1 cup of butter, 2 cups of sugar, 3 cups of flour, and 4 eggs. Incredibly easy to make and oh, so versatile is the infamous 1-2-3-4 Cake. Named for the measurements of its main ingredients and served by every grandmother ever, this is just the recipe for anyone who wants a plain-old-fashioned piece of cake on their plate.
This particular variation of 1-2-3-4 cake was passed down by my husband’s great grandmother, Leonilda Pini. From what I understand, she was a kind and lovely woman.
Baked in a loaf pan, I personally like to eat a slice of this nostalgic cake in the morning, toasted, with a slab of butter melting on the top. The dense crumb is the perfect texture for dunking in coffee.
And while I will boast of the goodness of this cake as it stands on its own, this recipe can also serve as a blank slate for a more festive treat.
It can be baked in round pans, coated in frosting and served up as a birthday cake. Miniature chocolate chips can be folded into the batter to create tasty muffins. It can be sliced, coated, and fried into a delectable French toast breakfast. Or re-purposed into bite size squares destined to be dipped in chocolate fondue.
Get the picture? This recipe might be an old one, but this buttery and dense cake proves to be both classic and adventurous.
I’m not sure how Bisnonna Leonilda served it up, but I share her recipe below. Let me know how you make it your own!
1-2-3-4 Cake, adapted from the recipe of Bisnonna Leonilda Pini of Italy
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
2 cups sugar
3 cups flour
4 eggs, room temperature
1 cup milk
½ teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
5 teaspoons vanilla*
Preheat the oven to 350º F. Grease a 9.25” loaf pan** and line the bottom with parchment paper.
Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl and set aside.***
Cream butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium high speed until light in color, about 4 minutes. Gradually add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, another 6 minutes.
Add the eggs one at a time, making sure each is incorporated before adding another. Add the vanilla.
Slow the mixer to low speed and add the flour mixture and milk, beginning and ending with the flour for a total of three additions. Pause to scrape the sides of the bowl if needed.
Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Once done baking, cool the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Loosen the sides of the cake with a knife and invert the cake onto the wire rack. Flip cake right side up and let cool completely.
*I will admit I only used 2 teaspoons of vanilla, although it’s not because I suspect Leonilda of overdoing it; I was just running low!
** Leonilda says you can use a 10” tube pan or an Angel Food pan. The internet showed me that just about anything will work, just make sure you adjust the baking time based on the shape of the pan.
***I also added 2 teaspoons of Penzey’s Baking Spice to the flour mixture, it added a little warmth to the taste of the cake.