3-Ingredient Italian Sponge Cake
Pan di Spagna is a simple Italian sponge cake flavored with vanilla or lemon zest. It’s made with only 3 ingredients: eggs, sugar, and flour…no baking powder, no butter, no oil, and no dairy!
Follow my instructions and tips and you’ll have a perfect sponge cake every single time.
Try also the chocolate version of this sponge cake! You will love it!
Italian sponge cake recipe
An Italian sponge cake is a light and airy cake that gets its texture from whipped eggs.
It’s used as a base for many Italian desserts like cassata, tiramisù, zuppa inglese, and zuccotto. But it’s also great on its own dusted with powdered sugar or filled with creams, fruit, and preserves.
This cake is fluffy but it tends to be on the dried side, that’s why you need to brush it with fruit juice, flavored syrups, coffee, or liquors before adding the filling.
Please read my instructions and tips carefully before starting!
Ingredients & substitution suggestions
You only need 3 ingredients for this recipe. Flavoring and salt are optional.
- EGGS – This is very important → Eggs should be at room temperature, not cold from the fridge. Take them out 45-60 minutes before starting the recipe or soak them in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes.
The original recipe calls for extra-large eggs (approximately 70 grams/2.46 ounces with the shell or 58 grams/2.04 ounces without the shell). I often get this question: I only have large eggs. What shall I do? If they are not significantly smaller (50-55 grams/1.76-1.94 ounces without shell) use them, there is no need to adjust the recipe.
- SUGAR – Granulated sugar or caster sugar.
- FLOUR – It’s better to use low-protein flour, such as cake flour or plain flour. If it’s not available in the store, you can make it at home or use all-purpose flour. Do not replace cake flour with self-raising flour. I tried this recipe with a gluten-free flour blend and came out perfect!
- FLAVORING – This is optional but it helps mask the eggy flavor. You can use vanilla extract, grated lemon or orange zest, almond flavor, etc.
- SALT – To enhance all the flavors.
How to make homemade cake flour: Take 1 cup of all-purpose flour (120 grams), remove 2 tablespoons of the flour and add 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. Sift or whisk a few times. This makes 1 cup of cake flour.
How to make a perfect sponge cake
3 simple steps. Please read carefully:
- Whip – Beat the eggs and sugar until the mixture is thick, tripled in volume, and lemon-colored (until it reaches ribbon-stage). It usually takes about 10/15 minutes. You can use a stand mixer or a hand mixer. If you are using a hand mixer, this process will take a bit longer.
- Fold – Sift the flour into the egg mixture in small increments or one-third at a time. Fold it carefully, mixing from the bottom of the mixing bowl. Be as gentle as possible, you don’t want to deflate the egg mixture. Do not use a mixer or a whisk for this step, just a wooden spoon or a spatula.
- Bake – Bake for 40 minutes then, let it cool for 10 minutes in the oven switched off (keep the door slightly open using a wooden spoon) to prevent deflating the sponge cake. Next, remove the cake from the oven, let it cool for ten more minutes in the pan, and flip it upside down on a cooling rack to cool completely.
How do you know you reached the right consistency (ribbon stage)?
Lift a small amount of batter with your whisk and make a figure “8” using the batter that drip off the whisk. If the “8” holds its shape for at least 10 seconds then you have the right consistency. If the figure “8” sinks into the batter quicker than that, you need to beat it longer.
A few tips to get perfect results every time!
- Egg mixture – Beat the eggs and sugar for no less than 10/15 minutes. It is during this stage that air is incorporated. The eggs should turn a pale yellow and triple in volume. Be careful also not to over-beat them, stop when you reach the ribbon stage. How do you know you reached the ribbon stage? Read above, I explained it.
- Fold gently – Sift the flour on top of the egg mixture, a little at a time, and fold it GENTLY with a wooden spoon or spatula JUST until incorporated. If you pour in too much flour, it will sink to the bottom of the bowl. If you don’t fold gently, the cake will be dense and it will deflate.
- Avoid sudden temperature changes – While the cake is baking, don’t open the oven door for at least 30 minutes as this may cause the cake to deflate. When the cake is cooked, turn off the oven but leave the cake inside (keep the door slightly open using a wooden spoon) for 5- 10 minutes.
- Cutting the cake – Cut the cake with a serrated knife when it’s cold. It’s better if you prepare it the day before, wrap it in cling film, and leave it in the fridge overnight. You can make it up to 3 days ahead!
You can use round, square, or rectangle baking pans to make your Italian sponge cake.
For the sponge cake in the picture, I used a Wilton round pan 15 cm wide and 8 cm high (6 x 3 inches).
If your baking pan is not very deep, use parchment paper. Trace the bottom of the pan on a piece of parchment paper. Cut it out and line the bottom of the pan. Then line the sides of the pan with parchment paper so that the parchment paper creates a collar that sits 1 to 2-inches above the pan. Make sure that you brush some melted butter to the bottom and sides of the pan so the parchment paper sticks.
