Oh how I loved the days before my birthday. I would go with my mum to get the ingredients to make my birthday cake and we would discuss about the decoration to make on top of it. The cake was always the same usually. Sponge cake (pan di Spagna) and either a chocolate or vanilla or lemon cream filling and whipped cream to decorate on the outside. But then the fun would start, we would think different things to put on top and how to make it beautiful. I remember that strawberries or chocolate was often my choice. I remember that no matter how busy she was, my mum would make a cake for my or my siblings birthday. She used to say that it's not a birthday if there isn't a birthday cake! and she did so till I left home and moved to a different country.Pan di Spagna (Sponge cake):
for a 9 inch tin or 23 cm.
3 Tablespoons water
300 gr. sugar
300 gr. flour
1 sachet of vanilla yeast ( 16gr.) or it should work with 1 Tablespoon of baking powder (though I have never done it with the baking powder.)
Equal amount of water and sugar
or add some alcohol
Crema pasticcera (Cream filling)
2 egg yolk
75 gr. sugar
1/2 to 1 Tablespoon flour
1/2 lemon zest omit and substitute with about 2 tablespoon of cocoa powder
500 gr.Fresh double cream
Beat the egg whites until stiff, add the egg yolk, water and the sugar and mix together till combined. Add the flour few spoonful at a time while still mixing. when is all well combined add the vanilla yeast. Transfer it in a cake tin and bake in oven for 35-40 minutes at 185, or until a toothpick (or spaghetto) inserted comes out clean.
When the cake is ready, take it out of the oven and let it cool. While you wait for it to cool completely prepare the syrup. I use a small saucepan and just heat to the point of boiling equal amount of water and sugar until melted*. When the cake is cool to the touch cut in the middle ( I only made 1 layer, you may cut into more layers) and wet the sponge with the syrup using a brush.
For the cream filling: Beat the egg yolks and the sugar together, add the milk and transfer it in a sauce pan and place it on the hob at very low heat. (if doing a lemon version add some lemon peal to the mixture and remove when cooled)While whisking add the flour (and cocoa powder) slowly with a sieve, keep whisking until the mixture becomes a cream. Remove from heat and let it cool before spreading onto the cake. Do as many layers as you like.
For the cream frosting: just whip some cream with some sugar (it depends how sweet you want it) and decorate as you like :) I put some cut up strawberries and filled up some profiteroles with the same cream that is in the cake.
*However I think the water-sugar combination is a bit boring so I usually put less water and a bit of alcohol. In this cake I used some limoncello liqueur (cherry liqueur, martini, Marsala wine are all good options). Don't worry about feeding it to the kids, because most of the alcohol will evaporate while heating it.
Source: Own recipe as it was passed on to me by my mother who probably got it from her mother!