Italian sponge cake
This simple sponge cake is a secret showstopper. It may look plain but it's sweet, light and fluffy as a cloud. Serve it for afternoon tea, with morning coffee - or make it for your loved one this Valentine's Day, filled with jam and topped with a generous dusting of icing sugar.
Made without butter and no raising agent except well-whisked eggs, the Italians call it 'pan di spagna' and flavour it with a little lemon zest or vanilla extract. Not only does it taste great, but it's a clever way of using up leftover eggs.
Trust me, once you've seen how easy it is, you'll make it again and again and again...
Makes 1 small cake (serves 8-10 people)
6 medium eggs
200g caster sugar
130g plain flour
You'll also need two 9-inch round cake tins
Preheat the oven to 175C fan (195C no fan) and grease and line the two cake tins.
Separate the eggs, putting the whites into a large bowl and the yolks into a smaller one.
Using an electric whisk, beat the whites until they're stiff and have tripled in size - this should take a couple of minutes. Next, add half the sugar, a spoonful at a time, and whisk until fully combined into the egg whites.
Add the other half of the sugar to the yolks and whisk them until thick and pale yellow.
Fold the yolk mixture into the whites and then add the flour, a spoonful at a time. Work very slowly and gently - you want to keep as much air in the cake batter as possible.
Divide it between the cake tins and, before putting them in the oven, give each pan a short, sharp tap on your work surface, to get rid of any large air bubbles.
Place on the middle oven shelf and bake the sponges for around 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.
Leave them to cool completely in their tins before removing (carefully) on to a wire rack.
You can eat the sponge as it is, keeping it as two thinner cakes, or fill them with jam or fruit curd and sandwich them together. I like to fill mine with dollops of raspberry jam and dust the top with icing sugar or desiccated coconut and fresh fruit. Let your imagination run wild!
Unfilled, the sponge will freeze well (just leave it out overnight to defrost), or you can keep it in an airtight container for 4-5 days.
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