The Best 1-2-3-4 Cake Recipe You’ll Ever Make

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Y’all, I just discovered an old American cake recipe and because I’m all about cake, I buttered some pans and got to bakin’.

It’s a throwback to the late 1800s (whoa!) when bakers were starting to use baking powder instead of yeast as a leavening agent in cakes.

Upon reading the recipe, I knew I had to try it – and, of course, come tell y’all all about it!

A 1-2-3-4 cake recipe is easy to make and delicious to eat.

Plus, it’s purdy when frosted.

white frosted cake on cake pedestal

What the heck is a 1-2-3-4 cake?

A 1-2-3-4 cake uses common ingredients to make an uncommonly delicious cake.

It derives it’s name from the main ingredients list:

1: 1 cup of butter

2: 2 cups of sugar

3: 3 cups of flour

4: 4 eggs

There are a few other ingredients, but these are the stars.

What kind of cake is it?

The 1-2-3-4 cake is a basic yellow cake recipe.

Or, also commonly known as a vanilla cake recipe.

It’s sturdy and holds up well to fillings (although I didn’t try the best cake filling recipe I love, yet) and a heavy coating of buttercream frosting.

Honestly, it’s a thing of beauty in the world of cake.

 

Interesting bit of 1-2-3-4 cake history:

The measurements of the butter, sugar, flour and eggs used to be the only ingredients.

This combination, it its purest form, produces a chewy dense cookie-type treat reminiscent of medieval jumbals, or sugar cookies. The Internet confirms many cooks “fudge” (pardon the pun) this classic 1234 recipe by adding other ingredients in various proportions. Most common? Baking powder, milk, fruit juice, spices and nuts. These additions affect the taste and texture of the finished product.

Now, I totally want to try the combination (without the added ingredients) and make these medieval cookies.

Don’t you?

What I liked about this cake recipe:

1: It was fun! The idea of baking a cake with a solid history behind it, while imagining bakers through the years measuring and constructing, just like I was, left me feeling connected to the past.

Although, I was grateful my oven turned on with a twist of a knob instead of me having to stoke a fire the entire time the cake was baking.

2: It was tastier that I thought it would be.

Sure sure, how can you go wrong with butter and sugar? I have thought about the taste off and on since eating it – so that says something about the mmmmm factor.

3: It was sturdy, yet light. Easy to fill and slather with buttercream frosting.

frosted layer of cake

4: It traveled well. Nothing like taking a cake to a celebration, to discover it has fallen down on the job once you get there.

What was lacking in this cake recipe:

1: The crumb of the cake, the way it held up, on the day it was baked, was close to perfect.

The next day, however, it was not, for me.

My brother-in-law disagreed and said his leftover piece was just as good the next day.

I know how to properly store baked goods, so I assumed it was the cake and not me (ha!).

To save you from anything less than perfect, I think the cake is a bake-and-eat the same day kinda cake.

Not too hard to do, right?

2: The cake lacked a bit of moistness.

This is not to say that it wasn’t delicious, it was. It just needed a bit more stick-together-ness in the crumb.

I think I’ll experiment with the recipe to get it where I want it, because once the moistness issue is solved, it will also knock out my #1 complaint from above.

To the recipe! (if you prefer a printable recipe, scroll to bottom of post!)

1-2-3-4 Cake Recipe

slice of cake on a blue plate in front of the cut cake

A homemade recipe that uses common ingredients for an uncommonly delicious cake!

Ingredients:

1 cup of salted butter, softened to room temperature

2 cups granulated sugar

3 cups all purpose flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

4 large eggs

1 cup whole milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 °F.

Grease two 9-inch cake pans.

In a bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder. Set aside.

Cream butter, using a mixer, until light and fluffy.

Slowly add sugar and continue to mix well for 6 to 8 minutes.

Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add flour and milk alternately to creamed mixture, beginning and ending with flour.

Add vanilla and continue to beat until just mixed.

Divide batter equally among prepared pans.

Once batter is in cake pans, slightly bang pans onto counter, to release air bubbles.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean from the middle of cake.

Cool in pans 5 for minutes.

Invert cakes onto cooling racks.

Cool completely before frosting.

Notes:

* Before inverting cake pan to release cake, you can take a butter knife and insert it between the cake and the pan, then run it around the entire circumference of the cake. This will help release any bits of cake that might be sticking to pan.

* You can use three 8-inch pans instead of the two 9-inch pans.

* The recipe also doubles as an easy bundt cake recipe. Simply substitute a bundt pan for cake pans.

slice of white frosted cake on a red plate

I decided to wing it on the buttercream frosting.

Looking through my fridge, I spied peach preserves.  The vanilla buttercream with added peach preserves sounded amazing.

The pointy point I want to make: I used what I had on hand and we weren’t disappointed!

Use what you have on hand – any flavor will do and compliment a vanilla cake.

So easy.

Here’s a quick frosting pictorial (recipe below):

Cut the tops of the cake to level before adding frosting.

layer of unfrosted cake on plate

Use a serrated knife (be careful!) to get the job done cleanly.

layer of unfrosted cake on plate

Then, top one layer with about a cup of icing and spread to the edge. The peach preserves mixed perfectly – yum!

top of frosted layer of cake

Now you’re ready to plop (fancy baker word usage!) the second layer on and give a gentle push down to “cement” the layers together.

two layers of cake with frosting in between

Finish off by frosting the sides:

white frosted cake on cake pedestal

Finally, admire your handiwork before cutting a slice.

