Do you have those moments where you just have to stop everything you’re doing, and bake a recipe you’ve just seen? I know I can’t be alone in this kind of delicious madness. That’s exactly what happened last week as I was settling in to make dinner. I did a quick peek into Instagram, and saw a cake my friend Amelia had just made.
Let me tell you about Amelia, first. Soul mates come in all forms, not just the romantic kind. There are those people that come into your life whom you feel you’ve known forever. That is how I feel about Amelia. We first met via Instagram, and while we’ve yet to actually meet in person, we’ve shared homemade gifts by way of the post office (real, live as we breathe mail, how quaint is that?), and chat once a day.
And Amelia is an amazing cook. I can say this never having even tasted her food. I taste with my eyes and heart. The beauty that Amelia shares in her photos, and recipes, is one that feeds an appetite to connect in a way this fast-paced world often doesn’t allow. There is no doubt in my mind that Amelia is a master in the kitchen.
So, when she shared a photo of this seemingly simple sponge cake a week ago I had no choice but to make it. After a day of baking at the restaurant, I walked in, took out the eggs to set in a bowl of warm water (the trick for quickly bringing them to room temperature), changed into yoga pants (baking is a calming workout, yes?), and there I was beating the eggs and sugar until they whipped up into a voluminous mixture three times their original yield. This can be done with a hand mixer, but I do suggest a stand mixer if you have one, only so you can go about doing something else during the 8 to 10 minutes this part of the recipe takes.
And that, my friends, is all the real work this recipe requires. Some time to let the eggs and sugar work their magic. I tipped in a splash of almond extract here, too, though Amelia’s recipe doesn’t require it. You can keep this very simple with just eggs, sugar & flour if you choose.
On Amelia’s suggestion, I also added a bit of lemon zest to the flour before folding it into the egg mixture. You can easily use orange zest, too. Or again, leave it plain. I mention to spoon the batter into the pan in the recipe below. This is to ensure all the air you whipped into the eggs stays intact. It wouldn’t make a huge deal to scrape it all in at once, but little things like that patient extra step make all the difference in baking (cue Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry’s voiceover).
I used a trick for letting the cake cool, one that is normally done when making angel food cake. I turned the pan upside down so that it wouldn’t sink or deflate in the center. Angel food pans are constructed with four longer pieces of metal so the pans stand upside down easily; normal loaf pans are not, so I had to MacGyver this one. I set out a wire rack, and used ramekins to rest the loaf pan, allowing air to circulate while the cake cooled.
The girls and I went crazy for this cake. They enjoyed it with fresh whipped cream and berries. I took one more cue from Amelia, and brushed my slice with a bit of espresso before topping with whipped cream, a hacked tiramisu of sorts. But really, this cake, a very traditional Italian sponge cake called Pan di Spagna, is lovely as-is with a hot espresso in the morning. Sometimes simple is truly the most satisfying thing for your soul.
Amelia's Sponge Cake (Pan di Spagna)
- 3 eggs, at room temperature
- 100 grams (1/2 cup) natural cane sugar
- Splash of almond extract
- 100 grams (2/3 cup) flour
- Freshly grated zest of 1 lemon
- Preheat the oven to 330ºF (165ºC). Line an 8.5-inch by 4.5-inch (22-cm by 11-cm) loaf pan with a sheet of parchment paper long enough to hang over the sides so it can act as a sling to remove the finished cake.
- Add the eggs, sugar & extract to a mixing bowl, and beat until extremely light, airy & tripled in volume.
- While the eggs & sugar are whipping, combine the flour and zest in a bowl. Whisk to blend.
- Scatter half the flour over the egg mixture, and use a wooden spoon or spatula to gently fold it in. Repeat with the remaining flour.
- Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake 30 minutes, until nicely golden, and the top springs back when gently tapped with your finger.
- Set the pan, upside down, on a wire rack, and let cool completely before cutting.