This Portuguese sponge cake, or “pão de ló”, as I grew up knowing it, is a favourite dessert of mine and a very popular one in Portugal.
Some of my earliest childhood memories are of my mom making this cake and me enjoying it as a dessert or for breakfast… don’t judge 😊 It has eggs… that’s a breakfast food, right 🙂
This cake also brings back fond memories of my great-uncle Jose Silveira (Tio Jose) who I think about often and miss. He was a generous and friendly man who was a master pão de ló baker—often making many in one day and sharing them with neighbours, friends, and family members.
We were lucky, on a few occasions, to visit him and then go home with a freshly baked pão de ló to enjoy at home. And trust me… we enjoyed each one to the last crumb.
Food—it’s really such a beautiful gift to share—we are grateful for the time we got to spend with Tio Jose and for his generosity.
Mistakes often lead to good things.
Today’s post wasn’t originally going to be about Portuguese sponge cake. The intention of today’s blog post was to highlight the wonderfully sweet strawberries that are now in season around us at local farmer’s marketsand pick-your-own farms (and let me just add that nothing beats the aroma of fresh, just picked, fruit).
I started off researching chiffon cake and crafting my own version of it. I was going to layer it with fresh strawberries and cream cheese frosting.Mmm… sounds good, right. Well….
As a home cook with no formal culinary training, I often rely on the power of trial and error. So my first attempt at a chiffon cake was a bit of a flop. Not right away, mind you. In fact, the cakes were tall and beautiful when I took them out of the oven, but my mood deflated as quickly as the cakes did. Wah wah… This was not blog worthy!
After a little research, I had an idea of what had gone wrong. I tweaked my recipe and was just about set to give it another go, when I suddenly realized that the recipe and list of ingredients looked very familiar.
Back to mom’s book of traditions.
I pulled out the notebook of recipes my mom wrote for me, and found her pão de ló recipe. Outside of the oil, the chiffon cake recipe I was working on was very similar to my mom’s pão de ló recipe.
Hello! Lightbulb moment!
Why not make mom’s sponge cake recipe and serve it with strawberry compote. Talk about a match made in heaven! This allowed me to share a recipe that highlights our delicious in-season strawberries along with a cake that’s near-and-dear to my heart… a win win for sure!
Disclaimer: As I’ve often mentioned in the past, I’m not claiming this is “the” original pão de ló recipe. This is the recipe I grew up with, but it’s one of many versions you can likely find. There are also many versions of a similar sponge cake in other countries.
Less is more.
This is a no frills cake; it doesn’t look fancy, and it doesn’t have any fancy frosting. It’s plain and simple and simply perfect. And since it’s not too sweet, it goes well with coffee or tea (and yes…even as breakfast). The added fresh strawberry compote took this to the next level.
It’s no wonder this cake is so popular in Portugal. Who doesn’t love an easy-to-make comfort dessert like this?! That’s not even a question.
Now it’s time for me to go serve myself a slice of this error-turned-perfection. I highly recommend you make this cake and do the same—‘cause not all mistakes are bad, and we all deserve to eat well, friends!
Portuguese sponge cake (pão de ló) with strawberry compote
- 1 + 1/2 cups sugar
- 7 large eggs whites and yolks separated, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup water at room temperature
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 1/2 tbsp lemon zest
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp creme of tarter
- ¼ cup water
- 1 tbs cornstarch
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 4 cups strawberries , hulled and sliced
- Pre-heat the oven to 350 ºF
- In a stand mixer, beat the egg yolks and 1 cup of sugar, on medium high until light and fluffy.
- Reduce the stand mixer to medium speed and add the water, lemon juice and lemon zest. Mix until well combined.
- Sift the flour and salt together into a large bowl.
- Pour the yolk mixture over the flour, whisk together and set aside.
- In a clean stand mixer bowl, add the egg whites and beat on medium high.
- Add the cream of tarter after about 1 minute.
- Once the egg whites start to form soft peaks, slowly pour in the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar while continuing to beat.
- Keep beating until stiff peaks form. To test this, remove the stand mixer whisk. Peaks should stand without tipping over. This can take about 5 minutes.
- Add the egg whites to the remaining ingredients and fold in with a rubber spatula until well combined. Note: Do not over mix or beat the ingredients during this step.
- Run cold water inside of the tube pan with cold water and let it drip out.
- Pour the batter into the tube pan and place the pan in the oven on the middle rack.
- Bake for 55 minutes or until a cake tester (or toothpick) comes out clean.
- Place the cake pan upside down on a heat resistant surface and let cool for about 30 minutes.
- Carefully run a sharp knife around the edges of the cake.
- You should be able to pull the tube and cake out from inside the pan.
- Carefully run a sharp knife between the cake bottom and the pan bottom to loosen the cake from the pan.
- Lift the cake and place it on a cake plate or platter.
- Let the cake finish cooling.
- Add the water and cornstarch to a medium pot.
- Whisk the cornstarch until it dissolves in the water.
- Add the sugar and turn on the heat up to medium high.
- After one minute, add the strawberries and lemon juice, and stir to combine all ingredients.
- Once the mix starts to boil, reduce the heat to medium low and cover.
- Let simmer for 10 minutes, stir every 3 or so minutes.
- Uncover and shut off the heat.
- Let cool down. The compote will thicken a bit.
- Serve warm or cold on slices of the sponge cake.
- This strawberry topping is also perfect on pancakes, waffles, ice cream or any other dish that goes with fruits and syrup.
- You can also use frozen strawberries if they're not in season. Let them cook an extra 3 minutes.