The sponge cake spans several cultures and comes in different varieties as a result. Some recipes range from the simplest to the somewhat tedious but when it comes to being the simplest, the honor goes to Pan di Spagna aka Italian sponge cake. This is a traditional sponge cake given that it's a recipe that calls for only three ingredients: eggs, sugar, and flour. When it comes to flavoring an Italian sponge, it's a choice between spices like vanilla or zests from citrus fruit like lemons.

Since it's a traditional sponge cake, the eggs are solely responsible for leavening the product (no chemical leaveners like baking powder/soda are required) and this outweighs the other ingredients.

The ratio of eggs to sugar to flour used in Italian sponge cake is 2:1:1 but has to be scaled in accordance with the size of the pan being used. For this recipe, it will be an 8-inch springform pan, so the ratio will look like this: 4 large eggs to 120 grams of sugar to 120 grams of flour. When making the batter, the eggs, sugar, and flavoring are mixed together, then the flour is folded into the mix gradually to avoid deflating the eggs before baking.

N.B.: Before combining the ingredients, make sure they are all at room temperature. This goes especially for the eggs or they won't foam properly. Also, use only cake flour for the recipe as it contains less protein compared to other flour types.

The less protein contained in the flour means the less gluten formed when mixing, giving the Italian sponge cake it's iconic springiness.

The recipe

Sponge cake ingredients:

  • 3 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup, 1 1/2 tbsp (120 g) caster sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 tsp lemon zest or vanilla extract
  • 1 cup, 1 tbsp (120 g) cake flour
  • Powdered sugar for dusting

The directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C. Butter the insides of a springform pan, then dust with flour, patting out the excess.
  2. Combine the eggs, sugar, salt and lemon zest/vanilla extract in a stand mixer. Beat together on medium-high speed until the mixture turns pale and smooth. Turn off the stand mixer.
  3. Sift the flour. Fold the flour into the mixture in small amounts at a time.
  4. Pour the finished batter into the greased pan, then place it into the oven. Bake for 40 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Turn off the oven but leave the cake to cool inside for 10 more minutes.
  5. Remove the sponge cake from the oven to cool for another 10 minutes. Run a sharp knife around the edges of the springform pan. Uncouple the ring to free the cake.
  6. Dust the top of the cake with powdered sugar. Slice and serve.

Serves: 8