the egg and sugar mixture, otherwise, the sponge cake will crumble while cutting.
- Do not open the oven door until the baking is finished, otherwise, the cake will deflate.
- Adjust the baking time if the cake is too dark outside but still not perfectly cooked inside.
- Make the cake one day in advance if you plan to cut and decorate it. Wrap it in a plastic film (cling film) and keep at room temperature or refrigerate till the next day.
Frequently asked questions
Add a food coloring and/or flavor before folding in the flour. Use vanilla extract, almond extract, coconut, or red velvet bakery emulsions to flavor the biscuit. Add orange flower water and orange or lemon zest to bring some citrus notes to the cake. Use rose water to make a cake for Valentine's day.
To make the sponge cake for those who are gluten intolerant, replace all-purpose flour with the same amount of corn starch or rice flour, and follow the same recipe as directed. If you want, you can use half of the rice flour and the other half of corn starch or potato starch.
Wrap the baked sponge cake in a plastic film and store it at room temperature for a couple of days, or freeze it for up to 1 month. Thaw the cake at room temperature before using it.
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Italian Sponge Cake (Pan di Spagna)
Follow this simple sponge cake recipe and master the art of the classic Italian sponge cake (pan di Spagna). You will love this light, airy and delicious cake that is fat and dairy-free. Enjoy it plain with a cup of tea or coffee or upgrade it to a celebration cake.
- Total Time: 40 minutes
- Yield: 8 1x
- Category: Cake
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: Italian
Preheat the oven to 355 degrees F/180 degrees C. Generously butter and flour an 8-inch/20 cm round cake pan and set aside. Place eggs and granulated sugar in a large bowl and slightly beat with a hand whisk.
Continue to whisk and bring the bowl over a bain-marie/water bath to warm the mixture up to 104 degrees F/40 degrees C (warm to the touch). Remove the bowl from the bain-marie/water bath and beat the eggs/sugar mixture with an electric mixer until the volume is doubled for about 12 to 15 minutes. Add sifted flour and mix with a rubber spatula.
Pour the dough into the prepared pan and bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Check the readiness of the biscuit with a toothpick or a cake tester: once it comes out clean out of the sponge, the biscuit is ready.
Let it cool for 10 minutes in the oven off (keep the door slightly open using a wooden spoon) to prevent deflating the sponge cake. Next, remove the sponge from the oven, let it cool for the other ten minutes. Then remove it from the pan by flipping it upside down and cool on a cooling rack, also known as a wire rack.
- ; otherwise, the sponge cake will crumble while cutting.
- otherwise, the cake will deflate.
- Adjust the baking time if the cake is too dark outside but still not perfectly cooked inside.
- plastic film and keep at room temperature or refrigerate till the next day. if you plan to cut and decorate it. Wrap it in a
- Serving Size: 1 slice
- Calories: 142
- Sugar: 15.2 g
- Sodium: 31 mg
- Fat: 2.3 g
- Saturated Fat: 0.7 g
- Carbohydrates: 26.6 g
- Fiber: 0.4 g
- Protein: 4.3 g
- Cholesterol: 82 mg
Keywords: Italian sponge cake, sponge cake, sponge cake recipe, Pan di Spagna
The recipe was originally published on February 04, 2019. It has been revised to include improved content and photos. All posted pictures are mine.