Pan di Spagna (Italian sponge cake) is a simple, airy sponge cake flavored with vanilla or lemon zest. It’s made with only 3 ingredients: eggs, sugar and flour…no baking powder, no butter, and no oil!
Italian sponge cake is used in desserts like cassata, zuccotto, zuppa inglese and tiramisù. It can be soaked with your favorite mixture and layered with cream fillings, covered with fondant, or just eaten on its own, sprinkled with icing sugar.
The secrets to get a perfect Pan di Spagna are:
- Use extra large eggs (each egg should weight approximately 70 grams/2.46 ounces). Eggs have to be at room temperature, not cold from the fridge. If they are too cold, soak them for a few minutes in a bowl of warm water.
- It’s better to use a low protein flour, such as cake flour. If it’s not available in the store, you can make it at home (check out this tutorial by Joy the Baker), or use all-purpose flour.
- Beat the eggs and sugar for no less than 15 minutes. It is during this stage that air is incorporated.
- Sift the flour on top of the egg mixture, a little at a time, and fold it gently with a wooden spoon. If you pour too much flour, it will sink to the bottom of the bowl.
- While the cake is baking, don’t open the oven or the cake will deflate.
- When it’s ready, turn off the oven but leave the cake inside (put a wooden spoon in the door to keep it slightly open) for at least 10 minutes.
- You should cut the Italian sponge cake when is 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!
Pan di Spagna can also be frozen. Wrap it in cling film and freeze it for up to a month. To defrost it, take it out from the freezer the night before and thaw it at room temperature.
This recipe is for a 18-20 cm / 7-8 inch baking pan. If you want to use a different size pan, use the following ratios:
- 12 cm / 4 inch pan: 2 eggs, 60 grams flour, 60 grams sugar, a pinch of salt, lemon zest or vanilla extract
- 15 cm / 6 inch pan: 3 eggs, 90 grams flour, 90 grams sugar, a pinch of salt, lemon zest or vanilla extract
- 22 cm /9 inch pan : 5 eggs, 150 grams flour, 150 grams sugar, a pinch of salt, lemon zest or vanilla extract
- 24 cm / 10 inch: 6 eggs, 180 grams flour, 180 grams sugar, a pinch of salt, lemon zest or vanilla extract
Italian Sponge Cake (Pan di Spagna)
Pan di Spagna is an Italian sponge cake made with only 3 ingredients: no baking powder, no butter, no oil!
Ingredients for a 18-20 cm (7-8 inches) pan.
- 120 grams (½ cup + 1½ tablespoon) granulated sugar
- 4 extra large eggs at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest or vanilla extract optional
- 120 grams ( 1 cup + 1 tablespoon) (if you use all-purpose flour, 120 grams = 1 cup) cake flour sifted
Take out the eggs out of the fridge ahead of time or soak them in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes.
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C (338 degrees F).
Butter and flour a 20 cm (8 inch) pan. Alternatively, use baking spray.
Put the eggs, sugar, and lemon zest in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Beat the eggs until very fluffy and pale yellow (about 15 minutes on medium/high speed). To test that it has been beaten enough, let some of the mixture 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.
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 20 minutes!)
Turn off the oven but leave the cake inside (put a wooden spoon in the oven door to keep it slightly open) for at least 10 minutes so it can cool down slowly.
After that, remove it from the oven, let it cool for 10 more minutes, loosen around the edges with a knife, then flip the cake on a wire rack upside down (without the pan) to cool completely.
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Do you prefer a chocolate Italian sponge cake? Take a look at this recipe.