Grandma’s Italian Cream-Filled Sponge Cake

My childhood summers were spent at my grandparents, eating Grandma’s famous sponge cake. She would always serve it chilled, so the cold Italian cream just hit different in the sticky, salty summer air. Because she was the ultimate Italian Grandma, her only ambition in life was to watch her family eat her food, and I assure you she achieved that ambition time and time again with this Italian cream-filled sponge cake.

And, of course, she insisted I make the cake with her, which I was more than eager to do. All I wanted as a kid was to be in the kitchen, and Grandma started me young! Before she passed, Grandma handed her recipe down to me on a scribbled, stained note card. Over the years, I have slowly tweaked and—sorry, Grandma! No tea, no shade—improved it. This cake is extremely versatile, and what I consider a true recipe hero.

There are three ways I love to top my Italian cream-filled sponge cake: Mixed berries tend to be my favorite and really shine in the summer. Toasted coconut is another surefire winner as well. Or you can go super traditional and flourish the top with a shake of confectioners’ sugar and a scattering of roasted pistachios. All versions should be served with a big dollop of whipped cream—Grandma wouldn’t have had it any other way!

This recipe was developed for Food52, and can be found here.

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Grandma’s Italian Cream-Filled Sponge Cake

Grandma’s Italian Cream-Filled Sponge Cake


  • Author: Dan Pelosi

What You’ll Need

Scale
  • Sponge Cake
  • Butter, for greasing
  • 8 large eggs, separated
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder Italian Cream, cold or at room temperature (recipe below) Your pick of toppings (see Author Notes) Whipped cream, for serving
  • Italian Cream
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 6 large eggs 1 cup granulated sugar 1 cup all-purpose flour 8 tablespoons salted butter, cubed, at room temperature 2 tablespoons almond extract 2 tablespoons vanilla extract

What You’ll Do

  1. Sponge Cake:
  2. Heat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 13×9-inch cake pan and line it with parchment paper, with enough overhang to lift the cake out of the pan once it’s done.
  3. Separate the eggs, adding the yolks to the bowl of a stand mixer and the whites to another bowl.
  4. Add the sugar to the yolks and beat on medium-high for a few minutes, until thick and frothy.
  5. Transfer the yolk mixture into a large mixing bowl. Sift in the cake flour and baking powder, then gently fold until combined.
  6. Clean and dry the bowl of the stand mixer, then add the egg whites. Beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form.
  7. Fold the egg whites into the flour mixture until no dry streaks are visible. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
  8. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until golden brown on top and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
  9. Cool the cake completely on a wire rack, then lift out of the pan and remove the parchment. Take your pick of one of the three options below.
  10. Mixed berries: Halve the cake horizontally (see the video for how I do this!). Spread half of the Italian cream on the bottom half of the cake, edge to edge, then top with the other half of the cake. Using a bread knife, cut around the perimeter of the cake to remove the baked edges. Spread the other half of the Italian cream around on the top of the cake. Top with lots of mixed berries—I like strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries.
  11. Toasted coconut: Using a bread knife, cut around the perimeter of the cake to remove the baked edges. Spread all of the Italian cream on top of the cake. Top with toasted shredded coconut.
  12. Pistachios: Spread all of the Italian cream on the bottom half of the cake, edge to edge, then top with the other half of the cake. Using a bread knife, cut around the perimeter of the cake to remove the baked edges. Dust with confectioners’ sugar, then top with chopped, roasted pistachios.
  13. After decorating, cover and refrigerate the cake until cold, at least 4 hours or up to 1 day. Serve with whipped cream
  14. Italian Cream
  15. Combine the milk, eggs, sugar, and flour in a large pot and whisk until well combined.
  16. Place the pot over medium heat and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, whisking constantly, until the cream is very thick. There will be a few lumps in the cream, and that is okay.
  17. Remove from the heat and add the butter and extracts. Vigorously whisk until smooth. (You can also transfer to a stand mixer and use a whisk attachment.)
  18. Set the cream aside to cool, uncovered, then cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.