I think we can agree that is one gorgeous cake.

Here is the frosting recipe, with a printable version at the end of the post.

1-2-3-4 Cake Buttercream Frosting with Peach Preserves

 

Ingredients:

4 cups powdered sugar

1 cup buttered, softened to room temperature

1/2 – 3/4 cup of peach preserves

Splash of heavy whipping cream

Directions:

Using a mixer, cream the butter until light.

Slowly add powdered sugar.

If mixture gets to thick, add a splash (add 1 tablespoon at a time) of whipping cream, until thick yet spreadable.

Add 1/2 cup peach preserves. Add the extra preserves if you prefer a more spreadable icing.

Notes:

* I like to have the icing a bit on the thick side before spreading, so the cake is less likely to slip when layering.

* I used peach preserves because I had them on hand – use what ya gots! I imagine any preserves would work.

* Heavy whipping cream lends a mouth feel of velvety smoothness (along with the butter!). Don’t skimp.

* Recipe can be doubled.

As far as homemade cake recipes made from scratch go, this one is a keeper and will be in my rotation.

Honestly, I can’t believe I had never heard of the 1-2-3-4 cake before: it’s so common!

Yer turn!

whole cake on pedestal

Get to baking!

Printable recipes below:

The Best 1-2-3-4 Cake Recipe You'll Ever Make

The Best 1-2-3-4 Cake Recipe You'll Ever Make

Yield: 1 2-layer cake
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Cool Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes

1-2-3-4 cake uses common ingredients to make uncommonly delicious cake.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of salted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 °F.
  2. Grease two 9-inch cake pans.
  3. In a bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder. Set aside.
  4. Cream butter, using a mixer, until light and fluffy.
  5. Slowly add sugar and continue to mix well for 6 to 8 minutes.
  6. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.
  7. Add flour and milk alternately to creamed mixture, beginning and ending with flour.
  8. Add vanilla and continue to beat until just mixed.
  9. Divide batter equally among prepared pans.
  10. Once batter is in cake pans, slightly bang pans onto counter, to release air bubbles.
  11. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean from the middle of cake.
  12. Cool in pans 5 for minutes.
  13. Invert cakes onto cooling racks.
  14. Cool completely before frosting.

Notes

* Before inverting cake pan to release cake, you can take a butter knife and insert it between the cake and the pan, then run it around the entire circumference of the cake. This will help release any bits of cake that might be sticking to pan.

* You can use three 8-inch pans instead of the two 9-inch pans.

* The recipe also doubles as an easy bundt cake recipe. Simply substitute a bundt pan for cake pans.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 16 servings Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving:Calories: 313 Total Fat: 13g Saturated Fat: 8g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 4g Cholesterol: 79mg Sodium: 208mg Carbohydrates: 44g Net Carbohydrates: 0g Fiber: 1g Sugar: 26g Sugar Alcohols: 0g Protein: 5g
Nutrition information isn’t always accurate.
Buttercream Frosting with Peach Preserves

Buttercream Frosting with Peach Preserves

Yield: enough to frost and fill a two-layer cake
Prep Time : 5 minutes
Mix Time : 15 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes

Light and fluffy buttercream frosting with a hint of peaches.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 cup buttered, softened to room temperature
  • 1/2 - 3/4 cup of peach preserves
  • Splash of heavy whipping cream

Instructions

  1. Using a mixer, cream the butter until light.
  2. Slowly add powdered sugar.
  3. If mixture gets to thick, add a splash (add 1 tablespoon at a time) of whipping cream, until thick yet spreadable.
  4. Add 1/2 cup peach preserves. Add the extra preserves if you prefer a more spreadable icing.

Notes

* this recipe is enuogh to frost and fill a two-layer cake.

* I like to have the icing a bit on the thick side before spreading, so the cake is less likely to slip when layering.

* I used peach preserves because I had them on hand - use what ya gots! I imagine any preserves would work.

* Heavy whipping cream lends a mouth feel of velvety smoothness (along with the butter!). Don't skimp.

* Recipe can be doubled.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 16 frosted slices of cake Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving:Calories: 131 Total Fat: 0g Saturated Fat: 0g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 0g Cholesterol: 1mg Sodium: 3mg Carbohydrates: 33g Net Carbohydrates: 0g Fiber: 0g Sugar: 31g Sugar Alcohols: 0g Protein: 0g
Nutrition information isn’t always accurate.

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Comments

  1. Beautiful cake. Thank you for sharing the recipe with us.
    Fabby

  2. This looks like the cake my aunt used to make…wonderful, plain vanilla cake…Thanks for sharing! Can’t wait to try it!

  3. Looks delicious! Definitely one to try!

  4. My family has a handed down recipe book that we have hand-made. I have a proud history of American cooks, and some of the recipes I haven’t tried yet because I’m uncertain of what it is. 1-2-3-4 cake is one of them. Now this makes me want to try it.

  5. Looks easy and great looking !
    Thanks for sharing, I will try this recipe soon.
    Fabby

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