My Lemony Pandespáni Cake (a variation of Pan di Spagna, Italian Sponge Cake)

Pandespani (Pan di Spagna) is used as base for many Italian desserts and festive cakes. Usually it is sprinkled or brushed with liqueur-flavored syrup before the addition of a cream filling. The cake can be stored in the freezer (see Note). Starting from my neighbor Ela’s southern Albanian recipe, which has its roots in the old Italian Pan di Spagna, I added the boiled lemon and the lemon marmalade which lighten the flavor and make the egg-laden cake wonderfully fragrant…

READ more about the cake.

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MAKES One 8-inch round cake, and 1 small loaf  

1 whole lemon, scrubbed well and boiled in water that covers it for about 20 minutes, or until fork-tender

6 eggs, separated

1 – 1 1/2 cups sugar, to taste

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 1/4 cups cake or all-purpose flour, sifted

1/2 cup lemon marmalade

For the SYRUP:

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

1/3 cup lemon juice

Lemon liqueur to sprinkle the cake (optional)


Let the boiled lemon cool somewhat, then halve and remove the pips. Pulse it in the blender to get a pulp.

In a bowl toss to incorporate the baking powder to the flour.

Place the egg yolks and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat with a hand-held mixer until creamy and almost white. Add the marmalade, the lemon pulp and then the flour, a little at a time, blending everything well.

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190ºC).

Clean and dry the beaters of the hand-held mixer and beat the egg whites until stiff, but not dry. Fold them gradually into the yolk-flour mixture.

Line with parchment paper and lightly butter an 8-inch round pan, and a small loaf cake tin.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared pans and bake at 375°F for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Remove the cakes from the oven, let cool on a rack for 15 minutes and invert carefully to take out of the pans. Let them cool completely on the rack.

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Prepare the syrup while the cakes are in the oven: Simmer the sugar and water for 4 minutes then add the lemon and simmer another minute. Cool the syrup placing in a larger bowl with iced water and stirring for a few minutes.

When the cake is completely cool, prick the surface with a fork and drizzle with the syrup.

Place the cakes carefully on serving dishes, and sprinkle with lemon liqueur. If you like, spread some lemon marmalade on the cake before cutting to serve.

NOTE: The second cake can be tightly wrapped and stored in the freezer, before you add the syrup. Thaw then wrap in aluminum foil and warm in a low oven for a few minutes before adding the syrup.




2 thoughts on “My Lemony Pandespáni Cake (a variation of Pan di Spagna, Italian Sponge Cake)

  1. this sounds so much like a cake my grand mother made. She was from a small town near Bari, Italy. I’m pretty certain she used almond flour (she made her own). I was wondering if you thought almond flour would work or not? I am trying to be gluten free.

    1. Almond flour could certainly work, maybe with the addition of rice flour to lighten it.
      I have not tested it and cannot give you exact proportions, but I suggest you try –maybe half almond and half rice instead of the flour in the recipe. If you like it, please report on the results and I would love to post your gluten-free version as a variation, with your name, of course!

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