Pan di Spagna is a light and airy Italian sponge cake that has just four ingredients and is super easy to make from scratch. Follow all my tips to perfect your cake baking skills with this incredibly delicate and fluffy vanilla sponge cake recipe.
Pan di spagna is one of the most used and versatile cakes in Italian bakeries and pasticcerie all over Italy. This simple but flavorsome cake contains no added fat and is wonderfully spongy and light. Use mostly as a base to create other Italian desserts, it absorbs flavored syrups and balances perfectly with many different fillings.
My late mother was an expert pan di spagna baker! Her version was so prized and often gifted to friends with a thick dusting of sugar on top. I can feel her beside me every time I prepare this pan di spagna recipe.
Easy to prepare, this Italian sponge cake turns out beautifully every time. Make it just as it is or add your own twist. Be sure to read all my tips for successfully baking your own heavenly pan di spagna!
You’ll love this Pan di Spagna recipe because:
- There are just three ingredients needed to make this cake - eggs, sugar and flour. You can choose the flavoring to suit your recipe. I like vanilla but often finely grated lemon zest is included.
- This is an easy and quick vanilla sponge cake recipe which comes together in just minutes. All you need to do is whisk the eggs and sugar until thick and frothy then fold in the cake flour.
- It has no rising agents so there’s less chance of failure. If you’ve made sponge cakes before you may have experience cakes that sink in the middle. There are several causes for that and one can be that the incorrect amount of baking powder is used.
- It’s a good base for many Italian desserts that use a vanilla sponge cake such has Italian rum cake and cannoli cake. But pan di spagna is also a good starting point for tiramisu and trifles.
For complete ingredient quantities and full instructions, please scroll to the printable recipe card bottom of the page.
Table of Contents
- Eggs - use large eggs for this pan di spagna recipe. Some sponge cakes use just egg whites but this Italian sponge cake uses whole eggs for extra richness and color.
- Sugar - superfine white sugar is best for this cake. It dissolves into the eggs quickly thickening and making the frothy eggs more stable.
- Cake flour - to make pan di spagna even lighter, I like to use cake flour. This flour is ground extra fine and has less gluten which creates a tender and light texture.
- Vanilla extract - use good quality vanilla extract for the best flavor.
See recipe card for quantities.
Preheat oven to 340ºF/170ºC. Butter a 22 cm springform pan then line completely with parchment paper.
- Beat the eggs with the sugar until thick, light and fluffy.
- Using a spatula, fold in the sifted cake flour in three batches.
- Pour the mixture into the previously buttered and lined springform cake pan.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes until cooked through and brown.
Hint: Leave the cake in the oven with the door ajar (open a little bit) for 5 minutes. This allows the cake to begin cooling down gradually. Taking it out immediately can cause the cake to shrink when it comes in contact with cool air.
- Cake flour - make your own cake flour with all purpose flour and corn starch. Simply fill a cup with all purpose flour, take two tablespoons out and replace it with two tablespoons of corn starch. You can also use potato starch instead of corn starch. In some countries, corn starch is known as cornflour.
- Vanilla extract - replace vanilla extract with ½ teaspoon of vanilla paste.
I have never tested this recipe with 1:1 gluten free flour so I can’t comment or recommend making this gluten free.
Pan di spagna can be varied to suit your tastes. Here are a couple of suggestions
- Chocolate - fold through ¼ cup of grated chocolate.
- Orange - add the finely grated zest of one orange.
- Cinnamon - add 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon when folding in the flour.
Unless you are really good at whisking, you will need an electric mixer to whisk the eggs and sugar to the correct stage. A hand held electric mixer will be fine however a stand mixer is very handy.
A 9 inch (23 cm) springform cake pan makes removing the pan di spagna easy. If you don’t have a spingform pan, use a regular cake pan of the same size.
Pan di spagna lasts 3-4 days in the refrigerator. To keep it from drying out, wrap the sponge cake well in plastic wrap and store in an sealed container.
It can also be frozen. Again, wrap it in plastic and freeze in an sealed container for up to 1 month.
Tips for Success and FAQ’s
Have the eggs at room temperature. If you forgot to take them out of the fridge, just put the eggs in a bowl and cover them with hot tap water. In 5 minutes they’ll have warmed nicely.
Don’t open the oven door for the first 20 minutes of baking. Any change in temperature or bumps at this delicate time of baking can cause the pan di spagna to collapse.
When the cake is ready, leave the door ajar for 5 minutes before removing the cake. This prevents the cake from deflating too much when the temperature changes from the inside of the oven to the outside.
Pan di spagna is an Italian sponge cake made of just three ingredients - eggs, sugar and flour. Often flavorings like vanilla are added. Pan di spanga is used in layered cakes which are drenched in flavored syrups and filled with pastry cream, ricotta fillings or mascarpone cream.
A springform pan is best because it makes removing the sponge cake so much easier.
Cake flour which has less gluten and is ground very finely is ideal to create the light and spongy texture of the cake.
The biggest difference between a regular cake and a sponge cake is the fat content. Sponge cakes generally contain very little or no added fat.
Also, most sponge cakes use no baking powder or baking soda. Instead the well beaten eggs or egg white work to give the cake airiness and lift. The foaminess of the beaten eggs results in a spongey texture which is excellent to absorb the syrup and become moist.
Though this cake is mostly used in other Italian desserts you can serve it as is keeping in mind it has no added fat so isn't moist like regular cakes. Serve with a dusting of granulated or powdered sugar with whipped cream or mascarpone.
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Pan di Spagna Recipe
- 1 Electric mixer with whisk attachment
- 1 9 inch (23 cm) springform cake pan optional but handy
- 5 large eggs room temperature
- ¾ cups superfine white sugar 150 grams
- 1 ¼ cups cake flour 150 grams
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon lemon extract optional
- Preheat oven to 340ºF/170ºC. Butter a 9 inch (23 cm) springform cake pan and line the base and sides. Sieve the flour and set aside.
- Using an electric mixer and the whisk attachments, beat the eggs with the sugar at maximum speed for about 15 minutes until frothy and and thick.
- Once the eggs have been whipped, stop the electric mixer. Mix in the sieved flour a little at a time using a large metal spoon or rubber spatula. Take care to slowly incorporate it with gentle movements from the bottom up.
- Pour the mixture into the previously buttered and lined springform pan.
- Bake in a preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, absolutely avoiding opening the door during the first 20 minutes of cooking. To be sure that the sponge cake is completely cooked, test the toothpick by inserting it in the center of the cake until it touches the bottom of the pan. If it comes out dry, the oven can be switched off. Leave the pan in the oven off (but still hot) and with the door open for about 5 minutes (this will prevent the sponge cake from undergoing a thermal shock and deflating too much as it cools).
- Remove the sponge cake from the pan and allow to cool completely on a wire rack before serving or storing.
- If well wrapped in plastic wrap the sponge cake lasts 3-4 days in the refrigerator, or it can be frozen.
- Though this cake is mostly used in other Italian desserts you can serve it as is keeping in mind it has no added fat so isn't moist like regular cakes. Serve with a dusting of granulated or powdered sugar with whipped cream or mascarpone.
- Have the eggs at room temperature.
- Don’t open the oven door for the first 20 minutes of baking.
- When the cake is ready, leave the door ajar for 5 minutes before removing the cake.
Nutritional Information Per Serving
Nutritional information is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. For accurate results, it is recommended that the nutritional information be calculated based on the ingredients and brands you use.