Your round baking pan is a different size? Use the following ratios:
Measurements in grams
12 cm (4 inches) pan: 2 eggs, 60 grams cake flour, 60 grams sugar 15 cm (6 inches) pan: 3 eggs, 90 grams cake flour, 90 grams sugar 18/20 cm (7/8 inches) pan: 4 eggs, 120 grams cake flour, 120 grams sugar 23 cm ( 9 inches) pan: 5 eggs, 150 grams cake flour, 150 grams sugar 26 cm (10 inches) pan: 6 eggs, 180 grams cake flour, 180 grams sugar 27 cm (10 ½ inches) pan: 7 eggs, 210 grams cake flour, 210 grams sugar 28 cm (11 inches) pan: 8 eggs, 240 grams cake flour, 240 grams sugar 30 cm (12 inches) pan: 9 eggs, 270 grams cake flour, 270 grams sugar 32 cm (12 ½ inches) pan: 10 eggs, 300 grams cake flour, 300 grams sugar
Measurements in cups
12 cm (4 inches) pan: 2 eggs, ½ cup + ½ tablespoon cake flour, ⅓ cup minus ½ tablespoon sugar 15 cm (6 inches) pan: 3 eggs, ¾ cup + ¾ tablespoon cake flour, ⅓ cup + 2 tablespoons sugar 18/20 cm (7/8 inches) pan: 4 eggs, 1 cup + 1 tablespoon cake flour, ½ cup + 1½ tablespoon sugar 23 cm ( 9 inches) pan: 5 eggs, 1⅓ cup cake flour, ¾ cup sugar 26 cm (10 inches) pan: 6 eggs, 1½ cup + 2 tablespoons cake flour, ¾ cup + 2¼ tablespoons sugar 27 cm (10½ inches) pan: 7 eggs, 2 cups minus 2½ tablespoons cake flour, 1 cup plus ¾ tablespoon sugar 28 cm (11 inches) pan: 8 eggs, 2 cups plus 2½ tablespoons cake flour, 1¼ cup minus 1 tablespoon sugar 30 cm (12 inches) pan: 9 eggs, 2⅓ cups + 1 tablespoon cake flour, 1⅓ cup sugar 32 cm (12½ inches) pan: 10 eggs, 2¾ cups minus 1½ tablespoon cake flour, 1½ cup sugar
If you use a different size pan, please adjust the baking time accordingly.
Do you have a rectangular or square pan? Send me an email or post a comment with the size of your pan, I can calculate it for you.
- Layer it with whipped mascarpone, jam, and fresh berries.
- Fill it with lemon curd, whipped cream, pastry cream, or chocolate ganache.
- Cut into squares and use it for British trifles or tiramisu.
To store – Store the Italian sponge cake in the refrigerator for a couple of days, until ready to use.
To freeze – It can also be tightly wrapped in cling film and stored in the freezer for up to three months. Bring it back to room temperature or unthaw overnight in the refrigerator, when needed.
Frequently Asked Questions
– It’s underbaked. Try increasing your baking time by 3 to 5 minutes, until the top of the cake is a rich, golden-brown color.
– You over-mixed the eggs and sugar and incorporated too much air.
-You opened the oven door in the early stages of baking.
– You over-mixed much while folding the flour.
– You cooked it too long.
– The oven temperature was too high.
Remember: every oven is different.
Add food coloring halfway through beating the eggs (After 5/7 minutes)
Yes, you can. I tried it before and the cake came out perfect.
If your eggs are not significantly smaller in size, let’s say they are 50-55 grams (1.76-1.94 ounces) without shell, don’t worry about it. I used them before and the cake came out great.
This cake is perfect to be covered with fondant and/ or to be stacked. It comes out perfectly flat, with no leveling required.
If you use the recipe in the recipe card (4 eggs), you should get approximately 12 cupcakes. Bake them at 355 degrees F (180 degrees C) for 18/20 minutes.
More cake recipes
More Italian desserts
Italian Sponge Cake (Pan di Spagna)
For a 7-8 inches (18-20 cm) pan:
- ½ cup + 1½ tablespoon (120 g) granulated sugar
- 4 extra-large eggs at room temperature
- a pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest or vanilla extract optional
- 1 cup + 1 tablespoon (120 g) cake flour, sifted *you can use all-purpose flour: 120 grams=1 cup
- Preheat the oven to 338°F (170°C).
- Butter and flour (or spray with baking spray) an 8 inches (20 cm) pan.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the eggs, sugar, salt, and lemon zest until very fluffy and pale yellow (about 10/15 minutes on medium/high speed). To test that it has been beaten enough, let a small amount of batter fall into the bowl. If it remains "sitting" on top, it means that it's ready.
- Sift the flour on top of the egg mixture, a little at a time, and fold it gently with a wooden spoon or a spatula just until incorporated. Do not over-mix or you will deflate the batter.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Don’t smooth the top or bang the pan on the counter, leave it as it is!
- Bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. (Remember: do not open the oven for the first 30 minutes!)
- Turn off the oven but leave the cake inside (keep the door slightly open using a wooden spoon) for 5/10 minutes so it can cool down slowly.
- Remove the sponge cake from the oven, let it cool for 10 more minutes, then loosen around the edges with a knife, and flip it on a wire rack upside down (without the pan) to cool completely.
- Eggs – Eggs need to be at room temperature. Take them out of the refrigerator ahead of time or soak them for a few minutes in a bowl of warm water.
- Flour – Although this cake can be made with all-purpose flour, cake flour is recommended.
- Oven – I used a conventional oven setting