Welcome to Portugal, and today we are featuring one of the most emblematic desserts of the country: pao de lo.
What is the origin of pao de lo?
Typically served for Catholic religious holidays, notably Christmas and Easter, this sponge cake with a delicately lemony aroma dates from the end of the Middle Ages. At that time, the nuns were in charge of its preparation, in the convents around the country. It is said that in the fifteenth century, pao de lo was cooked in a bread oven whose door was sealed with dried horse manure… It took no less than 24 egg yolks and 6 egg whites, beaten by hand until reaching a foamy and airy dough, to make this dessert. Nowadays, fortunately, the recipe has evolved, and this delicious specialty can be prepared without much effort in the comfort and hygiene of a modern kitchen!
In the sixteenth century, at the height of the Portuguese colonial expansion, the missionaries introduced pao de lo, then called pao de Castela, in Japan. Seduced by this refined and original dessert, the Japanese adopted it and gave it the name of kasutera, after modifying the recipe to suit their tastes. Kasutera, one of Japanese most popular desserts today, is nothing but a pao de lo that is moistened with honey or corn syrup. Another Portuguese dessert that has been adopted by Asians, like pasteis de nata in Hong Kong, which are called egg tarts over there!
Pao de lo is known in France under the name génoise. In Italy, it is known as pan di Spagna. In the middle of the eighteenth century, Genoese chef Giobatta Carbona was sent to Spain by Marquis Domenico Pallavicino (ambassador appointed in 1747 by the king of Spain Fernando IV). On the occasion of a banquet, he presented to the Spanish king an extremely light cake that would take the name of pan di Spagna in tribute to the Spanish court of the time. The innovation of this recipe was due to the preparation of the dough, rich in eggs and prepared cold, where all the ingredients were poured into a container and then baked in a bain marie. Over the years, this technique of preparation was abandoned.
How to make pao de lo
Traditionally prepared with very simple ingredients such as eggs, flour, sugar and salt, pao de lo is available in several versions. Some recipes, like the one I have chosen to make, contain a grated lemon rind, which gives the cake an absolutely divine aroma. Others recommend to cover the pao with a sugar glaze. There are even chocolate pao de lo recipes.
We chose to enjoy our pao de lo covered with strawberry jam, at breakfast, and it was absolutely delicious.
- 10 eggs (at room temperature)
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 cups flour , sifted
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Zest of a lemon
Preheat oven to 350 F / 180 C.
- Beat the eggs at high speed for about 20 minutes, while incorporating the sugar gradually.
- Then gently fold in the flour, previously mixed with the baking powder and the salt, then add the lemon zest.
- Place in a lightly oiled round pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes.
- Wait about 10 minutes before unmolding the cake.