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Pan Di Spagna & Childhood Memories

Mother’s Day is often celebrated with happiness or sadness, depending on whether you have your mother close by or not.  Despite this, one always remembers the wonderful times spent with her sharing simple moments like baking a cake together. Growing up in an Italian family has always meant assisting in the kitchen observing my mother, while happily wearing my hand made apron she had made for me.

Mums favourite little cooking book which she has been using since I was a child appeared before me the day I visited and found her baking  the fail proof cake  she simply calls Torta con L’uva, similar to a pound cake but with grated orange rind and sultanas.  This now fragile booklet has brought back childhood memories of when I would help her bake this cake - one of the few cake recipes found amongst a rhyming story in Italian about a little girl who sets off to bake a cake.  I remember being drawn by the rhyme and beautiful images presented.  My focus was always on reciting this story than actually assisting with the baking, clearly knowing that I would still get to eat the cake regardless of whether I helped or not. La Storia di Maria Rosa is one that many Italian children growing up in the 60’s and 70’s know and connect with their young cooking experiences.  

My mother acquired this little recipe book when we lived in the north of Italy and referred to it ever since. There are two cakes that over the years have been made from this booklet – Focaccia Primavera or better known to us as Torta con L'uva, and the other is Pan Di Spagna – a sponge cake that my sister bakes for my parents for every occasion. Being Mothers’ Day, I thought I would make it this year for a change. 

All recipes are written in Italian and endorsing Bertolini products such as Lievito Bertolini which I am certain many of us have used in our cakes. The booklet is no longer published, however I found the ebook copy you can download.  In Australia more recently I have used Pane Degli Angeli or Paneangeli, a vanilla raising agent in a small sachet of 16g in weight.

Pan Di Spagna (Sponge Cake)

The original recipe says to add 300g of flour and 200g of sugar.  I have modified the recipe to read:

1/2 cup cornflour
2 tablespoons plain flour
1/2 cup caster sugar
6 egg
grated lemon rind (original recipe / optional)
pinch of salt
1 sachet Lievito Vaniglinato Bertolini or Paneangeli (vanilla raising agent 16g in weight)

Separate 6 egg whites and beat until stiff but not dry. Gradually add sugar and beat until stiff and shiny.  Add egg yolks one at a time and beat well.

Sift together cornflour, plain flour, pinch of salt, and vanilla raising agent in a separate bowl.

To the egg mixture fold in the flour gradually with a wooden spoon trying not to deflate the mixture.

Line a 25cm cake tin, or if you want a taller cake, use a 20cm tin and extend the paper lining so that the cake can rise above the rim of the tin.

Bake in moderate 180c fan forced oven for 25 - 30 minutes.

The sponge is lovely to eat as is or can be filled with egg custard cream and your favourite berries.  I have cut three layers and slightly soaked it with liquor before adding the cream and raspberries. Lightly dust with icing sugar.

Pan Di Spagna with custard cream and raspberries soaked in liquor

Happy Mother's Day!


  1. I have a little recipe book that is similar to that one - aren't they just gorgeous. Your cake looks so Italian - I love it

  2. Thank you Paola. Yes, these little books were very typical of the times. Very different today, where cooking books are read like books.


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