3-Ingredient Sponge Cake Recipe
This Italian sponge cake recipe is made with only 3 ingredients (eggs, sugar, and flour) and flavored with vanilla or lemon zest. It has no baking powder, no butter, no oil, and no dairy!
While this cake isn’t hard to make, it requires attention to detail. Get a perfect sponge cake every time with my simple recipe and in-depth tutorial!
You can also try the chocolate Italian sponge cake! You will love it!
What is a sponge cake?
There are several types of sponge cakes, and though similar ingredients are used, they vary slightly by technique and filling.
An Italian sponge cake (Pan di Spagna) is a light and airy cake that gets its texture from whisking the eggs until they’re light and fluffy, not from chemical leaveners like baking powder or baking soda.
It is often used as a base for many desserts, cream-filled cakes, and layered birthday cakes. But it’s also great on its own dusted with powdered sugar.
Sponge cake is soft but dry, that’s why you need to brush it with fruit juice, flavored syrups, coffee, or liquors before adding the filling. The cake will soak up the flavor without falling apart.
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. Room temperature eggs will whip up more easily and achieve greater volume. Take them out from the fridge 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, you can make it at home or use all-purpose flour. I tried this recipe with a gluten-free flour blend and came out perfect! Do not replace cake flour with self-raising flour.
- 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 (optional).
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 pale yellow (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 5-10 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!
Follow my instructions and tips and you’ll have a perfect sponge cake.
- Weigh your flour: I recommend using a baking scale to weigh your flour for the best results. However, if you don’t have a scale, fluff the flour with a spoon and then spoon it into your cup before leveling it off. This method is the best way to measure flour without overfilling the measuring cup.
- 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 until there are no more streaks of flour. 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.
- Bake – bake the cake right after folding in the flour, don’t wait too long. Use a conventional oven setting (not a convection/fan setting) and make sure that the oven is fully preheated.
- 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). This pan makes a small, tall sponge cake. It can be cut into 2 or 3 layers.
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:
Measurement 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 1/2 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 1/2 inches) pan: 10 eggs, 300 grams cake flour, 300 grams sugar
Measurements in cups:
- 12 cm (4 inches) pan: 2 eggs, 1/2 cup cake flour, 1/3 cup minus 1/2 tablespoons sugar
- 15 cm (6 inches) pan: 3 eggs, 3/4 cup cake flour, 1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
- 18/20 cm (7-8 inches) pan: 4 eggs, 1 cup cake flour, 1/2 cup + 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
- 23 cm (9 inches) pan: 5 eggs, 1 1/4 cup cake flour, 3/4 cup sugar
- 26 cm (10 inches) pan: 6 eggs, 1 1/2 cup cake flour, 3/4 cup + 2 1/4 tablespoons sugar
- 27 cm (10 1/2 inches) pan: 7 eggs, 1 3/4 cup cake flour, 1 cup + 3/4 tablespoon sugar
- 28 cm (11 inches) pan: 8 eggs, 2 cups cake flour, 1 1/4 cup minus 1 tablespoon sugar
- 30 cm (12 inches) pan: 9 eggs, 2 1/4 cups cake flour, 1 1/3 cup sugar
- 32 cm (12 1/2 inches) pan: 10 eggs, 2 1/2 cups cake flour, 1 1/2 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 and I can calculate it for you.
This sponge cake makes a versatile base for many types of cakes and sweet treats.
- Layer it with whipped cream, jam, and fresh berries.
- Fill it with custard, lemon curd, pastry cream, or chocolate ganache.
- Cube it and use it for British trifles or cut it into slices and make a tiramisu.
To store – store in the refrigerator for a couple of days, until ready to use.
To freeze – this cake 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 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). I recommend using gel food coloring rather than liquid food coloring so that it does not alter the consistency of the batter.
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 a 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 Italian recipes
How To Make It: 3-Ingredients Sponge Cake Recipe
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 optional
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest or vanilla extract optional
- 1 cup (120 g) cake flour or plain flour, sifted
- Preheat the oven to 338°F (170°C).
- Butter and flour (or spray with baking spray) an 8-inch (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, one-third at a time, and fold it gently with a wooden spoon or a spatula just until incorporated. Scrape the spatula from the bottom to catch any pockets of flour and stop mixing when no streaks of flour remain. 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 the top is golden brown and 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 or thin spatula, and flip it on a wire rack upside down (without the pan) to cool completely.
- Eggs – you can use large eggs instead of extra large 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 or plain flour is recommended.
- Oven – I used a conventional oven setting