One of my favourite sponge cakes in Italy is the classic pan di Spagna, traditionally made with no butter or raising agents.
It’s so delicate and sweet, and dangerously moreish. The eggs are whipped until very light, fluffy and pale to make this pillowlike, airy cake, and the tartness of the apricots helps to balance the sweetness of the sponge. You can make one large cake or bake individually in well-greased dariole moulds. Either way they are best served warm with custard or enjoyed in the late morning with coffee.
Serves: 9 people
- 8 extra-large eggs at room temperature
- 240g granulated sugar
- 1 orange, zested
- 8 ripe apricots
- 4 tbsp apricot jam
- 240g extra fine sponge flour, sifted
01 Heat the oven to 170C (190C non-fan).
02 Grease and line a baking tray 30cm x 20cm and 6cm deep.
03 It’s important the eggs are at room temperature to ensure they whip. Use a stand mixer or electric handheld whisk, unless you are feeling particularly strong.
04 Mix the eggs, sugar and orange zest together and whisk forcefully until pale and fluffy. To test the consistency, drape some of the mixture over its surface; if it stays “sitting” on top, it’s ready. This is also called the “ribbon stage”.
05 Meanwhile, halve the apricots and remove the stones. Place the apricots cut-side down on the tray and spoon over the jam.
06 Add a pinch of fine salt to the flour and sift a little at a time on top of the egg mixture, folding it in gently with a spatula, using a figure-of-eight motion. Take the flour right from the bottom to the surface each time you fold.
07 Pour the batter over the apricots and place in the oven. Don’t smooth the top or bang the tray on the counter as this will knock out the air. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the centre. Don’t open the oven door early as this will cause the sponge to sink.
08 Turn off the oven and leave the cake inside with the door ajar for 15 minutes so that it gently cools. Remove from the oven and let the cake cool for 10 minutes more, then carefully turn the tray upside down onto a wire rack. Remove the tray and peel back the paper, then slice into generous pieces. Serve with a dusting of icing sugar or warm with custard.