Pan di Spagna cupcakes

Pan di Spagna (literally 'bread of Spain'), is a cake invented in the mid 1700's by Giobatta Cabona (a cook from Genoa at the service of the genoese ambassador in Spain, marquis Domenico Pallavicini) on the occasion of a banquet, where he presented a cake of incredible lightness, that took its name to honor the Spanish court. It is very similar to the American chiffon cake. 
The high oil and egg content creates a very moist cake, and as oil is liquid even at cooler temperatures, it does not tend to harden or dry out as traditional butter cake might. This makes them better-suited to filling or frosting with ingredients that need to be refrigerated or frozen, such as pastry cream or ice cream. It also tends to be lower in saturated fat than butter cakes, making them healthier than their butter-heavy counterparts.
I love this cake for so many reasons: very few and unpretentious ingredients, easy and fast to make, and so many uses! I think of it as one of the basic recipes in baking, that you can use as a starting point for classic layered cakes, for cupcakes, pound cakes, cake rolls, trifle and many more. Back at home it is usually baked in a loaf pan, then served as slices with confectioner's sugar sprinkled on top. 

I used this recipe the other day to make cupcakes, some frosted with chocolate ganache, and some with lemon icing. 

This is what you need for about 24 cupcakes (2 loafs if you use loaf pans instead, or 3, 8 inch cake layers if you want to make a cake):

For the cake:
7 eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
7 spoons water
7 spoons vegetable oil (canola, corn or sunflower oil)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose or cake four, sifted
1 pinch of salt
1 teaspoon baking powder (the original recipe does not ask for backing powder, you can skip it, but I usually add some)

For chocolate ganache:
2 cups good quality chopped dark semi-sweet chocolate 
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream

For lemon icing:
2 cups confectioner's (powder) sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons lemon juice (I use Meyer lemons, because I love their taste and fragrance)


Preheat oven at 360 degrees F (180 C).
Prepare the pans you will bake the cake in, greasing them with butter and lining with parchment paper, or lining the muffin tins with cupcake liners.

In the clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (of course you can use a hand mixer, or if you are in shape even a regular whisk), beat the egg whites on medium-high speed  until soft peaks form, for 2 minutes or so, then gradually add the sugar, and beat until very stiff, for 2-3 more minutes. Stop the mixer. Leave the bowl with the meringue in place.

In another bowl whisk together the egg yolk, vanilla extract, water, vegetable oil, then sift on top the flour, salt and baking powder together, and mix everything well. 

Change the whisk attachment of the stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Start the mixer on low ( I put my KitchenAid on 2 or 3) and gradually add the egg yolk mixture, beating for 20 seconds, just until combined, not more. Make sure to scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula. 
The best would be to carefully fold them in using a spatula, but it worked very well with the mixer too. It is important though to mix very lightly in order for the beaten egg whites to keep their volume, so the cake is light and fluffy as we want it to be. The dough should be very airy, soft, and light, like a beaten mousse. 

To make cupcakes, carefully fill them to two thirds, with batter. The easiest way to do this is using a large ice cream scoop, of about 2.5 inches diameter. One full scoop takes the exact quantity of batter needed for a perfect cupcake. 

Bake them for 17-20 minutes, until they puff up and are golden on top. Keep an eye on them, but do not open the oven before 15 minutes pass. Try to see if they are done by carefully pressing on top, (don't burn yourself though by touching the oven, be careful!) with your finger, and if it springs back, they are done. You can also use the toothpick method, inserting a toothpick in, and if it comes out clean, it means they are done. Every oven is different, so it is better to try them and see when they are done, for best results. It can take only 15 minutes in some, or even 20 in other ovens. 
I also made mini cupcakes, and you have to bake them only 12-15 minutes.
Whenever I want to bake two different sizes of cupcakes, what I do is to fill out the big ones, place them in the oven, then start filling the small ones after that, and place them in the oven later, as it usually takes me 5 minutes to fill all the mini liners, so they are both ready in the same time.

When done, let them cool in the tins, then carefully remove them. While they cool you can prepare the frosting/ icing.

To make the chocolate ganache: heat the heavy cream in a sauce pan over medium heat, until small bubbles form on the pan sides, turn heat off, drop the chocolate on top, let it stand and melt for 5 minutes, then mix well until smooth and shinny. You can use this chocolate ganache in many desserts, as cakes like this or this, for profiteroles  or frost various other things, like a cheesecake.

To make the lemon icing: juice one medium Mayer lemon (to get 3 tablespoons lemon juice). Set the juice aside, in a medium bowl. Melt the butter in a small sauce pan or butter warmer. Pour it over the lemon juice and mix, then add the confectioner's (powder) sugar, and mix well. Let stand for 5-10 minutes before using it. Mix once more just before frosting with it. You can control the thickness of the icing by adding more lemon juice or sugar, until you get the desired consistency. It will harden a little as it sets after you frost the cupcakes.

For easy frosting, just carefully take the cupcake keeping it by the liner, turn it upside down and dip in frosting gently, covering all the top, with circular motions, then slowly turn them upright, and place on a rack to set. Do the same with the chocolate ganache.

Because this cake is so moist, baking it in cupcake liners, and frosting them, ensures a longer freshness, as they don't dry out fast, so you can keep and enjoy them  for a few days!


  1. I have to try this :)

    1. Hi Azra! Great! If you want them to be more dense and moist, you can add 1/4 extra cup of oil to the mixture. Let me know how they turned out!

  2. Chocolate glaze dripping off an impossibly moist and fluffy cupcake is the stuff of dreams! There's no one alive who can resist that. ;)