A couple of weeks ago, I was meeting with our community of food bloggers here in L.A., when someone mentioned 1-2-3-4 cake. “What’s that,” several other attendees asked. I was a bit shocked. Then I told the story again a few days later to another food blogger, and she said, “I don’t know about it either.” Okay, so I’m older than many of the others, but I was taught how to make 1-2-3-4 cake as a fairly young child by my great aunt, Aunt Nemea, the matriarch of my father’s family- we called her Aunt Meme (don’t ask me why)- and I assumed every child grew up learning this basic formula, which is the basis for most all our contemporary yellow butter cake recipes variations.
I called my father’s cousin, Leona, to chat with her about it this morning. No, she said, kids don’t grow up learning to bake any more. I think that’s such a shame, btw. Baking has so many wonderful lessons to teach young people, but that’s the subject for another post.
Anyway, the basic recipe for 1-2-3-4 cake that Aunt Meme gave me is 1 cup of butter, 2 cups of sugar, 3 cups of flour and 4 eggs, with enough milk (or other liquid) to make the batter pourable. I remember repeating it like a mantra when Aunt Meme told me the formula. In those days, people used self-rising flour, but I prefer to add my own leavening, so the recipe also includes 1 tablespoon of baking powder (Leona says she still uses self-rising flour “I don’t feel comfortable adding my own baking powder” she said “ I’m not really a baker” -that should tell you how easy this recipe is) and 1/4 teaspoon of salt, to balance the flavors. I called Leona, because somewhere in the annals of my memory, I remembered that my Aunt Leticia used to add pineapple juice as the liquid. “Yes, according to what flavor you want the cake to be,” Leona said. “I still add pineapple juice to mine for Pineapple Upside Down Cake.” Orange juice would work well, too.
You can add any flavoring you like to 1-2-3-4 cake, of course – vanilla, or almond, orange or lemon extract. I would even venture to suggest adding coconut milk, along with some shredded coconut, for a tropical treat, and am looking forward to giving that a try in the future.
So repeat this basic formula like a mantra, committing it to your memory, and you will never be at a loss for a cake recipe at the spur of the moment.
- 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 4 large eggs*
- 1 tablespoon double acting baking powder
- 1 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter until it is softened . Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is fluffy and lightened in color. Add vanilla or other flavoring.
- Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
- Add the flour and milk alternately (with 3 additions of flour and 2 of milk, beginning with the flour), mixing well after each addition.
- The cake may be baked in 2 – 9 x 2” buttered and parchment lined cake pans, or in a loaf pan.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Of course, I always stick a toothpick in the center of the cake to check on the cake’s doneness. Cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then unmold the cakes onto a wire rack to cool completely.
* Note, you may separate the eggs, and beat the egg whites in a separate bowl, until the soft peak stage, if you like, and fold into the batter at the end of mixing for a lighter cake.