PINA’S SPONGE CAKE
She is my aunt and she lives, with her husband -my uncle- Aimone, half hour from Milan, in the town of Saronno, where the famous Amaretto is from.
She is a tireless baker and for her recipes she follows few famous Italian pasticcieri, but her absolute favourite is Luca Montersino, for which she has a culinary crush.
She is also the family member who put down in the form of a recipe my grandmother’s secret “Dolce a Freddo” cake. Long story short: at the end of the 1930s my Nonna Armida, in her early 20s, hadn’t been invited to her then boyfriend Giovanni’s brother engagement party. My grandfather Giovanni’s sister sneaked into the kitchen where this famous pastry chef was cooking her famous cake and walked off with a piece of paper with notes that she donated to Armida.
Since then and for the next 70 years my tenacious Nonna Armida would have celebrated every single Christmas making this 3-days-recipe-long cake. She would make it by eye, that’s why my aunt had to follow her and write down quantities.
I was in Pina’s kitchen for 3 days because I wanted to have the full Dolce a Freddo experience and learn how to cook it.
The recipe I am documenting here is the first day step: sponge cake. Sponge cake is one of those basic recipes that is very handy to cook and then freeze. In fact sponge cake is easier to cut when frozen as the cut is cleaner with no wasted crumbles. You can then use it for many recipes (i.e. tiramisù) or, and this is my favourite, for last minute desserts -you can make layers with it, you can soak it, you can top it with fruits, put creams in between…
Cooking with Pina is nice and relaxing because she doesn’t rush and she is very precise and these are real good qualities when you invade someone’s kitchen, take pictures and ask a lot of questions… She is also very pleasant because she likes to chat and laugh and then, at the end of the cooking session, she is happy to share some books she has read. She is a retired literature teacher and she has a beautiful bookshelf.
Pina and Aimone’s house is at the top floor of an old building in the centre of the town. The apartment is bright, with beautiful herringbone parquet flooring and terrazzo tiles, high ceilings and a delightful view of Saronno’s rooftops and main square.
Just before I left, the door bell rang, I opened the door to a delivery lady who had a big plant with red flowers from Aimone, who had safely left the house while we were cooking and had gone for some shopping in the old town, without forgetting his lovely wife.
- 250g Eggs
- 175g Sugar
- 150g White Flour
- 50g Potato Starch
- 1 Vanilla Bean
- Clean surface areas and get your ingredients nice and ready.
- In a small pan warm the beaten eggs with the sugar and vanilla up to 45°C.
- Beat warm eggs for 10 minutes or until firm, foamy and clear.
- Add, sifting, the mix of flour and potato starch. Do this gently but without taking too long, with the help of a spatula, moving from down to up.
- Pour the batter into two 18cm round loose-base cake-tins and
- Put both the tins in the oven, preheated at 190°C, leaving space between the tins and the sides of the oven.
- Bake for 20 minutes.
- About beating eggs: eggs are beaten enough when they “write”, in Italian this word is used to describe how you can write with the firm liquid that drips down the whisks (see photos above).
- If your whisk is very powerful don’t use the maximum power.
- If you just have one cake tin, you will put the two batches in the oven in two successive rounds. There is a risk, though, that the second batter will start breaking down.
- After pouring mixture into tin: DON’T bang the tin against the counter in order to flatten the batter, because you would help the air out of the batter.
- It is much easier to cut the sponge cake vertically instead of horizontally, in fact when you later assemble a layer with the slices you won’t see them.
- The slices will be cut more precisely if the sponge cake is frozen.
- 250gr Eier
- 175gr Zucker
- 150gr Weissmehl
- 50gr Kartoffelstärke
- 1 Vanillestängel
- Arbeitsfläche reinigen und Zutaten bereitstellen.
- Eier, Zucker und Vanille verrühren und in einer Pfanne auf 45°C erhitzen.
- Die warmen Eier ca.10 Min.schaumig schlagen.
- Mehl und die Stärke sieben und vorsichtig mit einem Spatel unterheben. Das sollte nicht zu lange dauern, damit die Masse nicht zusammenfällt.
- In zwei 18cm grosse, runde Kuchenformen verteilen.
- Im 190°C vorgeheizten Ofen ca.20 Min.backen. Dabei sollten die Formen sich nicht berühren.
- Schlagen Sie die Eier bis die Masse ganz fest ist, und der Schwingbesen deutliche Abdrücke hinterlässt (siehe Bild oben).
- Falls Ihr Mixer sehr stark ist, lassen sie ihn nicht auf dem Maximum laufen, die Masse wird dann luftiger.
- Falls Sie nur eine Cakeform haben, backen Sie die Kuchen nacheinander. Es kann aber sein dass der Zweite etwas zusammenfällt.
- Wenn Sie die Masse eingefüllt haben, schlagen Sie die Form ja nicht auf die Arbeitsplatte, da der Kuchen sonst zusammenfällt.
- Es ist einfacher, den Kuchen in Scheiben zu schneiden, je nach dem, für was Sie ihn brauchen (z.B. für Tiramisu). Falls Sie ihn quer durchschneiden wollen, geht das besser, wenn er gefroren ist.