Nonna’s Sponge Cake, this is that perfect lemony, fluffy and airy cake that most Italian nonnas make to perfection!
I was intimidated by this cake for the longest time. This is the cake that I call Nonna’s Sponge cake, also known as a ciambella. I’ve tasted endless versions of it made by Italian nonnas everywhere. Each one of them bursting with pride as they serve their delicious, fluffy creation and share their tips and techniques for the perfect cake.
What sets one cake apart from the other and determines the successful outcome is the height, the dramatic height! Each time I take a bite I’m in awe at how Nonna’s Sponge Cake, such a simple cake made with few ingredients could be so utterly amazing!
I finally decided it was time to overcome my intimidation with this cake. I was at a bride’s home this fall on her wedding day (in case you were not aware, at Italian weddings there’s always a pre-ceremony buffet at the bride’s parents home). Once again, I came face to face with The Cake! I quickly sought out the baker of the cake and, of course, it was the nonna of the bride.
It lay on the buffet table untouched. I had to slice that first piece for me. Heavenly! I immediately began to praise her and, like nonnas everywhere, she explained that it was such an easy recipe and she could practically make it blindfolded. She then began to list the ingredients, which as you could imagine, she knew by heart. I quickly pulled out my cell phone and jotted down the ingredients and quantities. She did not specify any instructions as it’s obvious how to put a cake together, isn’t it?
One week later, I attempted it without much success. Although the flavor was wonderful, it didn’t have that dramatic height. The only thing I knew for sure, is that you have to invert the cake pan immediately when you take it out of the oven. It must remain upside down until completely cooled in order to get that light, fluffy texture. This is the two piece tube cake pan with prongs that is necessary in order for air to be able to circulate underneath the cake while cooling.
Watch my video on how to make Nonna’s Sponge Cake!The following are step by step instructions with images to guide you through this recipe. Please scroll to the end of this post for the detailed, printable recipe card.
Step by Step Instructions:
The ingredients are quite few but need to be combined in this exact order:
- Separate the eggs. Place the yolks in a large mixing bowl and the whites in the bowl of your stand mixer.
- Add sugar and vegetable oil and whisk with the egg yolks until you have a smooth, pale yellow mixture that forms ribbons when you lift the whisk.
- Add the lemon zest and lemon juice and combine.
- Sift the flour and baking powder and stir into the egg mixture.
- Finally, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold half the egg whites into the batter, then carefully stir in the remaining half.
- Grease the cake pan with butter and dust lightly with flour before adding the batter.
- Bake in the center of a 350F preheated oven for 50 minutes.
- When the cake comes out of the oven it must be carefully flipped over in order to cool completely.
- Carefully unmold it from the pan, dust lightly with powdered sugar and serve!
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A few tips for a successful cake:
- A two piece tube cake pan or angel food cake pan with extended prongs is ideal to make this cake. When the pan is inverted it will stand on its prongs thus allowing air to circulate underneath to cool it.
- Do not over flour the cake pan otherwise the cake may slip out when inverted. If the cake partially dislodges itself from the pan, leave it be and let it cool completely.
- For best results, the eggs should be at room temperature.
- Do not over stir the mixture once you’ve added the egg whites. Stir just until the egg whites are incorporated as the batter must remain light and airy.
So, you may be thinking, all this for a sponge cake? Yes! Believe me, it’s all worth it. All it requires is a dusting of powdered sugar and you’re set. No fancy icing, layers, sprinkles, chocolate chips or anything else. This cake is perfection!
I’m still working on getting more height on my cake. Recently a relative baked one for me. I actually measured the cake and it was 11.2 centimeters high! I’m challenging each of you who loves to bake to try it out and let me know how high yours turns out. Meanwhile, I will continue baking this cake until I reach this height. Good luck to all of you!
I almost forgot to mention something! In honor of all the dedicated nonnas out there who bake this cake, especially those who deliver one to me, I have decided to simply name the cake Nonna’s Sponge Cake!
I can’t wait to hear how your cake turns out. Let me know by tagging me with photos of your beautiful cakes with @mangiabedda or #mangiabedda on Facebook or Instagram. Feel free to Pin the recipe for later. Enjoy!
If you enjoy simple cakes like I do, here are a few more for you to try out!
- Orange Ciambella
- Italian Amaretti Cake
- Sicilian Hazelnut Cake
- Italian Marble Bundt Cake
- Gluten Free Pan di Spagna
- Blueberry Olive Oil Cake
- Lemon-Vanilla Snack Cake
- Pistachio Orange Polenta Cake
- Italian Apple Yogurt Cake
- Pineapple Layer Cake with Pastry Cream
- 8 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 75 ml vegetable oil (1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp)
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced
- 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour sifted
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- powdered sugar, for dusting
- Preheat oven to 350°F and lightly grease a two piece tube pan with butter and dust lightly with flour. Shake out excess flour.
- Separate the eggs placing the egg yolks in a large mixing bowl and the whites in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.
- Add the sugar and oil to the egg yolks and whisk vigorously for several minutes until the mixture is pale yellow, thick and forms ribbons when you lift the whisk out of the bowl.
- Stir in the lemon rind and lemon juice. Add the sifted flour and baking powder. Stir until well combined.
- Whisk the egg whites in the mixer on medium-high speed until the whites form stiff peaks, about 3-4 minutes.
- Using a rubber spatula, gently fold half of the egg whites into the batter. When completely incorporated, fold in the remaining egg whites.
- Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 50 minutes in the center of the oven until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean. Time may vary according to your oven.
- When you remove the cake from the oven, gently turn it upside down on a flat surface and allow to cool completely before unmolding the cake, about an hour. Dust lightly with powdered sugar before serving.
- A two piece tube cake pan or angel food cake pan with extended prongs is necessary to make this cake. When the pan is inverted it will stand on its prongs thus allowing air to circulate underneath to cool it.
- Do not over flour the cake pan otherwise the cake may slip out when turned upside down. If the cake partially dislodges itself from the pan, leave it be and let it cool completely.
- For best results, the eggs should be at room temperature.
- Do not over stir the mixture once you've added the egg whites. Stir just until the egg whites are incorporated as the batter must remain light and airy.
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