Posted in Baking With My Ancestors

1-2-3-4 Cake

What if I told you that the saying isn’t “easy as pie” but “easy as 1-2-3-4 cake”? You don’t believe me? Well, maybe that isn’t the saying, but baking this cake is as easy as pie. Oh, and for the record, I don’t believe at all that making a pie is easy, but that’s another post for another day.

The History

If you’ve never heard of a 1-2-3-4 cake, that’s okay. It’s really just a basic yellow cake with chocolate frosting. The cake was given its name thanks to the number of ingredients that it required; 1 cup butter, 2 cups sugar, 3 cups flour, and 4 eggs. The recipe is believed to have written down somewhere in the mid-1850s and really took off in the 1870s. Over the years, there have been some tweaks, including the addition of leavening agents. The recipe that I am sharing today is about as basic as they come. It is courtesy of the “American Cake” cookbook by Anne Byrn.

The Cake Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 3 cups cake flour (make sure to use cake flour…it makes a difference!)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

The Baking of the Cake

  1. Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350F. Grease two 9″ round cake pans with butter and dust with flour. Shake out the excess flour, and set pans aside.
  2. Place the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl, and blend with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until each is well incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Set aside.
  3. Stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium-size bowl. Add a third of the flour mixture to the butter and sugar, beating on low speed until incorporated. Add half of the milk, and blend, then another third of the flour mixture, then the rest of the milk, and finally the remaining flour mixture and vanilla and blend until combined and smooth, 30 seconds.
  4. Divide the batter between the 2 prepared pans, and smooth the tops. Place the pans in the oven, and bake until they are lightly browned on top and the cake springs back when lightly pressed in the center, 25 to 30 minutes.
  5. Place the pans on wire racks to cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the pans and give the pans a gentle shake to release the cake. Invert the layers once and then again so they rest right side up on the racks to cool completely, 30 minutes.

The Frosting Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) lightly salted butter
  • 4 heaping tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 3 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

The Making of the Frosting

  1. Place the butter in a medium-size saucepan (I actually used one a bit larger) over low heat. When the butter melts, stir in the cocoa and milk. Let the mixture come just to a boil, stirring, and then remove the pan from heat. (If the mixture starts to separate, take it off the heat and proceed to the next step.)
  2. Stir in the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla until the frosting is thickened and smooth.

*Frosting note – I found that one batch was not enough to frost the entire cake. The frosting is best used still warm. I suggest making one back to frost the bottom layer and sides, then another batch for the top layer and sides.

Assembling the Cake

Place 1 layer on a cake plate or platter. Spoon frosting over the top. Place the second later on top, and frost the top and sides of the cake. Slice and serve!

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