Italian Sponge Cake or Pan di Spagna

  • Serves: Makes two 9 x 2-inch round cake pans
  • Baking Temp (degrees F): 325
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This simple, airy sponge cake, flavored with vanilla or citrus zest (or both), is the base for some great Italian desserts, such as Sicilian Cassata, Zuccoto, Sacripantina, Zuppa Inglese, and the always popular Tiramisu. But it's also great on its own, dusted with powdered sugar and savored with a glass of Vin Santo. It makes a wonderfully light breakfast topped with fruit preserves or fresh berries, and, once it's a few days old, it can be sliced and toasted until crisp, similar to biscotti (and great with an espresso!).

Over the past few years, I've tried various recipes for Pan di Spagna, but this is the best one I've found. Here, I've added detailed techniques to make sure it's always successful. Be sure to beat the egg yolks and whites to their full, voluminous potential, sift the dry ingredients, and fold them in quickly and efficiently so the cake doesn't become tough or rubbery. Find out my secret ingredient below to help make it lighter than traditional recipes!

This recipe is used with the:
Espresso Tiramisu Recipe Tutorial


My Pan di Spagna recipe includes a touch of baking powder to help make it especially light, an ingredient not found in traditional recipes.

1 1/4 cups bleached cake flour; spoon into measuring cup and level to rim
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

6 large eggs, separated; can be cold from the refrigerator 
2 additional large egg whites; can be cold from the refrigerator
1 cup granulated sugar, divided
1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 tablespoon mild honey, optional
4 tablespoons (2 ounces, 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to body temperature
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

SARAH SAYS: I like to beat the egg whites, first, instead of the yolks, so you do not have to worry about them getting contaminated with fat from the yolks. Properly beaten whites can sit for about 10 minutes, and a little longer with added sugar, after beating.

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9 x 2-inch round cake pans (or one 17-inch jelly-roll pan if making another recipe).

2. Sift the cake flour, baking powder and salt together into a small bowl and set aside.

3. In a dry, clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, place 8 large egg whites.

With the mixer on medium-low speed, beat until foamy. Add the cream of tartar.

Continue whipping until the foam is white and opaque.
Add in 1/4 cup sugar slowly at the side of the bowl. When completed, beat on high until the sugar is dissolved and whites are glossy and stand in soft or stiff peaks. 
Do not let the whites become stiff or dry. Scrape whites into a clean bowl and set aside.


3. Using the same bowl, with the mixer fitted with the same whisk attachment, place 6 large egg yolks.

With the mixer on low speed, add the 3/4 cup sugar at the side of the bowl.

When completed, stop the mixer and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl.

Then, at high speed, beat until thick and lemon-colored, about 4 to 5 minutes.
The yolks will "ribbon". That is when you raise the beaters, the mixture should fall in a ribbon pattern that sits on top of the swirl for seconds before sinking.
That's why it's called making the ribbon.

4. With the mixer on low, beat in the honey, melted and cooled butter, lemon juice and zest and vanilla extract.




5. Sift and then, fold 1/3 of the dry ingredients into the egg yolk mixture, using a large rubber spatula.


Follow with 1/4 of the egg whites, folding lightly and quickly.

6. Alternate sifting and folding in the dry ingredients and egg whites. –
You will have three total additions of dry ingredients and 4 additions of whites, ending with the whites.

7. Evenly divide the batter between the prepared pans. Run a thin knife through the cake batters once or twice. This prevents air pockets from forming in the body of the cake. Gently smooth the top.


7. Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until they are a light golden brown, the cakes have begun to pull away from the sides of the pan and the top springs back when lightly touched with a fingertip.

8. Allow the cakes to cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then carefully turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Turn right-side-up to cool completely.



Store at room temperature for a couple of days, or wrap well and freeze for a month or more.

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