Pao de Lo (Portuguese Sponge Cake) with Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream

When it comes to cake and dessert I can’t just leave well enough alone. Take this cake for instance.

Pao de Lo is a traditional Portuguese sponge cake that is traditionally made in a tube pan, and sliced and served in wedges. Or, at least that’s how we always ate it. This is a cake my Grandma makes all the time, and so I thought I would make it too, but infuse a little bit of summer, and a little bit of me. And if you know me, you know I love layer cakes.

When I think of summer, I think easy breezy backyard barbecues, and simple no fuss desserts. But when it comes to dessert; I always want them to be beautiful.  And this cake? This is my kind of summer dessert; simple, not too fussy, beautiful, and bursting with fresh fruit.

This cake is super easy, not many steps or ingredients, just a classic sponge cake. Just to give it a little burst of flavour I added some orange zest and little bit of freshly squeezed orange juice to the batter because I think it compliments the berries so well. I then soaked the bottom layer with some orange liquor, and spread on some of the amazing vanilla bean pastry cream which I lightened with some freshly whipped cream. And O.M.G. It was amazing. Like eat it from the bowl with a spoon amazing.  Then some fresh berries, topped it with the second layer, the remaining pastry cream, a huge dollop of fresh whipped cream and more fresh fruit. Bam! You’ve got yourself an amazing dessert in no time at all.
Did I just say BAM?? Sorry I will try to control myself.
So, if your a little intimidated by layer cakes this is a good place to start. You don’t have to worry about perfectly levelled layers, or covering the sides and top with a seamless layer of buttercream, or piping. Just easy and rustic and you you have a gorgeous cake.
Pao de Lo (Portuguese Sponge Cake) with Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream
Makes one 9″cake
For the cake:
6 eggs, at room temperature and separated
1 1/2 cups (210g) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups (300g) granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
zest of 1 orange (optional)
1 tablespoon orange juice (you may use water also)
Orange liquor for soaking sponge, or any liquor, about 1/4 cup
fresh fruit for filling and topping
For the Vanilla bean pastry cream:
2 cups (17 fl.oz) milk (I used whole)
1 vanilla bean scraped and seeded, or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (112g) granulated sugar
1 egg
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup (32g) cornstarch
Whipped Cream:
1 1/2 cups (12 fl.oz) heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
For the cake:
1. Adjust rack to the middle position, and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan. Alternatively you may use a tube pan, see notes.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites and salt on high speed until stiff peaks form. Transfer to a small bowl.
4. Using the same bowl (you don’t have to wash), beat the egg yolks, sugar, orange zest, and orange juice, on high speed until light and well combined, about 3 to 4 minutes. On low speed, slowly add the flour mixture, and mix until just combined. By hand, gently fold in the egg whites until fully combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick in the centre comes out clean, about 45 minutes.
Let cake cool in pan.
For the Pastry cream:
1. In a medium, heavy bottomed saucepan, combine the milk, vanilla bean seeds and pod. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Once it comes to a boil remove from heat.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the whole egg, egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch until smooth. Slowly whisk in half of the milk mixture. Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan containing the milk, and place over medium heat, whisking constantly. I find it helpful to use a heatproof spatula around the edges of the pot, where the whisk can’t reach so nothing burns, every minute or so. The pastry cream will begin to thicken, keep cooking until it begins to boil. Once it comes to a low boil, continue to cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes. The whole process will take about 10 minutes.
3. Transfer to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap over the surface of the pastry cream, so a crust does not form. Refrigerate until cool to use immediately, or store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. I made mine ahead of time to lessen the work load. If using at a later date, it will likely be stiff, so whip using whisk attachment in stand mixer or by hand until smooth and spreadable.
For the whipped cream:
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk heavy cream and powdered sugar until medium peaks form, about 4 minutes. Be sure not to over mix or it will become grainy.
2. Set aside about 1 cup of the whipped cream. Gently fold the remaining whipped cream into the pastry cream until well combined.
1. Slice cooled cake in half, and brush or drizzle liquor on the cake. Spread half of the pastry cream on top and layer with fresh fruit. Place the top of the cake on top, and cover with remaining pastry cream. Using the whipped cream you set aside, dollop and lightly spread some on top of the pastry cream. Top with your favourite fresh fruit.
Jessica’s Notes:
  • Cake: you can use any type of citrus zest and juice that you choose, or you may eliminate it all together. Just use 1 tablespoon water instead.
  • To make this cake in a tube pan, increase the recipe for the cake by 25%
  • If you don’t want to use alcohol to soak the sponge, you can use a simple syrup instead. Bring 1/4 cup water, and 1/4 granulated sugar to a boil and until the sugar has dissolved. Let cool completely before using. You may also add in flavouring such as vanilla, orange extract, etc, if you wish.
  • The cake can be made 1 day in advance, simply wrap well with plastic wrap.
  • Pastry cream can be made up to 4 days in advance
  • I recommend storing the cake in the refrigerator because of the whipped cream, and found the cake tastes even better the next day after the flavours have a chance to merry.
Good Luck and Enjoy!!
Pastry cream adapted from Baking.
  • chrissy

    Hi Jessica, I wanted to make my daughter a portuguese birthday cake

  • Debora

    Amei a receita! Super fácil de fazer e uma delícia!



  • Silver Android

    Pao de Lo, my favourite. My mum would make it both the ways you mention. Plain for every day, my dad would often sprinkle his slice with a little port. For birthdays Mama would make a layer cake, filled with whipped cream and strawberries or pineapple – it was simply the best, and your blog has brought back such memories.

  • Angies Southern Kitchen

    Stumbled on to your blog and I will say it is dee~lightful! Your photography is amazing!! Great Job! Following along….have a lovely day, smiles!

  • Carlita

    I just discovered your blog and I LOVE it! I’m also Portuguese (from Aveiro) so I love the name :) Your pictures and recipes are so lovely, I am looking forward to trying some out!