Today I discovered a very interesting food blog written in a beautiful, artistic and very sophisticated Italian (and I do love a well-written piece, being a linguist myself). The blog is called Fragole a merenda (strawberries for breakfast) and that’s where I got the inspiration for this cake from.
As documented by other foodie websites I refer to, pan di Spagna was originally called Pâte Génoise, Genoise sponge. Does it ring a bell now? If you are interested in a bit of history, it all dates back to the 18th century, when Italian chef Giobatta Cabona prepared an incredibly light and soft cake during a trip to Spain with the Italian ambassador. The cake was a roaring success and it was named pan di Spagna (literally, bread/pastry of Spain) in honour of the Spanish court, who hosted the chef and the ambassador during their trip. If the original recipe asked for all the ingredients to be mixed over a pan of simmering water in order to make the eggs increase five-fold, the modern version only relies on a good whisk and plenty of air incorporated in the mixture.
There are two ways of preparing pan di Spagna. In the first one, the flour is added only at the end of the preparation and slowly and gently folded in so as to knock out as little air as possible. According to the second one, you should instead alternate flour and egg whites. This prevents the air in the egg whites to be knocked out right at the end when the flour is added. Also, by adding the flour a little at a time you ensure it is fully incorporated by the time all of the egg whites are added, which gives you a spongier and more delicate result. I used the second one, and you can check out the recipe I used on here (in Italian), although I used one less egg than indicated.
Ingredients (for the pan di Spagna)
- 5 large eggs, separated
- 160g plain flour, sifted
- 160g caster sugar
- 1 tsp mint extract (optional)
Ingredients (for the topping)
- 250ml double cream
- 1 tbsp crème de menthe or other mint-flavoured liquour
- 300g mixed berries (I used blackberries, blueberries and strawberries)
- First of all, make sure you line, butter and flour a 23cm springform cake tin. I used a 26cm one here, but if you want your base to be thicker then reduce the diameter of the tin you are using. Pre-heat your oven to 170 degrees Celsius.
- Now, make the sponge. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar using an electric whisk until very pale, light and fluffy. This should take at least 5 minutes. If you are using it, you can add the mint extract.
- In another bowl (I used my KitchenAid), whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks.
- Sift your flour on a piece of baking parchment, then pour it into a bowl.
- Sift (yes, again) one fourth of the flour into the yolk and sugar mixture, then whisk that in with the electric beaters.
- Using a rubber spatula, fold about one third of the egg whites into the floury mixture using very ample, delicate and regular movements in order not to knock any air out of the mixture.
- Start alternating the flour to the egg whites. Always make sure you sift your flour into the mixture and that the previous egg white or flour batch has been completely incorporated before you add anything else. The last addition should be flour.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin, level the top and bake for 45 minutes, by which time the top of the cake should be golden and the cake should have shrunk from the sides of the tin. Turn the oven off but do not remove the cake. Instead, leave it inside for another 5 minutes and only then remove it from the oven and let it cool on a wire rack. This prevents the fragile cake structure from collapsing when the temperature suddenly drops.
- To make the topping, whip the cream to soft peaks, then add the mint liquour and mix that in.
- Pour on top of the cooled sponge cake, then spread it around using a palette knife and decorate with the berries. If your cake is thicker than mine, you can even cut the cake into half and fill it with more cream and berries, much in the way you would do with a Victoria sponge cake.