Chocolate Pan di Spagna
Italian chocolate sponge cake, a perfect base for summer desserts
Summer has arrived here much earlier than expected. Humidity in May is quite unusual in upstate New York and my fear is once the humidity sets up shop it doesn’t really leave until autumn. I’ve never let heat and humidity stop me from baking but I do adapt to compensate, shifting my favorite pastime to easy, one bowl, low-prep recipes like this Chocolate Pan di Spagna, an Italian chocolate sponge cake.
Pan di Spagna may be one of my favorite cakes to make. This incredibly light and airy cake sounds fancy, yet is one of the easiest cakes to make. The texture is reminiscent of angel cake food but you use the entire egg, so no worries about being stuck with a massive amount of egg yolks. You could use a whisk if you don’t own a mixer but this is one of the few recipes I break out my stand mixer for because the eggs need a good 5 minutes of whipping to triple in volume which adds the signature lightness to this sponge cake.
A vanilla version of this is a great base for strawberry shortcake which has been Virginia’s choice of birthday cakes the last few years. I’ve been thinking all week how amazing this Chocolate Pan di Spagna cake would be for a chocolate strawberry shortcake, and will definitely be testing that theory once strawberries come into season here in a few weeks.
Two important notes about this kind of sponge cake–the pan doesn’t get greased or coated and it must cool in the pan upside down completely. Not greasing or coating the pan allows the cake to cling to the sides as it rises and stay put. If you were to grease the pan, the cake would rise but deflate upon removing from the oven. Turning the pan upside down to let the cake cool ensures that the hot air exits the cake immediately instead of absorbing back into the cake which would in turn sink the cake. It’s really about ensuring you keep all the air you whipped into those eggs intact in the final product.
Besides the ease with which this cake comes together, I also love its adaptability. You can scale it up or down for a smaller or larger cake, just adjust the pan size accordingly. Bake it in a few small loaf pans, or use a larger cake pan. Add spices if you want during cooler months, swap out the orange zest for lemon or omit the zest completely, use regular flour or an all purpose gluten-free flour (for this cake I recommend Cup4Cup).
One ingredient I would keep, though, is the instant espresso powder (easily found in grocery stores in the coffee aisle). The cake will not taste like coffee but the addition boosts the flavor of the cocoa powder. If you want a stronger espresso flavor, you could increase the espresso powder or brush the cake with brewed espresso before serving.
I hope the weekend has been balanced with pockets of peace. Be well and remember to be kind. –xo, j.
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