All Italian kids grew up with pan di spagna. It's the basic sponge cake that can be eaten with the hands. Sure, it doesn't have attractive colors that can make kids' eyes open wide with interest, but just the same, it's one of the best midmorning or midafternoon snacks they can get that's made by their own moms (or nonna). It beats the commercially bought, fully loaded treats available in supermarkets nowadays — it has just eggs, sugar and flour.
It's also that kind of cake that will always be around when families get together, because it's a traditional dessert. Typically it is filled with crema pasticcera, or pastry cream, in the middle and then simply covered with a good sprinkling of powdered sugar. It may not be big on looks, but the taste will always be dependably and deliciously Italian.
Being married to a man with a big family of women who love to cook, I learned a lot of things in the kitchen. Living in an Italian home is like being in a casual culinary school day in and day out. You speak about food while cooking, and you still speak about food when you are not cooking. Pan di spagna was one of the first recipes I learned from my mother-in-law. It's a basic kind of cake that has been around for generations in all Italian households, with their own recipes that have been tried and tested for years. With different cooks and opinions, there are a lot of pan di spagna recipes in personal recipe books. I have a few too, and when I am short on time, I usually follow this simplest recipe, with a soft and spongy result. You can add anything you want to the base, like candied fruits, nuts or chocolate. Buon appetito!
Yields 1 (9-inch) cake; serves 6 – 8
Prep time: 20 minutes | Bake time: 40 minutes | Total time: 1 hour
Yields 2 cups
Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 10 minutes | Total time: 20 minutes
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