Pan di Spagna is at the base of many Italian desserts, from more classic birthday cakes to many other cakes that belong to the tradition: torta mimosa, torta delizia, zuppa inglese, just to name a few. Over time, we will explore many of these recipes.
Ingredients for 2 cakes of 8 inches each
200 g sugar
5 g honey
205 g eggs at room temperature (about 4 large eggs)
123 g egg yolks at room temperature (about 6-8 yolks depending from the size of the eggs)
182 g all purpose flour
36 g potato starch
Lemon zest and vanilla paste as aromatics
- Preheat the oven at 350℉
- Butter and flour 2 cake molds 8 inches in diameter.
- In the stand mixer, whip the eggs with the sugar and the honey starting on low and quickly increasing the speed to high.
- When the mass is partially whipped, add the yolks a little bit at a time, together with any of the aromatics you decide to use. Keep whipping. It will take approximately 12-15 minutes to whip the eggs to the “ribbon stage”. If you remove the bowl from the mixer and lift the whisk the batter would fall back in thick ribbons.
- While the eggs are whipping, sift together the starch and the flour.
- Incorporate the flour in two times on very low speed, increasing the speed at each addition just very briefly to get the flour out of the center of the whisk.
- Pour about 350 g of dough in each pan with the help of a bowl scraper, level the dough with an offset spatula.
- Bake for about 20-25 minutes. To make sure the cake is cooked, lightly press the center of the cake with a finger. If the finger leaves an indentation, the cake is not yet cooked.
- Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Dust with granulated sugar and invert on a baking pan layered with a sheet of parchment paper to prevent sticking.
There are different methods for pan di Spagna depending on the final use. This recipe, with both whole eggs and egg yolks, is particularly suitable to be soaked in syrup and/or liquor, without loosing the shape. Honey will give a nice color to the baked cake. A little addition of potato starch gives a more "melt in your mouth" texture. If you want to know more, please, keep reading.
Extra notes and tips
Here is a brief introduction to the different methods to make pan di Spagna:
- A “caldo”, the warm method or I’ll call it the bain-marie method. In this case, the eggs and the sugar are whipped on a bain-marie until the mix reaches 52-55℃. Past this temperature, the eggs will overcook. It is possible to whip the eggs and sugar manually, with a whisk, over abain-marie, but an electric hand held mixer is much easier (or use a water jacket, if your mixer is equipped with one). I generally use the same bowl of my stand mixer for whipping on the bain-marie, so when I reach the targeted temperature, I can move the bowl to the stand mixer and keep on whipping on medium speed until the temperature drops to 35℃. At this point, you can incorporate the flour (or flour and starch). This method will allow the eggs and sugar to acquire a lot of volume faster than the other methods, giving an airy and light pan di Spagna, but it will stale and dry out much faster than the other methods.
- A “caldo”, like the previous method, but with the addition of butter, which is usually incorporated in the last stage of mixing (best temperature to incorporate the butter would be 40℃). This pan di Spagna is often known as Margherita or Aurora, and also contains potato starch. To minimize the loss of volume in the batter while adding the butter to the mixture, a good trick is to take a small quantity of batter, mix it to the lukewarm butter, and then incorporate gently to the rest of the mixture.
- A “freddo”, the cold method. In this case, the eggs are at room temperature and the eggs and sugar are whipped for about 15 minutes to get to the ribbon stage (please, watch my video to see how the batter looks like at this stage). Then flour, or flour and starch, are incorporated. In this case, there are also different ways to proceed. If part of the eggs are substituted with yolks, the resulting pan di Spagna will hold a lot more liquid if soaked. As a tip, it is great to start whipping the eggs and sugar until they reach a good volume and only then adding the yolk. The fat in the yolk will slow down the whipping process. We gain a lot of volume by incorporating it later. It is also possible to divide the egg yolks and the whites. Start by whipping the yolk with part of the sugar and whip the white with the remaining sugar. Incorporate the meringue into the yolk mixture, alternating it with the flour or flour and starch.
Adding butter will improve the mouthfeel of the cake and create tender crumbs, but this typology of cakes is not the best choice for soaked and filled cakes. Also, the addition of yolks will make the crumbs much tighter, but with the advantage of being able to soak the liquid without loosing volume, behaving more like a sponge.
A note on the starches used
I normally cut my flour with potato starch. Especially since the flour in the States is much higher in protein than the normal supermarket flour in Italy. Potato starch gives a very melt in your mouth texture, but in any case, do not substitute more than 50% flour with starch. Also keep in mind, other starches might give the cake more elasticity, especially corn starch.
Part of the flour can be substituted with cocoa powder, but cocoa soaks more liquid and you might have to re-balance your recipe. It is also common to replace some of the flour with nut flour.
A small note on the thickness on the cakes
Italian cakes are not generally that tall, usually not more than 2 inches in thickness. The reason being that the cake soaked and filled with cream will be too heavy otherwise and you should be able to savor all components in one bite.