Friday, March 20, 2009

1-2-3-4 Cake

It's the first day of spring, and I am absolutely drowning in lemons. Remember that enormous delivery of lemons my husband trotted home with the other day? Well, after seeing the look of sheer glee on my face when he walked in with that cornucopia of citrus, my well-meaning, ever-seeking-to-please-me hubby went back to work the next day and hijacked the rest of the lemons from the community grab box, and I now have 54 lemons haplessly lounging on my kitchen table. Yeah. FIFTY-FOUR.

While I try to figure out how I can make these lemons the best that they can be, let me share a simple cake recipe with you: 1-2-3-4 cake, the ultimate non-baker's cake. It's probably the most basic, most well-known cake out there, mainly because name makes the recipe very easy to remember- 1 cup of butter, 2 cups of sugar, 3 cups of flour, and 4 eggs. I call it a non-baker's cake because in its most basic form, there's nothing fussy involved in making it, it's versatile, and it's a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. While I wouldn't base a whole bakery business model on it (like many professional bakers do), I do think that it's a recipe that everyone should have in their repertoire for birthdays, family reunions, or for when you're just happy it's the first day of spring and want to celebrate.

1-2-3-4 Cake


1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups sifted cake flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour cake pans.*

2. In mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy (mixture will be almost white). Beat in eggs, one at a time, and add vanilla.

3. In another bowl, stir baking power and salt into flour. Add flour mixture and milk to creamed butter mixture alternately, starting with one-third of the flour. Stir just until incorporated.

4. Pour batter into prepared pans and bake until toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Let cake cool in pan for 20 minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack and let cool completely before filling (I frequently use lemon curd) and frosting (recipe for swiss buttercream below).

*This recipe makes a 3-layer cake, or 24 cupcakes in muffin tins, or 30 cupcakes using liners, or a 12x18" sheet cake.


1. For a lighter, fluffier cake (my preferred way to make it), separate the egg yolks from the whites and add just the yolks into the creamed butter. Beat the whites to soft peaks and gently fold them into the batter after all the flour and milk has been incorporated into the batter.

2. For different variations, you can add a tablespoon of lemon zest and a couple teaspoons of lemon juice to the batter; you can also substitute almond extract for the vanilla extract.

Swiss Buttercream Frosting:
6 large egg whites- should equal about one cup
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups butter
1/2 Tbs. vanilla extract

1. In a double boiler (or, in my case, a metal bowl precariously balanced on a pot of simmering water), whisk egg whites and sugar together until sugar is completely dissolved (you don't want any granules of sugar remaining in the mixture).

2. Pour the mixture into your mixer bowl and whip until white and doubled in size. Add butter and whip until light and fluffy- and then whip more and watch it get even better. The first time I made this, I whipped past what I thought was finished, and I'm glad I did. It's fantastic stuff.

The pictures posted above are all of a hastily decorated cake done with just plain buttercream and only two decorating tips (sloppy, I know, but done in less than 20 minutes) but I've found that a bit of white chocolate ganache mixed into the buttercream makes perfect icing for piping details, like vine work or cornelli lace:

And you know what my favorite thing about it is? It actually tastes as good, if not better, than it looks. Happy baking!


  1. This post makes me happy.

    As a matter of fact, I'm doing a little happy dance -wait, let me get out of my chair....

    Okay. I did a little happy dance because these are ingredients I keep on hand all the time. I have to make some friendship bread in the next day or two, but I've definitely just planned in my head to make this as our next treat!!!!!

  2. Haha! Oh, I'm glad I got a happy dance out of you!